ASTANA – A trip to Uralsk offers visitors the opportunity to experience the Russian historic and cultural touch, see the country’s oldest drama theatre and discover Bukei Horde district outside the town.
Located on the Ural River, Oral (Uralsk in Russian) is a city in northwestern Kazakhstan with a population of approximately 290,000 (as of 2016). Ethnic Kazakhs represent the majority of the residents, along with a large percent of ethnic Russians and smaller numbers of Tatar, Bashkir and other ethnic groups.
Founded by Cossacks in 1613, the city was originally part of the Russian Empire.
Russian influence is still present today and because Uralsk is geographically near Russia and its history and culture strongly impacted the city’s architecture, culture and people.
“The city played a small part in Russian history as the centre of the Yemelyan Pugachev serf rebellion in the 18th century. The father of Russian Literature, Alexander Pushkin, visited the city with his friend Vladimir Dahl in September 1833 while doing research for his book ‘The History of Pugachev’ and his novel ‘The Captain’s Daughter’.”
How to Get to Uralsk
Direct flights to Uralsk are available from Astana and Almaty via Air Astana, Bek Air and Scat Airlines. An Aktau-Uralsk flight was recently launched by Qazaq Air.
“The city’s airport has small maintenance problems because of its current condition. Small delays and take off problems happen at times,” said Onur Travel Company tourism manager Lyubov Pobedimova.
The airport is about a 20-minute drive from the city’s outskirts and about 40 minutes from its centre.
Where to Go, What to See
The country’s oldest Russian drama theatre dates to the mid-19th century. Uralsk also has a bigger and modern Kazakh drama theatre and two Russian Orthodox churches with beautiful architecture.
The Yemelyan Pugachev Museum is located in an 18th-century house built as a residence for Pyotr Kuznetsov, an Ural Cossack.
“It once happened to be the very centre of the Pugachev-inspired Russian serf rebellion, which took place between 1773-1775. The building was also home to a library before it was transferred to a regional historical museum. It houses an extensive display of Ural Cossacks’ artefacts such as cannons, banners and luxurious presents from Tsars (Slavic monarchs, supreme rulers.) This is a very exciting exhibition that represents the life of Ural Cossacks,” according to open sources.
Out of Town Experience
“One can pass wildlife sanctuaries by sailing on an alloy along the Ural River. There is a fully enclosed nature reserve about 30 kilometres from Uralsk,” said Pobedimova.
Located about 75 kilometres south of Uralsk, Shalkar Lake is among the biggest in southeast Eurasia, notes silkadv.com. The lake has salty water that experts claim is rich with mineral elements and therefore has curative properties. Shalkar Lake suffered serious ecological problems in 2014.
“The lake is a very popular destination among vacationers these days,” he added.
Konyskerei Cave stands near the Egindykol settlement in the Karatobe district of west Kazakhstan region, about 230 kilometres from Uralsk. It can barely be seen from the top due to the tall hills.
Settlement council chair Konyskerei Kozhakhmetov used the cave as a shelter for a year after he killed a policeman in 1923 while trying to protect a guest at his home, according to uralskweek.kz.
Another sightseeing spot in the region is the approximately 10-kilometre long Akkum Desert located at nearby Egindykol settlement.
“Bukei Orda, a district in West Kazakhstan Region about 550 kilometres from Uralsk, can take some time getting to but is an interesting place to visit,” said Pobedimova.
Hanskaya Stavka (Khan’s Headquarters), the spot of the Bukei Horde khans, has stood at the settlement since 1801.
“Hanskaya Stavka is a fenced big territory with houses where Kazakh khans used to live and work. The territory has a museum, mausoleums and burials of khans and their families,” said Pobedimova.
One can also find a mansion of khans and merchants, the Treasury and other buildings preserved until the present day. Pine forests planted by Bukei Khan still grow near the horde.
Pobedimova said many tourists also travel to Samara, a Russian city near Uralsk.
“There are not many foreigners in Uralsk. More foreigners work at the city named Aksai about 120 kilometres from Uralsk,” she added.
Where to Stay
Pobedimova recommends the mid-range Chagala Hotel as a good, inexpensive stay in the centre of the city and Rakhat Hotel located more than four kilometres from the train station.
Victoria Hotel is a 10-minute walk from Oral Shopping Mall and the four-star Pushkin Hotel is about a three-minute walk from the Ural River, according to Booking.com.
“Foreign guests mostly stay at Pushkin Hotel,” she said.
Hotel Vegus and Kurmet Hotel provide pet-friendly accommodations in Uralsk. Located on a river shore, Park Hotel offers a sauna and terrace farther from the city noise.