The newly independent state of Kazakhstan emerged in 1991 out of the former Soviet Union as the ninth-largest country on the planet. It stretches from the snow-capped peaks of the Tian Shan and Altai mountains in the east, across great expanses of wormwood-scented steppe to the Caspian in the west. It may have been the birth-place of the apple, and the tulip. Yuri Gagarine, the first human into space, started his journey from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in the south of the country. Rich in natural resources, Kazakhstan is a major supplier of oil and of a huge range of minerals. It is fashioning a modern new capital, Astana, whose monuments include a pyramid-shaped Palace of Peace and Harmony and a huge transparent tent which covers a beach, golf course and even gondola-filled canals. The varied natural environments of Kazakhstan offer excitements for ornithologists in search of the black lark or sociable lapwing, botanists looking for some of the richest diversity of wild tulips to be found anywhere and fishermen dreaming of a 200 lb catfish.

The northern route of the Silk Road ran through the southern part of the country, nurturing important cities. In one, Turkestan, Kazakhstan’s most magnificent building is to be found, the turquoise-domed mausoleum of the Sufist spiritual leader Khodja Ahmed Yassaui.The neighbouring city of Otrar, living on today as no more than an archaeological site, has a somewhat unfortunate claim to historical fame as the place in which the ill-considered actions of the governor brought the predation of the Mongols of Genghis Khan into central Asia.

Kazakhstan is now an increasingly prosperous and self confident, multi-ethnic country which straddles two continents and is the expression of an Eurasian ideal. The exotism of this fascinating land makes itself very clear for all travelers and foreign residents.