Turkestan (Kazakh: Түркістан Türkistan) is a small but ancient city in the Kazakh Desert. Kazakhstan largely lacks the kinds of Central Asian historical towns that make Uzbekistan a popular travel destination, but the exception is this one, relatively well preserved, 1600-year-old city. In the 11th century AD, the great Sufi Sheikh Khoja Ahmad Yasavi turned the city into the region's principal centre of learning, drawing scholars from across the steppe. In the late 14th century, Timur commissioned the creation of a massive mausoleum in his honour, which is to this day Kazakhstan's most prominent historical attraction, a major Muslim pilgrimage site, and a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Although historically part of the Kazakh Khanate, Turkestan is mainly populated by ethnic Uzbeks.
Both due to Khoja Ahmad Yasavi's highly revered status among Turkic Muslims and the Soviet-era restrictions on international travel, Soviet Muslims have for long considered the city "the Second Mecca of the East", and have believed that a visit to Yasavi's mausoleum is equal to the Hajj to Mecca.
The nearest airport is in Shymkent, from where you can take quite frequent minibuses (costing about US$ 2), trains or taxis.
There are also train connections available from Almaty and the Uzbek capital of Tashkent. The border crossing on the latter line takes place around midnight, and speaking one of the local languages or Russian will certainly help in communicating with the officials.
From Shymkent Tauke Khan, take bus #26 to Bekzhan Bazaar (Бекжан). With the blue/orange Bazaar building to your right, go past a yurt. Go through a car park and a building with parking underneath. You can also use the smell of samsa to help guide you. The minivans are parked across from the Toyota and Hyundai dealership.There should be men yelling out their destinations as they stand next to their vans. Drivers go when the van is full. There will also be signs on the van with its destination on the windshield. The trip will take about 2 hours and will drop you off at Merey (мерей) bus station in Turkestan. It's also possible to be dropped off near the Yasawi mausoleum. The cost to Turkestan is 700 tenge to/from Shymkent in a 20-passenger minivan (as of September 2017).
From Shymkent Tauke Khan, you can also take bus #93 to Samal Bazaar. Walk across Samal Bazaar to Samal bus station, there are minibus to Turkestan. The cost is 800 tenge if you take the minibus from Samal Bazaar to Turkestan.
Public transport in Turkestan is by minibus or taxi. Minibus 1 or 1A go from Mausoleum to Merek bus station. The cost is 40 tenge (September 2017).
- 1 Mausoleum of Khoja Ahmed Yasawi (Мавзолей Ходжи Ахмеда Ясави). Commissioned in 1389 for the 12th century Sufi poet and mystic Khoja Ahmed Yasawi but never finished. This mausoleum is nevertheless a major destinations for pilgrimages from across Central Asia and has come to epitomize the Kazakh national identity. Since this is a religious place dress accordingly. Men should not wear shorts and cover your shoulders. Headscarves are handed out at the entrance of the mausoleum for free. 500 tenge.