A Spiritual Side Trip
For a solo backpacker in Kazakhstan, the idea of traveling is a strange experience. When one goes to Rome, Egypt or even Japan most people have an idea of the sites, cultures and people they will interact with, but Kazakhstan can be a bit of a blank card. Many of the travelers that I met on this trip (note: I can count them on one hand) were either ex-pats working in the oil industry or people on a quest for Borat (http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0443453/). This is why it was so refreshing when I entered the town of Turkestan to find the Mausoleum of Khoja Ahmed Yasawi. After two weeks of traveling around Uzbekistan expecting to see the magnificence of the Silk Road cities, I was greatly disappointed at how commercialized these places had become. The towns were no longer for the Uzbeks, but for the droves of buses bringing in mostly Eastern European and Israeli tourists. What makes Turkestan special is the mausoleum, also like those in Uzbekistan, has never been destroyed by natural disasters or become a tourist trap. It was the tomb of one of the most important Khans in Kazakhstan, and a place of prayer and pilgrimage. My day spent wandering around the temple included a local family inviting me for a prayer session, being kidnapped by the cultural Bureau to help them translate the facts of the mausoleum into English and having a long discussion with museum staff about how much things really should cost when traveling Kazakhstan.