Almaty is the largest and most populated city in Kazakhstan. The number of citizens in 2013 reached almost 1.5 million and according to forecasts next year this number will approach a mark of 1.6 million residents.
For a long period of time Almaty kept a status of the capital, when in 1997 it stepped down to Astana, the current capital of the state. One of the main reasons was seismic turbulence in the Almaty region. Almaty was destroyed or heavily damaged by earthquakes three times in the last 125 years. Smaller earthquakes happen on a regular basis, thus 5 earthquakes happened within the last 12 months (prior to April 2014).
Though the political bodies were shifted, Almaty remains an important commercial and cultural center of Kazakhstan. Among locals it is still referred to as the “South Capital” due to its significant role in the state.
ECONOMY: Almaty generates approximately 20 per cent of Kazakhstan's GDP (or $36 billion in 2010). It is the biggest financial center in the whole of Central Asia as well as a huge regional transportation hub.
FINANCES: The financial sector of Almaty started to develop in 1993, when the Kazakhstan Stock Exchange was founded. KASE was created with an objective to introduce Tenge, the national currency. It has been 20-years since KASE evolved into the only licensed and regulated stock exchange in Kazakhstan. The National Bank of the Republic of Kazakhstan is the largest shareholder of the KASE with 50.1%. Other shareholders include banks, brokerage firms, asset management companies, pension funds and other professional financial institutions, as well as individuals.
AIRPORT: Almaty International Airport is a logistics node in between Europe and Asia. Almaty airport accounts for half of passenger traffic and 68% of cargo traffic to Kazakhstan. In 2012, the airport handled 4,003,004 passengers, including 1,997,570 arriving passengers, and 2,005,434 departing passengers.
Just recently, in March, 2014, Kazakhstan’s President Nazarbayev approved a draft project of the construction of a new airport in close proximity to Almaty. This step was taken to meet the all-time increasing cargo and passenger flow. The terminal capacity projected is 10 million passengers a year, which can later on be increased to 40 million on the basis of fully completed facilities. The lands of Kazakhstan are very rich with minerals, so prior to starting any construction the government initiates a number of soil investigations. The new airport project was not an exception. It took a long time to define the plot and finally it is allocated at 2000 hectares 48 km to the north-east of Almaty.
CULTURE: Almaty is the cultural center of Kazakhstan. The figures speak for themselves, the city hosts 270 official cultural originations, 14 theaters, 7 concert halls, 2 philharmonics, 32 museums, 20 art galleries, 39 libraries, 115 historical monuments…  Almaty is the main destination for Kazakh students, looking for higher education: 29 Universities and Institutes around the city. Along with those a lot of research centers and scientific communities are based namely in Almaty.
LANGUAGES: The Kazakh language is the state language, while Russian has an equal official status for all levels of administrative and institutional purposes.In each region the Kazakh language is spoken in a different way, being influenced by languages of neighbor countries. For example, in the South you may hear a lot of Uzbek words, in the west, Chinese. Nationals consider the purest and most correct Kazakh language to be spoken in the West. The West is a region as well, where you should travel to experience the spirit of Kazakh traditions.
BEHAVIOR “KNOW HOW”: Kazakhs are well known for their hospitality. Special attention is given to guest reception. The key dish at the table is meat. Kazakh traditional menu consist of lamb and horseflesh. The latest may seem quite unusual for many tourists, but those who try never regret afterwards. Horseflesh is said to be very tender.
Interesting traditions are related to lamb dishes. The lamb meat is boiled in large pieces and divided only after being served on the table. The oldest member of the family is given the right to cut the meat. Following traditions, the most precious part of this dish is a lamb head, given to honored guest, which, in turn should be shared by them among the members of the family present at the table. Young, unmarried girls usually get the cervical vertebrae, and the daughter-in-law or son-in-law always get the brisket.
CURRENCY OPERATIONS: The rates for major currencies are pretty much the same in different points of exchange. Credit cards as well as traveler checks are accepted. ATMs can be found all around the city.
The main restriction, to be aware of refers to currency export. You can import as much cash as you want. However, US $10,000 or its equivalent is the maximum amount of cash which can be freely exported from Kazakhstan. For purchases exceeding US$10,000 tariffs apply, and you must declare any cash you have exceeding US $3000.
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