What can I say about Almaty without embarrassing myself and insulting anyone? I know the Winter Olympics were held there some time ago (aging Dutch skaters keep reminding us that they won medals there) and my wife has been there (she’s a stewardess and “bad girls go everywhere,” as the saying goes).
That’s pretty thin, I admit, so I guess I need to know more. But before I consult the Great Oracle Of Global Life Etcetera, I would like to invite you to share your own ignorance by posting questions in the comments section below. And, with a bit of luck, some kind and wise resident of Almaty will quench our thirst for knowledge and save us some embarrassment.
Let’s start by setting the record straight: Almaty is not the capital of Tajikistan, nor is it the capital of Kazakhstan (Astana took its place in 1997). It is, however, the key commercial centre of Kazakhstan, located in the southern part of the country, near the border with Kyrgyzstan (thank you, Wikipedia). The city is also known by its former names Verny (which means “faithful”) and Alma-Ata (which means I get one point).
Jokes aside, the name Almaty derives from the words “alma” and “ata”, which respectively mean “apple” and “father” in Kazakh. The two words combined – Alma-Ata or Almaty – refer to a saint’s tomb in an apple orchard. Literally, “Father of the Apples”.
All of which brings me to a truly intriguing discovery: the region around Almaty is renowned for the many species of wild apples that grow there. Scientists from around the world come to study apples in and around Almaty, which is thought to be the ancestral home of the apples you and I (should) eat every day.
Having said all that, I’m tempted to change my title to: “Almaty: The Big Apple?” But I shall resist the temptation, because that would mean rewriting this whole piece. Instead, I will use the time I have saved to tell you that Almaty has never hosted the Winter Olympics, which means certain Dutch skaters are lying or I have grossly misinterpreted their words. I suspect it may be the latter, unfortunately.
I could, of course, go on regurgitating facts about Almaty and Kazakhstan, pilfered online, but that would be silly and perhaps even boring. Instead, I’ll leave you with words of wisdom from my father, who travelled the world as a salesman and claimed that one could tell a great deal about a country from the pictures on its banknotes.
This 20-tenge bill was one of the first Kazakh banknotes I came across online. Perhaps someone can tell us something about the man in the picture, and about the horse, rider and eagle on the reverse. And if you have any other interesting questions or intriguing facts about Almaty and Kazakhstan, feel free to share them below.
Meanwhile, I’m off to plan a trip to “The Big Apple”. I can’t wait to see the look on my wife’s face when we get there.