22 March 2013

Celebrating Nauruz at the Baiterek and Pyramid in Astana

Following the school celebrations and the start of the holiday we have been enjoying the Nauruz (New Year) celebrations around the city.  Yesterday we took a walk with friends along the Ishim River to have lunch at one of our favourite cafes.  After a few hours at home we then walked around the corner to the Baiterek to enjoy the light show that has been put on there for Nauruz.

Astana Baiterek
The Baiterek, Astana
The Baiterek is a national monument in the center of Nurzhol Boulevard – the axis of the new city.  It represents a poplar tree in which Samruk, a magic bird, laid an egg.  You enter the structure underground where there is a souvenir shop, a ticket booth and a small aquatic display.  Tickets are not expensive – 500 tenge (about £2) and children below the age of five go free.  Two fast lifts take visitors up into the egg at the top of the tree to floor 97m above ground level.  This number is significant because 1997 was the year Astana became the capital city of Kazakhstan.  The observation deck has a 360 degree view of Astana and is the best place for new visitors to come to get their bearings.  There is a café on this level which serves soft drinks, beer and ice-cream. We come up here regularly to enjoy a pre dinner drink and watch the sun go down behind the Khan Shatyr.  The staff here know us well and are always friendly and welcoming.  On this visit our children were given a bar of 'Kazakhstan' chocolate as a gift to celebrate the New Year.

'USSR' Russian Icecream at the Baiterek
A flight of steps bring visitors up to the top floor where there is a wooden sculpture commemorating the Congress of leaders of the World and Traditional Religions which is held in Astana on a regular basis.  Next to this there is a plaque with a handprint of President Nazarbaev – the first president of independent Kazakhstan.  Visitors are invited to put their hand into the handprint and make a wish. This is particularly busy in the summer months when tours of visitors from all over Kazakhstan come to see and enjoy the capital.

Visitors in the Baiterek
Visitors make a wish by placing their hand in the handprint of the President.
In the last week the park around the Baiterek has been surrounded by tall pillars with lights on top and along the side.  In the evening the Baiterek is lit up with the lights which change colour and pattern in time to music.  The show is a repeating loop of tracks and patterns.  I am not usually a fan of these types of shows because the music is typically over-loud and very intrusive but this was very well done indeed.

We arrived a little early so we decided to go up to the top of the Baiterek.  We let the children make a new year’s wish before going to the café to enjoy a drink while watching the sunset behind the Khan Shatyr.  When the show started we took the lift back down to enjoy the display. 

Baiterek Sunset
Astana Sunset
Baiterek Lightshow
Baiterek Lightshow
Baiterek Astana
Baiterek Lightshow

All last week we have not been able to drive in front of the Pyramid Palace , our usual route to school as the road has been closed off with preparations for the Nauruz fair.  A number of stages and Yurts had been constructed to house displays and produce from eight different regions of Kazakhstan – Akmola (our local region), Kostany, Almaty, North and South Kazakhstan, Pavlodar, Kyzlorda and Karaganda. 

Pyramid of Peace and Reconciliation Astana
The Pyramid and roads being prepared for the Nauruz fair.
We had arranged to meet up with some friends who live close by and walk over to the fair.  Unfortunately the weather took a turn for the worse today and it was bitterly cold (think midwinter levels of cold in most other places).  Everybody looked to have been caught out – all the Shubas  (furs) and down coats have been put away because of the recent warm spell and most people were wearing woollen spring/autumn coats.

Nauruz Fair Astana
Nauruz Fair -Astana
We stayed for a while to watch some wrestling – we were lucky enough to catch a bout in which one of the national team members was competing (it was very short and extremely decisive) but it was too cold to stay and watch the displays much longer as the children were starting to shiver and even the adults were getting numb fingers.  The fair itself was a little bit of a let down.  We were expecting artisanal products, beautifully arrayed but the regional tents held nothing more than could be bought in a supermarket, all piled rather inelegantly on the tables.  

Wrestling for Nauruz
Traditional wrestling match
We went back to our friend’s house to let the children thaw a little and enjoy a New Year’s lunch.  A little later we went to one of the malls to pick up some passport photographs (one of the lovely things about Astana is that nothing closes on public holidays).  It was very sweet to see that the mall had arranged for a traditional Nauruz swing to be put up for children to enjoy and that some people had a horse and pony outside for children to have rides.

Horse Rides for Nauruz
Children enjoy a Nauruz ride
Click on the picture for more posts on life in Kazakhstan.

Ersatz Expat


  1. It was chilly xx We very much enjoyed the Baiterek light show also.
    Fab photos - another super post Mrs. EE.

  2. Many thanks DD. The light show seems to be on-going for some days so hopefully there will be a chance to enjoy it in warmer weather.

  3. It was very interesting to read for me - although, Kazakhstan was a part of USSR, as Ukraine (where I am from), still the traditions are very different. Thanks for sharing :) #ExpatTuesday

    1. So pleased that you enjoyed it. I would love to explore Ukraine. During the USSR a lot of the Kazakh traditions (and the language) were, we were told, quite suppressed so there is quite an effort to rebuild and re-establish some distinctively Kazakh celebrations and ensure that people learn the Kazakh language. Was it the same in Ukraine? Unlike there, however, Kazakh society pre USSR was, while ancient, predominantly nomadic so very easy to suppress.