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Kyrgyzstan - The Wild & Remote

Kyrgyzstan - The Wild & Remote

It’s only 3 years ago since I first visited Kyrgyzstan for the first time. I remember browsing photos of the country before that and I couldn’t find a lot. Now, a few years later, I really notice the increase of popularity. Every time I visited I teamed up with my friends of Visit Karakol who have the same spirit as me: visit new places, explore, and capture the beauty of this country. Together we discovered a lot. Throughout the years we visit a different area of the country every time: some areas that we never ever visited, and some that my friends had explored themselves. Two years ago I explored new canyons scouted from Google Earth and brought CNN travel with me for a week on the trip. Now, one of those canyons that we named ‘Canyons of Forgotten Rivers’ is a hot spot and local tour agencies even organise day tours from it from the capital of Bishkek. It's great to see the popularity of my work growing in the country and this time I even gave some TV interviews on popular channels.

Also, it was great to see the new Novotel in Bishkek (one of the best hotels in Bishkek) was finally finished and opening. They are using some of my images in their rooms. It was great to collaborate on this and special thanks to owner Jodar for making this happen and inviting me and Bermet to all the festivities.

My popular photo if a big eagle above the Ala-Archa mountain range near Bishkek, with light hitting in between the ridges, used in some of the business rooms in the Novotel Bishkek.

You can also find lots of my photos in the beautiful Greenyard Hotel in Karakol (owned by my friends of Visitkarakol) We're still putting new ones there every time!

It’s a nice feeling when you directly play part in the development of tourism yourself. After my first ‘viral’ photo series of Kyrgyzstan, that also appeared on CNN and Lonely Planet, Lonely planet immediately added it to the top 10 list of countries to visit. Coincidence? Maybe. But I could see the country was getting more popular by the year. Now, a few years later, we can see many more tourists and photographers visiting to see the beauty themselves. Places in Kyrgyzstan have a special atmosphere to them. Some are only being visited by a handful of people each year. You need effort and dedication to get to them, and in many cases special permits as they’re on the border with either China or Kazakhstan.

This year I spent about 1.5 months in the country. For the people that don’t know: This is the country where my girlfriend Bermet is from. Every time I combine family time with exploring new places. It’s a nice balance of on one side very active exploring and taking photos, and on the other: relaxation with the family.

Kyrgyzstan had a difficult time last year during COVID. We and especially the family got hit by multiple deaths, and Bermet unfortunately lost her mother that she was very close with. These were (and still are) very difficult times for the family and little by little we start to pick up daily life again, with a hole in the heart. Even though Bermet's mother Begayim's English wasn’t great and my Kyrgyz isn’t the best either, we still communicated. She would also always comment on my photos, often saying something in Russian that I didn’t understand. But her favourites were always my photos with flowers. This is something we really had in common: our love for flowers. And when I take a photo of beautiful flowers, I think of her.

This year my main plan was visit a remote area in the south. My friends of Visit Karakol had been there a couple of times and wanted to show it to me. It’s a valley near the border of China that’s very remote. Just me, Timur and Parhat and our Toyota Landcruiser, for 1 week in the wilderness. It was a wild adventure with not the best weather for photography. Days of rain, or pure sunshine without a single cloud. But we had a great time. We didn’t see any people for a week, no internet, no electricity, nothing. Wild mountains, crazy roads (actually you can’t really call them roads), crystal clear lakes, and good company.

That trip was really an experience. We slept in our tent with sometimes temperatures below zero degrees. We crossed passes and rivers with the Landcruiser that I thought was simply impossible. We drove hours completely offroad to get to the glacier of Peak Kyzyl Asker and somehow made it without getting stuck or even a flat tire. We crashed drones and somehow found them again. In the end, we made it back without any issue. I have to say that some times I really had my doubts, but my friends knew what they were doing. And if we really needed help (that would be days away) we always had the satellite phone.

Next to this I also did many small other trips, to sometimes places I already visited, or day trips to new locations. I’ll show them all in this article. I also visited Khan Tengri Basecamp (that I have been wanting to visit for years), home to climbers that climb the incredible mountains around, like Khan Tengri (7020m) and Peak Pobeda (7439m). Flying here with an old soviet helicopter (from Aksai Travel) and staying here for a few days was a crazy experience. Every day we experienced all 4 seasons, waking up in a white wonderland after a night with snow, followed by getting burned by the strong sun, and then rain, that came in from the valleys around the area every day. Staying here with my brother (that came to visit for a week) , taking photos and talking with all the climbers was something special.

As usual, I had to extend my stay here because I simply didn’t have enough time. And while COVID cases were very high in the Netherlands at some point, I also really didn’t have any urge to go back any time soon. On top of that, family kept inviting us to go to some places, see their roots and eat nice food. Who could say no to that?

Please enjoy this new photo series from Kyrgyzstan : The Wild & Remote.

Spectacular sunset colours above Kyzyl Asker peak (5842m) with an endless sea of wildflowers.

On the way to the Kyzyl Asker valley we passed this spectacular landscape with a little yurt in front of it. Local families spend the whole summer in just their yurt and the wilderness to take care of the cattle. This was one of the last forms of civilisation we saw before going to Kyzyl Asker.

In the beginning of our trip to Kyzyl Asker we had 2 days full of rain and bad weather. We almost couldn’t see anything, but this was a clearing in between where the clouds shortly lifted from the mountains.

After crossing Barskoon valley we crossed this pass with close to 4000m altitude. At the end of the afternoon there was some last light hitting the valley. We decided to camp here before we continued our way.

We camped at this lake close to Kyzyl Asker (on the left) with spectacular mountains around. On some rare moments the lake was completely still. The skull you see is from a Marco Polo sheep. They’re very big sheep that can only be found in some high altitude regions of Central Asia.

Layers of mountains, land and water. Staying here for a couple of days, the afternoon often brought dramatic clouds above the peaks.

The top of Kyzyl Asker (5842m) hit by the last sunlight and surrounded by clouds.

When the weather finally cleared up and we could see all the mountains around us, we celebrated the beautiful evening after a spectacular sunset right next to the lake with Kyzyl Asker in the background. We made a campfire , had nice food and drank some Kirghiz cognac, which is of great taste.

In the same mountain range of Kyzyl Asker, we find these 2 triangular mountains (when you approach them from a certain side). The highest one (right) is peak Dankova (5982m). On a very clear evening we photographed the sunset here with the light hitting the mountains. The colours in the sky were surreal that evening.

After shooting the sunset at Peak Dankova we waited for the full moon rise. I knew where it was going to rise so we quickly made a 20 minute drive after sunset to align the moon right on top of peak Dankova.

I always really enjoy to see what kind of flowers grow everywhere. And we were not disappointed. It was interesting to see that at really dry areas little flowers were popping out of the ground between the cracks and the rocks.

In Kyrgyzstan you will find a lot of Edelweiss flowers. The Edelweiss flower is a symbol of alpinism. It’s considered quite a rare flower in the European Alps that you find on higher altitudes. But in Kyrgyzstan you find them everywhere, sometimes with hundreds if not thousands on one hill!

After visiting Peak Dankova and Kyzyl Asker we drove left to an area called Naryn. Here we finally arrived back at ‘civilisation’. This lake named Kölsuu is a spectacular lake surrounded by huge steep mountains and rocks. To get there by car you need to cross multiple deep rivers and rocky terrain. Over the years it became quite popular with the locals and they come to the place to ‘get away from civilisation’, but in fact: for us it was getting back to civilisation. It was crowded with even school buses visiting the yurt camp near the lake. A popular summer destination for the region for sure.

The valley in front of Kölsuu is probably even more spectacular than the lake itself. Flying high with the drone you can see all the swirling rivers coming from the glaciers of the mountains around. This valley is called the Kok-Kiya valley and has some yurt camps where you can stay (look closely and you see them right below the mountains).