What to see and do in the ancient city of Turkestan

Like much of Kazakhstan, Turkestan draws tourists in search of both history and novelty. The southern ancient city, which dates back to the 4th century, was founded as an important conduit on the Silk Road and also served as a key religious centre. Now shaping up as a hub of historical tourism,Turkestan has much to offer.

What to see:

The Mausoleum of Khoja Ahmed Yasawi is hailed as Kazakhstan’s greatest architectural monument and most important pilgrimage site. Built in the 14th century to honour the revered Muslim religious scholar and mystic, Khoja Ahmed Yasawi, it was left unfinished after Timur, the historic ruler of the area who commissioned the project, died. But the landmark’s innovative design and construction methods have greatly influenced Islamic religious architecture, and the monument was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2003.

The neighbouring Mausoleum of Rabiga-Sultan Begum is worth a visit too. Smaller in size, it was built for Timur’s wife. The structure is a replica of the original mausoleum built in the 15th century, and torn down in 1898. 

Be sure to check out the Hilvet semi-underground mosque in the complex too. Yasawi was said to have lived in the underground mosque towards the end of his life. 

From Turkestan, one can easily visit other ancient cities nearby by getting in a taxi. The two most prominent ancient cities nearby are Sauran in the north, and Otrar in the south. Together with Turkestan, the three were vibrant and celebrated cities that served as important nodes on the Silk Road caravan routes, up until trade on the road declined. 

Where to stay:

Hotel Edem is a popular accommodation option for travellers spending the night in Turkestan, as it is located just a 5-minute walk away from the Mausoleum of Khoja Ahmed Yasawi.

The hotel offers basic facilities for travellers, including a restaurant and bar. Rates begin from S$60 a night. 

Photo from Booking.com
Photo from Booking.com

How to get there:

It is possible to take a train to Turkestan from Nur-Sultan and Almaty by train, though you have to be prepared for a long journey. The train ride from Almaty takes 17 hours, and 27 hours from Nur-Sultan! But Turkestan is an easy day trip from Shymkent. The journey takes about 2 hours by mini-bus, and costs less than S$3. 

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