5 surprising facts about Kazakhstan

While Kazakhstan is growing in popularity as a travel destination, it is still not on the radar of most tourists. Here is some interesting trivia about the remote former Soviet republic you may not know about.

It celebrates Christmas in January…

While much of the world celebrates Christmas on December 25, the Kazakhstanis celebrate the festive occasion on January 7. Yes, this means Christmas comes after New Year’s Day for them. Kazakhstan celebrates Orthodox Christmas which follows the Julian calendar, the predominant calendar in the Roman world before it was gradually replaced by the Gregorian calendar, which is what most of us use today. January 7 is an official public holiday in Kazakhstan, and celebrations usually involve an elaborate Christmas feast with meat, fruits, nuts, salads, and pilaw, a traditional rice dish.

…and New Year’s in March

Like many other parts of the world, Kazakhstan marks New Year’s Day on January 1 with parties and celebrations too. But New Year comes around again on March 21. Known as Nauryz, which means a new day, the occasion signals the start of the spring equinox. In Nur-Sultan, Nauryz is celebrated with yurts set up in the city, outdoor concerts, sports events and national exhibitions. If you find yourself in Kazakhstan during Nauryz, be sure to try the Nauryz kosher, a traditional cold drink prepared specially for the festival. There are variations to the recipe but it always involves seven vital ingredients: meat, water, kefir, salt, rice, barley and noodles. Each ingredient represents a quality such as joy, success and health.

It is home to the world’s tallest chimney

At 419.7m, the reinforced concrete chimney at GRES-2 Power Station in Kazakhstan is the tallest in the world. Dubbed ‘The Cigarette Lighter’ by the locals and completed in 1987, it is part of GRES-1, a coal-fired power station that remains the country’s biggest. The two power stations generate over 20 per cent of Kazakhstan’s electricity, and are also connected to the 432km-long Ekibastuz-Kokshetau power line. The latter happens to be the highest transmission line voltage in the world at 1,150 kV.

It is the largest landlocked country in the world

Spanning an area of more than 2.7 million sq km, Kazakhstan is the largest landlocked country in the world. To give you some perspective, Singapore’s land area is about 721 sq km, which makes Kazakhstan about 3,750 times the size of Singapore. Home to over 18 million people and 126 different ethnic groups, Kazakhstan is also the ninth largest country in the world. Being landlocked means Kazakhstan has no direct access to the high seas, though it is surrounded by a system of rivers and canals. This means the Central Asian nation is relatively sheltered from deadly weather effects caused by oceans, such as hurricanes and tsunamis. It is also safe from sea invasions, though it maintains a small navy which was established in 2003.

It boasts the highest mountain skating rink

Kazakhstan holds another world record – the highest mountain skating rink. Built in 1972, the Medeo Ice Rink in the highlands of Almaty is located 1,691m above sea level. Its ice, made from pure mountain water, is said to boost the performance of speed and figure skaters. Indeed, more than 170 world records have been set in the 10,500 sq m facility, which can hold up to 1,000 skaters.