A small private museum mainly geared towards educating schoolchildren about environmental issues, but in the process it covers some dark aspects, such as nuclear testing, space junk and climate change. Worth popping in to when in Karaganda
>What there is to see
>Access and costs
>Combinations with other dark destinations
>Combinations with non-dark destinations
What there is to see:
this is an unusual museum – by any account but especially within Kazakhstan
. All those typical regional museums "of history and local lore" that you can find in so many provincial towns across the country (cf. Ekibastuz
) follow more of less the same blueprint and cover a bit of everything from archaeology via zoology to the obligatory section about independent Kazakhstan and its president. Not so the Ecomuseum, which has a very specific overarching theme. As the name implies that is the theme of ecology.
As such it aims to be primarily an educational institution, and its principal target audience are groups of local schoolchildren. But it can also cater for other visitors, including foreign tourists. As such you may want to have a guided tour, though, because a) most labelling is in Russian only, and b) some of the installations need to be "activated" by a member of staff.
The museum occupies a single large hall, with a gallery going round on a second level for three quarters of the wall – but this is not part of the museum as such (it's where offices etc. are).
Starting at the near wall by the entrance, the permanent exhibition kicks off with a section about mineralogy and mining – fitting, given Karaganda
's association with, especially, coal mining. There's an endearing model diorama of an opencast pit, more like what you find in Ekibastuz. Furthermore there are samples of all manner of minerals and other mineable elements and artefacts such as a mine telephone and even a borehole drill head. Note also the little drawings set into the wooden floorboards that match the mining theme!
Starting on the near-side long wall, the topic of oil drilling is next, as well as the associated industries and pollution issues. There are some interactive panels and videos as well.
It gets grimmer with the following section: nuclear power. Chernobyl
is covered as well and there is a large mock-up panel of a reactor's fuel rod arrangement, complete with mock meters (that obviously have no real function).
Particular emphasis is given – quite predictably, really – to the Soviet nuclear weapons testing at the Polygon
, the Semipalatinsk Test Site in eastern Kazakhstan. Part of the wall is made to resemble the interior of an observation bunker at the Test Site – and through the viewing slits you can see pictures of mushroom clouds. Photos from the site include an impressive one of molten rock – with a wristwatch laid down for size reference (that watch has never been worn again, one would presume … or hope). The very first atomic bomb, Trinity
, tested by the USA
just before Hiroshima
, has its own panel.
There are some large items such as a piece of a wing of a plane, presumably from around WWII
, complete with a Soviet
Air Force red star and some sets of rather random-looking ensembles of electronic gear of obscure function. Lots of controls, red lights and cables, and one piece of apparatus that looks like a laser gun straight out of one of the wackier James Bond films.
The far wall of the exhibition hall is taken up by a large section about space and, in particular, space junk. Underneath an arrangement that is vaguely reminiscent of a sci-fi spaceship bridge, there are genuine artefacts that have fallen back onto the Kazakh steppe from all those launches of rockets at Baikonur
: parts of fuel tanks, nozzles and unidentifiable debris, as well as an item that looks very much like the top of manned space capsule, only a bit on the small side. It does show clear re-entry scorch marks, though. One especially large piece of space junk (from a Proton rocket) is under a hatch in the floor – but unfortunately that was not accessible at the time of my visit, due to refurbishment works going on.
In general, the area space around the actual exhibition had the appearance of a junkyard, a jumble of all manner of things, as well as parked bicycles – the Ecomuseum is championing the use of this environmentally friendly means of transport. And indeed, two teenagers came in to pick up a couple of bikes during my visit.
There were traces of temporary exhibitions, pushed together to be taken away mostly, but a set of panels about saiga conservation was still complete. The saiga, in case you don't know, is a type of antelope, with a characteristic large and bulbous nose (to pre-warm the cold steppe winter air before it reaches the lungs). They once roamed the Kazakh steppe in their millions – a kind of Kazakh equivalent of the Serengeti's sweeping herds of wildebeest. But mass poaching has brought the species close to extinction within the space of a couple of decades. It's the males' horns, that are particularly prized. Just like rhino horns, these are stupidly regarded as a remedy for erectile dysfunction …. especially in China
, as you would expect – home to so many disastrous medical myths that are so frustratingly difficult to eradicate. It's just depressing that such lowest cerebral dumbness can do so much harm to an entire species.
On a nicer animal-related note: when I was there, so was a friendly young cat, apparently resident in the museum – and this is quite unusual for Kazakhstan, where cats are not normally regarded as pets (at best they're seen as one step up from rats). The little fella followed us round the museum and was so cute I could have abducted him …
In the middle of the junkyard part of the museum undergoing refurbishment also stood a tourist information desk. Apparently, the museum functions/functioned as such an institution as well. In this connection, staff of the Ecomuseum have also published their own Kazakhstan travel guide (in the series Discovery Guides – see discovery-kazakhstan.com).
The Ecomuseum is also home to Nomadic Travel, a tour operator for central and eastern Kazakhstan (and a partner of the Dutch specialist agent Kazakhstan Tours
– see sponsored page here
), including trips taking in the Polygon
and the gulag museums of ALZHIR
. If you're on a longer tour with them, a visit to the Ecomuseum will most likely be included.
Nomadic Travel has actually grown out of an Ecological Tourism project (ETPACK) initiated by the Ecomuseum in co-operation with the German conservationist association NABU (www.nabu.de) and is supported by various organizations, such as the Saiga Conservation Alliance (www.saiga-conservation.com). So you'd certainly be in ecologically kosher hands here!
in the centre of Karaganda
, on the ground floor of the building of the geological department at 47 Bukhar Zhirau Avenue.
Access and costs: fairly easy, cheap.
the building that the museum is housed in is easy enough to locate – it's the one to the south of the fountain-adorned plaza at 47 Bukhar Zhirau Avenue, right next to a large and colourful socialist realist
mosaic. From the outside, however, the museum is not marked. To find it you have to step in through the central door of the glass fronted building. The museum entrance is down the corridor immediately to the right.
Admission: nominally 120 KZT for adults (children are charged half price), but if you're travelling on an organized larger itinerary with Nomadic Travel, then a visit to the Ecomuseum, with guided tour, will be included free of charge as a matter of course.
Time required: the tour I was given lasted about an hour, but the talk the guide gave lingered on basic issues of ecological education a bit longer than was strictly speaking necessary for a visitor who already knows a bit about such things (unlike the normal target audience of schoolchildren); so an individual visit could quite probably be much shorter than that.
Combinations with other dark destinations:
in general see Karaganda
– until fairly recently (May 2011) one of the city's main landmarks, a large statue of Lenin, used to stand in the square right outside the museum – but alas it has been moved to suburbia too now. However, some of the other monuments, such as the coal miners' one or the Nurken Abdirov statue are still just round the corner. The regional museum isn't far either.
Combinations with non-dark destinations:
- Ecomuseum 01 - the building
- Ecomuseum 02 - main hall
- Ecomuseum 03 - mineralogy
- Ecomuseum 04 - open-cast coal mine model
- Ecomuseum 05 - mining painting on the floor boards
- Ecomuseum 06 - underground mining section
- Ecomuseum 07 - nuclear energy section
- Ecomuseum 08 - mock-up of Polygon test site observation bunker
- Ecomuseum 09 - Trinity
- Ecomuseum 10 - piece of fighter plane wing
- Ecomuseum 11 - obscure stuff
- Ecomuseum 12 - more obscure stuff
- Ecomuseum 13 - space section
- Ecomuseum 14 - space junk
- Ecomuseum 15 - perhaps part of a capsule
- Ecomuseum 16 - saiga conservation section
- Ecomuseum 17 - mobile tourist info desk
- Ecomuseum 18 - friendly resident cat