The largest landlocked country in the world Kazakhstan is about the size of Western Europe. Geographically the country possesses great contrasts. In the north lies a border with Siberia with freezing winds and temperatures to match. The arid central steppes include one of the largest lakes in the world, Lake Balkhash, which is half saline, half fresh water. Deserts are found near the Caspian Sea in the west including the Karagie Depression, 132m (433ft) below sea level, the second lowest point in the world after the Dead Sea in Israel. In the south-east lie the Tian Shan mountains whose highest peaks Pobeda Peak (7439m/24,406ft) and Khan-Tengri Peak (7010m/23,000ft) attract climbers from around the world. Astana was made Kazakhstan’s new capital in 1998, as its location was thought to be more accessible to the Russian Federation than Almaty, the former capital. However, Almaty remains a fascinating place to visit. The 28 Panfilov Heroes Memorial Park honours the Kazakhs who died fighting against the Nazis. Hot springs, waterfalls, and forest walks are found at the Turgen Gorge 90km away and nearby is the Medeu ice rink where the speed-skaters of the Soviet Union used to train. The Great Silk Road passed through Kazakhstan and ancient sights abound including those in Golovachovka, where the ruins include the 11th-century Babadzi-Khatun Mausoleum and the 12th-century Mausoleum Aisha Bibi. Aksu-Jabagli is a UNESCO biosphere reserve that’s home to 238 species of birds, 42 species of animals and 1300 species of plants. Located in the Kaskasu River valley on the border with Kirghistan and Uzbekistan the Sayram-Ugam National Park is home to snow leopards, bears, lynx, golden eagles, and bearded vultures.
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