Famous for being the top archaeological jewel, Turkestan is an excellent destination near the oldest city of Shymkent. This must-visit place represents Kazakhstan’s glory days of the ancient Silk Road.
Mausoleum of Khoja Ahmed Yassawi
Renowned as ‘the Pearl of Turkestan’, the Mausoleum Of Khoja Ahmed Yassawi is a masterpiece of medieval architecture. The mausoleum grandeur, characterized by its turquoise dome and intricate tilework, reflects the Timurid era’s artistic brilliance.
Khoja Ahmed Yassawi played a crucial role in spreading Islam to Central Asia, and even today, his mausoleum attracts tons of pilgrims to Turkestan. It is his final resting place. Timur ordered the construction of a mausoleum in 1389 but died before the whole structure was complete. 2004 the site was added to the UNESCO World Cultural Heritage List. The entire site displays the beauty and style of Timurid architecture.
According to the locals, three trips to this mausoleum will reap the same fruit as one Umrah to Mecca.
Mausoleum of Rabia Sultan Begum
The Mausoleum of Rabia Sultan Begum is located next to the Khoja Ahmed Yasawi Mausoleum. The structure features intricate geometric patterns and beautiful mosaic tilework on the domed roof. Rabia Sultan Begum was one of Timur’s granddaughters, and the small mausoleum preserves her legacy.
Once you explore the Khoja Ahmed Yasawi Mausoleum, you must visit the Mausoleum of Rabia Sultan Begum to witness the artistic prowess of the Timurid era.
The Underground Mosque
Once you have explored both mausoleums, the underground mosque is another exciting place to visit. It is located near them and known for its unique architectural design as it is partially built underground, which is pretty rare.
You can enter the mosque through the stairway leading to an underground space. Once inside the area, you will see a large prayer hall with high columns and ceilings. Khoja Ahmed Yasawi, at age 63, descended to these underground quarters and spent the rest of the years meditating and praying. The interiors are adorned with several visually aesthetic elements, calligraphy, and tilework. The lighting further makes the whole ambiance serene.
The entrance fee is 500 KZT, and the opening times are 9 AM to 6 PM on all days of the week.
Masjid Khoja Ahmad Yassavi
Another place to visit in Turkestan is Masjid Khoja Ahmad Yassavi. It blends the Timurid architectural style with massive styles and creates a unique structure different from all the other regional sites.
A vast turquoise dome and two majestic minarets dominate the whole structure. It is an architectural marvel and a must-visit place while exploring Turkestan.
Karavan Saray is a modern amalgamation of a theme park and shopping mall that is a fun place to visit with your kids. It serves as a relaxing site from the scorching heat of the region and offers several entertaining activities.
You can take a boat trip, enjoy the rides, watch an 8D movie at Golden Egg cinema, and witness the equestrian show. It is located at walking distance from the Yasawi Mausoleum. The opening hours are 10 AM to 10 PM on all the days of the week.
This large and colorful bazaar is located west of the mausoleum complex. You will love the mouth-watering aromas of food in the air that will tantalize your taste buds to try the best of Kazakh cuisine. From the local kurt, shashlik, asip to beshbarmak and other delicacies, you can enjoy all street food cheaply.
Your Turkestan trip is incomplete without shopping from its vibrant bazaars. There are many options for your ornate souvenirs since they have unique pottery items and elegantly embroidered textile pieces.
Nearby Attractions From Turkestan:
Approx 60 km away from Turkestan, you can find the mausoleum of Arystan Bab. He was a great mentor and a teacher. That is why students preparing for exams spend nights at the mausoleum hoping to achieve their goals.
You can also visit the holy well next to this structure. It is said to cure ailments of all kinds and enhance beauty.
Ukash Ata mausoleum is located 55 km north of Turkestan. An ancient well here has been a spot of prayers for millennia, but the mausoleum itself was built in 1990.
According to the legend, the religious opponents of Ukash Ata wanted to kill the sage. They cut his head by tricking his wife to get his weakness. The severed head rolled through the two hills, which created a well where it landed. You can explore the mausoleum and the well to sample its holy water.
Otrar, an ancient city in Kazakhstan, holds historical significance as a thriving Silk Road hub. It was a trade, culture, and scholarship center featuring advanced infrastructure and architecture. Its ruins, including a citadel and mausoleums, reveal the city’s storied past. Today, Otrar is an archaeological site, attracting scholars and tourists eager to explore the remnants of this once-flourishing crossroads of diverse cultures and commerce.
The ruins of Sauran are located 45 minutes from Ukash Ata towards Kyzylorda. It is a strategic Silk Road outpost known for its defensive fortifications and thriving trade. Today, you can explore the standing walls with pottery and turquoise ceramics. It is an open place with no entrance fee.
Where to Stay in Shymkent?
You can stay anywhere in Shymkent. If you have little time, stay close to the Bekajan bus stop, where you get the shared cabs and buses to Turkestan. We stayed at the B&B Hotel and loved it.
The breakfast was lavish, the rooms were clean, and the reception was helpful. You can book it here.
We went the first week of October and paid USD 60 (for 1.5 nights). In Kazakhstan, all hotels check in at 14:00, and if you are arriving early, like we were at 5 AM, you need to pay extra to block the room. Depending on the hotel, you are charged 50% or 100% of the room rent.
How Do You Get From Shymkent to Turkestan?
We took a train from Almaty station to Shymkent. You can book the train on their official website.
Going to Turkestan: Book a YandexGo to the Bekajan Bus Stop. From there, ask anyone for Marshrutkas for the mausoleums. It will cost you approx 1400 tenge each and 3-4 hours to reach. They will drop you right opposite the mausoleum.
Coming back from Turkestan: Take a cab to Merey Bus Stop while getting around. You get shared cabs or Marshrutkas to Shymkent city at 1500 tenge each.
When To Visit Turkestan?
The best time to visit Turkistan, Kazakhstan, is spring and fall, specifically from April to June and September to October.
Tip: If you visit Turkistan, you can also make a short trip to Uzbekistan (Tashkent and Samarkand)
How To Get Around Turkestan?
The best way to go anywhere in Turkestan is either on foot or through a taxi that you can book through the YandexGo app. It is pretty affordable and convenient.
Once you reach Turkestan, make sure that you ask your driver to drop you off at the mausoleum. You can cover most of the area at the mausoleum by walking on your foot.
How Long Should You Spend In Turkestan?
The trip timings depend on your preference for staying at every site. You can generally cover all the major attractions in Turkestan in 3-4 hours. So, you can stay in Shymkent and cover Turkestan on a day trip. There is no need for an overnight stay.
Turkestan Entrance Tickets And Opening Hours
The entrance fee for the Mausoleum of Khoja Ahmed Yassawi is 500 KZT per person, and the opening times are 9 AM to 7 PM for all days of the week. You must pay another 500 KZT per person to explore the Underground Mosque.
The main mausoleum was under construction when we visited, so the fee was waived.