ASTANA – With an ambition to become one of the progressive global cities, the Kazakh capital is attracting more and more foreigners. Academic and photographer Evagoras Xydas spoke with The Astana Times about his personal experience living in the city and the inspiration it has provided.
Moving to the capital was an adventurous decision, as Xydas had little information about the country. When a friend shared his positive impressions of working there, he accepted a position in 2016 as an Assistant Professor at Nazarbayev University. He previously worked in Cyprus and the U.K.
Vast, mysterious and authentic are the three words that best describe Kazakhstan, said Xydas.
“The most impressive thing about Astana is that it is a changing city. Each month, your window view is different. I’ve never experienced this before – to live in a big city which is transforming so rapidly. Seeing all these new buildings appearing impressed me the most,” he noted.
Xydas taught automatic control and dynamics courses in the mechanical and aerospace engineering department. His interactions with students were fascinating and a chance to learn about the Kazakh people.
“I was really impressed with the level of the students. They are disciplined in learning. They have a pure interest to learn and understand science beyond the requirements of their study programme,” he added.
Xydas discovered it takes time to connect with the city. He enjoyed visiting Almaty, Bayan Ayul in the Pavlodar region, Burabai, Karaganda and other small cities.
“I fell in love with Almaty. I have many pictures of mountains in Almaty. I was also impressed with my trip to Bayan Ayul. I went there on a bus. The bus went from village to village and it was the first time I experienced the real Kazakhstan… It is really beautiful and authentic. People are hospitable there,” he said.
An adventure seeker by nature, Xydas enjoyed mountain climbing in Almaty.
“I was amased how fast you can go from the beautiful city to the wild, demanding mountains. You just get a bus number 12 and in 40 minutes you find yourself from the modern city to the middle of endless mountains. I also like the fact that if you get the bus in the winter, it is full of people with skies, sleighs and snowboards going to the mountains. People in Almaty like to interact with what their place has to offer. They greet you and share their food,” he said.
Strolling with a camera is the best way to explore a new city.
“I enjoyed walking by the river and visiting the Artyom Bazaar. I like visiting neighbourhoods of the old town. It is a lively area. It is a good contrast to the open spaces of the left bank, which are a bit more formal,” he said.
“Photography is an art. It is an expression. We need to express our creative nature. When I focus on my work and do not take pictures for long time, I turn into a cold professional. I lose contact with my emotions. Photography keeps me in touch with my emotional nature, the artistic part of my brain and poetic kind of view of the world. It helps me escape my engineering and scientific view of life,” he added.
Xydas’ works are available on Instagram at @vaoris_photography. His friends and followers are surprised by the city’s modern, futuristic architecture.
“It’s confusing for people when I post pictures from Kazakhstan, because I post great pictures of mountains, then skyscrapers, pictures of endless steppes, of villages without roads. People are quite impressed by these different images of this country,” he said.
He has plans to visit Mongolia and Uzbekistan, but will definitely be happy to return to Kazakhstan and remain for a few years.
“I would like to suggest to the expats to open up to Kazakh people and not stay isolated in circles where only foreigners hang out with one another. They will see how good and open the Kazakh people are. They will be surprised by the strong friendships they can build with the locals. Go to isolated places far from Astana and the main cities to experience the real Kazakhstan. Kazakhstan is a beautiful country and I invite them to travel around and see the beauties that this country has to offer outside these cities. They should definitely try hiking, skiing and mountaineering in Almaty. I haven’t seen more accessible mountains than those in Almaty,” he said.