I wasn’t quite sure what to expect when a friend in Almaty, a city that was previously the capital of Post-Soviet Kazakhstan recommended I take a cable car up to the Beatles monument on the hill.
Reaching Kok-Tobe was a bit of a bewildering experience. I arrived at the top of the hill with few expectations, and then caught sight of a stage, loud speakers pumping out what sounded like “it’s chapati time” and a bunch of terrifying circus clowns juggling ferrets. Kazakhstan doesn’t have the best press with regards to the humane treatment of animals. A couple of pseudo disney characters with DIY mickey mouse-inspired mascot heads were trying to coax the numerous kids (and their families) into dancing. As one caught sight of me and headed in my direction, I continued hastily on my way.
Continuing along the path, I caught a glimpse of a new resort in the making, a restaurant and complex which promised great views of Almaty and the surrounding mountains in the near future. For the moment it was just a construction site. A couple of sassy-looking diva dogs in costume were leaving the area in a mini bus after having finished up on stage.
A not-so-gruelling climb up a few stairs and I’d reached the “summit” of Kok-Tobe. There before me stood the bronze Beatles monument, a sign that Beatlemania is still going strong in this part of the world, though the presence of this monument did seem quite unlikely. I took a photo because of the novelty, checked out the city scape, and behind me caught sight of the strangely beautiful scenic vista of the mountains. It could have been anywhere in the world, but from the context of this strange dystopian fair ground on a hill in Kazakhstan, it felt a little strange.
Leaving the monument behind me I entered the fantasy land of Kok Tobe’s mini themepark. At the foot of the hill they advertised an adventure land full of wildlife, beautiful panoramas and fun for all the family. Instead, I was presented with rollercoasters which monotonously went around in circles. The kids seemed to be having fun at least. The wildlife actually consisted of a couple of peacocks locked in some shady cages. Again, not so much concern for animal welfare.
It was like one of those disappointing nightmares where you return to a place you love, and it’s different, you can see past the embellishments; it’s like going behind the scenes in a movie set, or escaping through the fire escape of a theme park ride. Everything had a “work in progress” appearance, or seemed like a half-assed attempt at copying Disney’s magic kingdom on a tight budget.
Eventually I headed back to the cable car, and caught sight of the fast coaster, a precarious looking ride that goes down the mountain with a speed of 45km per hour; it had the appearance of what happens when a roller coaster is bred with a toboggan and didn’t look too safe, given that each individual cart had its own manual brakes.
I decided to take the cable car and swifty left Kok-Tobe behind me.