Turkestan Kazakhstan: the Kazakh silk road
This post is a travel guide about the best things to do in Turkestan Kazakhstan. Turkestan is one of the most important historic cities in central Asia. Even though there are a lot of archeological remains throughout the country, none are so well preserved as the mausoleum in Turkestan Kazakhstan.
Turkestan will give you a good sense of what the glory days of the Silk road in Kazakhstan were like. Furthermore, Turkestan is still an important place of worship for local people.
Despite the current struggles in tourism, Kazakhstan itself pronounced Turkestan among the top 10 tourist destinations in the country in 2021. In the same year the Turkic states declared that Turkestan is the spiritual capital of the Turkic world.
History of Turkestan Kazakhstan.
Turkestan’s history goes a long way back. The first people settled here around the 4th century. The small town of Yasi gained it’s importance in the 11th century when it developed into a centre for spirituality and Islamic philosophy under Sufi saint Khoja Ahmed Yasaui.
Along with its religious significance, Turkestan also became an important trading centre on the ancient Silk road and a crossroad influenced by the Kazakh steppes in the north and Persian cultures in the South.
It was Timur the great who built the beautiful mausoleum for Khoja Ahmed Yasaui and you will see many similarities with Uzbek and Iranian architecture. After all, Timur also built many of the Islamic buildings in Samarkand. Another important Silk road city in Uzbekistan.
However, Turkestan also had a strong link with the people of Kazakhstan. In the 16th century Turkestan became the political centre of the Kazakh steppes when it was the capital of the Kazakh Khanate untill the Russians took over. Eventually Turkestan became part of the Kazakh Soviet Socialist Republic.
This travel guide about Turkestan in Kazakhstan will help you in planning your trip.
Things to do in Turkestan Kazakhstan
1. Turkestan Yasaui mausoleum
The Khoja Ahmed Yasaui mausoleum is the main reason most tourists and local people travel to Turkestan in Kazakhstan. And for good reasons. The Mausoleum with its intricate blue tiled mosaic patterns is beautiful. It gives you a glimpse of what to expect in other central Asian Silk road cities like Khiva, Bukhara, Samarkand, Shiraz and Isfahan if you haven’t been there yet.
Kojha Ahmed Yasaui lived in Turkestan in the 11th century and was a poet, philiosopher and spiritual leader. When he died his tomb became a popular pilgrimage site for sufi muslims in the area. King Timur the great built the mausoleum in 1390, but died before it was finished.
What you can still see today is impressive with blue tilework everywhere. It is a UNESCO World Heritage site, because it is one of the largest and best preserved examples of Timurid design and construction. One that had a huge influence in the region.
Citizens from the far abroad are rare and according to the pricelist we have to pay 500 tenge entrance compared to 300 for neighbouring countries and 200 for Kazakhs. For an additional fee you can ride a camel or take a selfie with a peacock.
The poems of the sufi poet Yasaui are nowhere to be seen. All signs are in Russian and the english translation on every board is limited to: ‘this is a site of national importance’.
2. Underground Mosque
In the same complex as the mausoleum you can find the 12th century underground mosque of Turkestan that is still used for prayers by local pilgrims. At the same time it is a museum where you can see the original model of the mosque’s design.
3. The Hammam
Don’t miss the ancient bath house of Turkestan when you visit the mausoleum complex. It has some ancient pots and tools on exhibition.
4. Turkestan’s History museum
Kazakhstan is proud on its history and Turkestan is the oldest man made architectural masterpiece in the country. There is even a free museum displaying all the historical artefacts and the obligatory praises to former president Nazarbayev. Don’t forget this is a site of national importance.
5. Historical Cultural Ethnographic Centre
Next to the mausoleum is the Historical Cultural Ethnographic centre that is more elaborate than the free museum. There are 3 floors of exhibitions about the history and culture of Turkestan Kazakhstan.
entrance fee: 500 tenge
6. Turkestan’s bazaar
Turkestan still has a bazaar, but don’t expect any history here. It is rather small, but a typical central asian bazaar that is similar to the bazaar in Shymkent. That means a few local products and a lot of Chinese stuff.
If it is up to Nazarbayev Kazakhstan will become once again a great nation and trading partner in the world economy. The modern silk road of cheap chinese products, gas and oil.
7. Keruen sarai
In 2021 Keruen sarai opened its doors. This brand new new complex is the largest tourist complex in Central Asia and is part of Kazakhstans project to promote tourism in Turkestan.
It wasn’t there yet when I last visited Turkestan, but it promises things like a theater, cinema, restaurants, hotels and a shopping center.
Things to do near Turkestan Kazakhstan
Sauran was once the biggest city in Kazakhstan on the ancient Silk Road and one of the few that survived the Mongol invasion. Despite all its glory, it was suddenly abandoned for reasons that are still unknown. The ruins today are covered in grass and leave much to the imagination. However, the city walls still stand and if you do make it all the way out here you are likely to be the only person there.
How to get there: Sauran is 40 kilometers north of Turkestan on the road to Kyzyl Orda. The easiest way to get there is by arranging a taxi in Turkestan. Otherwise you can take a bus to Kyzyl Orda and ask the bus driver to drop you off at the side of the road.
Where to sleep in Turkestan Kazakhstan
Most people travel to Turkestan on a day trip from Shymkent. However, there are some accomodation options in Turkestan as well. Especially, if you want to fit in a side trip to Sauran it is recommended to sleep in Turkestan.
1. Er-nur hostel
For budget travellers there is the Er-nur hostel. The hostel has friendly and helpful owners.
2. Edem hotel
The Edem hotel is used by most international tour operators travelling to Turkestan. It is not the cheapest option, but has good facilities and a good restaurant.
Turkestan Kazakhstan travel tips
When to visit
Spring is a great time to visit Turkestan Kazakhstan. At the end of march, Kazakhstan celebrates the spring festival of Nowruz. Shymkent has the biggest celebrations in the country with traditional horse games at the Hippodrome. In April and May it might rain, but this is also the time when wild tulips bloom in the area.
Winters are cold and summers can get hot, but autumn is another great time to visit.
Turkestan is in general a safe city and if you follow normal precautions it is unlikely you will encounter any problems as a tourist. Theft and robberies do happen as in most cities and are especially common at night.
For solo female travellers it is good to know that Turkestan is a bit more conservative than the bigger cities like Shymkent or Almaty. It helps to dress modestly.
How to travel to Turkestan Kazakhstan
By train to Turkestan
Turkestan has a train station so it is possible to travel directly from Nur-sultan (27 hours), Karaganda (23 hours) or Almaty (17 hours). Therefore it is easy to add Turkestan to your Kazakhstan itinerary. In my post on how tyo travel by train you can read more about train travel in Kazakhstan .
How to travel from Shymkent to Turkestan
Turkestan is an easy day trip from Shymkent. Shymkent is therefore a great city to base yourself to explore the area. Besides Turkestan there are other historical places like Sayram. Furthermore, this region has the best national parks in Kazakhstan to see wild tulips. Sayram Ugam National Park and Aksu Zhabagly National Park are just around the corner and show Kazakhstan’s nature in its full glory.
From Samal busstation there are frequent marshrutka’s (minibusses) to Turkestan. The journey from Shymkent to Turkestan takes about 2 hours. Ask the bus driver to drop you at the mausoleum once it comes into sight.
You can find more practical information about traveling in Kazakhstan in my Backpacking Kazakhstan guide.
Disclaimer: This Turkestan travel guide about Turkestan Kazakhstan contains affiliate links. If you buy any service through any of my links, I will get a small commission at no extra cost to you. These earnings help me to keep Backpack Adventures alive! Thanks for your support!