Photographer Yulia Denisyuk returned to the land of her birth to discover how Kazakhstan’s endless steppes and rugged mountains tell the nation’s rich story.
“Sipping black tea with milk from a blue-and-white piala ceramic bowl, I felt like a child again. We’d arrived at Saty, a small village in southern Kazakhstan, after driving all day from Almaty through an otherworldly terrain of wide steppe grasslands, narrow gorges and snow-capped mountains. I was born in Almaty, Kazakhstan’s former capital and its biggest city. Although I moved to Estonia when I was three years old, I returned to Kazakhstan every summer to visit my grandmother.
“Yet, until now, I had barely explored the rest of the country outside the city limits. The sky-scraping peaks of the Tian Shan mountain range form a natural barrier between Kazakhstan’s south-eastern corner and neighbouring Kyrgyzstan and China. It’s here, in the Almaty region, where the country’s most spectacular landscapes lie. After years abroad, I returned to fulfil a dream: getting to see this vast nation beyond my birth city. I’m not the only traveller who hasn’t seen much of Kazakhstan.
“Despite being 40 times larger than its Caspian neighbour Georgia, only one-ninth as many foreign visitors came to Kazakhstan as Georgia in 2022 – and most stay in the nation’s two largest cities: Almaty and Astana. But those who venture beyond the cities get to experience a rugged land, where horses and camels graze on the endless steppes and the Indigenous Kazakh culture comes alive.”
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