Kazan: The place where pluralism is celebrated and wearing scarf is normal for Russians

The first thing that’d cross my mind when anyone mentions Kazan is Ivan the Terrible. Well, that was before I arrived in Kazan,that is, According to legend, after Ivan the Terrible seized Kazan, he wanted to celebrate by taking the deposed Khan's niece, Suyumbike, as his bride. Of course the beautiful Princess Suyumbike said no at first. She would only agree to marry him if he could build a tower higher than either of them had ever seen. The spire was erected in just six days. What a dedication, aye? After it was completed, Suyumbike said she wanted to look out upon the city from the high tower. Unfortunately, she jumped to her death when she reached the top. Ivan was not purposely being called the Terrible for no reason. It is said that he blinded those who were involved In the construction of St. Basil for the fear that there might be a more beautiful cathedral after. And of course his mood swings, that caused him a lot of troubles including beating his son to death over disagreement.

I told a few Russians about my plan to stop in Kazan and all of them gave 5 star reviews about it. I was a bit skeptical when I heard only good things about Kazan. I mean, who in their right mind would say bad things about their country to any traveler that they came across? Turned out that they have told the truth for Kazan really is a beautiful place and being a scarf-wearing Muslim, I felt so comfortable travelling alone here.

When I arrived to the hostel, I was the only traveler in the hostel so the hostel decided to upgrade me to their hotel next door. It was not feasible for the hostel’s costing to just letting one person in a 2-storeys hostel. Both the hostel and hotel are very clean and comfortable. I’m not fuss and it was good enough for me since everything is just walking distance.

Using Foursquare as my reference, I ended up visiting the Lifestyle Museum. It was easy to find for it has a big signboard that is written in English. It was a very chilly day so without much thought I decided to spend some time indoor. This museum is privately owned so there are some “For Sale” items on display. The best thing about this museum is you can try most of the toys unless stated otherwise. When I was there, a grandmother took her grandson there and they spent sometime playing with the toys. Most of the items on displays are the socialist’s arts and Soviet’s propaganda book. The museum also has wardrobe section, which consists of an autographed jacket from Scorpions, government’s servant jackets and school’s uniforms. Before I left, I was given a Lenin’s badge as souvenir from the museum. How cool is that?

On the second day, I was determined to find local halal restaurant. It is not only healthy for my pocket but of course for my sanity. Sushi restaurant is available in each corner of Kazan but the price and the quality is somewhat ridiculous I should say.  It is like having ‘roti telur’ with curry at a 5 star restaurant where you end up paying RM30 for one piece. I couldn’t find much info about cheap Halal restaurant on the Internet so I presume that these shops are definitely under the radar. The first Muslim girl that I saw and approached for the day speaks a very limited English. So she ended up with go straight, turn left, and turn left. The only clue I had was the shop is called Ramazan. In the true spirit of Dora the Explorer and based on the simple directions, off I went and you guessed it right. I couldn’t find the shop and ended up having latte at the overpriced café while watching the world went by.

I decided that I had enough dose of people watching and headed to Kazan’s Kremlin when I spotted a bookshop. I walked in and prayed hard that they would have something in English. The shopkeeper showed the English section, which were only 2 tiers out of 6 tiers rack. And only two titles that are not the abridged version: The wind in the willows and Joseph Conrad’s Selected Short Stories. I was browsing the books when a scarf-clad woman came over and it seemed like she was looking for English book as well. I said hello and I asked if she’s a Muslim. As fate would have it her reply was Alhamdulillah, I am Muslim. My eyes sparkled like Dora the Explorer when you answered her question. I felt overjoyed for I now have found the key to all information that I needed. And the best part? It was Halal Tartar’s food! I tried the fish salad and it was so yummylicious! I tried a few other foods as well but I couldn’t remember what’s the name. You can’t really blame me though for the food was too delicious and remembering its name didn’t seem important at that point.

I couldn’t thank Elina enough for introducing to me the Tartar’s food and of course showing me around town. Elina and I went to Nurulla Mosque, which is located in Moskovskaya ulitsa. I didn’t take any picture inside for it was almost Asr’ and everybody was getting ready to perform their prayer. The warm welcome given by the congregation at the Mosque was beyond words. I felt so welcomed there and of course Tartar is known for their friendliness and I am grateful for having the chance to experience their hospitality. Thank you, Kazan!

I finally got to Kazan’s Kremlin, which was announced as UNESCO World Heritage site in 2000. It is free to enter the complex but you have to pay should you decide to enter any museum inside. My first location was of course the Qul Sharif Mosque. It really is beautiful and the museum though quite small but still interesting enough for me. There are 2 viewing deck for tourists to marvel on the beauty of the mosque. It is a must visit place if you are in Kazan. And of course the walk in Kremlin won’t be complete without visiting Suyumbike Tower. It could only be admired from outside though. It was such a windy and chilly day so I didn’t stay that long but still long enough to take some pictures when Kremlin was bright with lights.

I spent my last day in Kazan by going to the National History Museum. A very well spent day indoor, in my opinion for it was snowing non-stop and the wind was fairly strong for my liking. I was this close to end up looking like a tortoise on its back because of the strong wind. Luckily, my best friend the lamppost was there to save the day!

I really am impressed with the tolerance level shown in Kazan over religion’s pluralism. The Muslim society had to struggle for their rights before but now everybody could breath a sigh of relief since people are a bit relax now and slowly accepting them for who they really are. Though the road is still long, I believe the Muslim society in Kazan will definitely make it through. Insya-Allah.

Till then, enjoy the beautiful Kazan in its glorious winter.Ciao!