Our time in the Oskemen city (Russian name: Ust-Kamenogorsk) in the east region of Kazakhstan, will always stay unique for us. The apartment that we found for a very cheap price, gave us an opportunity to live in the heart of a vibrant neighbourhood area. We bought a local beer straight from the tap to a plastic bottle (oh well…), enjoyed a chill time in our “home” and walked ourselves tired, wandering around in this special, not-so-famous place.
Founded as a Russian fort in 1720, Oskemen developed from a small town into a major mining and metallurgical center of nonferrous metallurgy (lead, zinc, titanium and magnesium). These industries have kept the city out of the economic doldrums, but at the same time they have been deteriorating the quality of the air (which we could feel). The smoke of the huge red-and-white chimneys can be seen from a distance, and it does not attract tourists, who usually are travelling through it to get to Kazakh Altai mountains.
Once we started exploration, it instantly felt like we would belong to those streets where the time has truly stopped. Timeworn Soviet era buildings, each with a playground, everywhere small private corner shops and local products – it seemed that “the western influence” is very far from that area.
Near our apartment stood an impressive hockey stadium with the statue of the famous Soviet-Kazakh ice hockey player Boris Alexandrov. The city around was busy, we squeezed inside rusty buses and trams full of people to get around it. In the Ethnographic park (a private park created by locally respected Nikolai Zaitsev) we were surrounded by variously sized Lenin statues placed next to WW2 tanks and the amazing collection of traditional houses from different areas of the Soviet Union. We thought nothing could impress us more, and then we found quite a surprise behind the hedge in a small city park. Historical stone stelae (called balbals), dating back some 5000 years (!), with their carved human faces, greeted us warmly and made us stand in awe. The more we explored the more it became clear – this original city full of small gems needs much more exploring than we did!