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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).

A mini adventure that I wanted to do for years since I first visited Kyrgyzstan: Visiting the Khan Tengri Basecamp at an altitude of 4200m. You can do a 7 day trek to there, or ‘simply’ take the helicopter. Well, it’s not ‘that’ simple as the first time I wanted to do this the helicopter crashed (no casualties, just a bad landing) and it was out of business. Years later (on this trip) I finally managed to go with the ‘new’ helicopter (an old soviet beast) by Aksai Travel. On this photo you see Khan Tengri (7010m) on the right.


In Khan Tengri Basecamp we stayed in these yellow tents. It was not unusual for snow to come in later afternoon or at night, and one morning I woke up and this is the first photo I took: winter wonderland. At night it would get below zero but surprisingly, the cold was not that extreme. We (me, my brother and his friend) were the only tourists around, as this basecamp is mostly for climbers. It was very interesting to spend some days in basecamp, both for the scenery and meeting and talking to all the climbers about their adventures.



It was difficult to find foregrounds for spectacular photos in Khan Tengri Basecamp as it was mostly just rocks and stones. But I discovered that in the morning after the cold nights, the little water puddles near the camp were frozen and had these nice icy textures. So I used these to create some frames, like this one. The whole basecamp was surrounded by spectacular mountains, and on the left of this photo you see Peak Pobeda a.k.a. Jengish Chokusu. It’s the highest mountain in the Tian Shan mountain range at 7439m


David standing in front of the massive Peak Pobeda and it’s glacier (7439m)


It was not always easy to see the peak of Khan Tengri. It was often in the clouds and some days we didn’t see it at all. But on this particular evening it was peaking just above a layer of clouds. I let my camera take a sequence of shots for 30 minutes to take this star trail image with the alpenglow still casting some light on the peak.

During mornings in Khan Tengri BC I enjoyed seeing the first light hitting the peaks and certain areas of the mountains around me. I used the long telephoto lens to capture all these details. I made a full series of these images for mountain light details that you can find HERE.

Our yellow tents in Khan Tengri BC under the super clear starry sky. You can see Khan Tengri in the background peaking just above a layer of clouds.


Before going on my ‘bigger’ multiple day adventures in Kyrgyzstan I did some little trips. One of them was a sunset at this very beautiful little tree. Timur of VisitKarakol brought me here. It’s in a beautiful little valley with the big Issyk-Kul lake on one side (that you see in the distance in this photo) and beautiful mountains on the other.


I visited Boz-Uchuk lakes (near Karakol) with Timur and spent the night there. We were treated with a super clear night with no wind, creating beautiful reflections of the milky way. The Boz-Uchuk lakes are not the most spectacular, but they have a very calming atmosphere and beautiful scenery around them.


After photographing the night sky at Boz-Uchuk lakes I woke up early to capture the first morning light hitting the mountains. There were lots of interesting wildflowers around the lake to create colourful images like this one.


I love spending hours on Google Earth to find interesting locations. This is a good example of that. I spotted this river delta on Google Earth and had the idea of flying the drone here. What you see here is rivers coming all the way from the mountains around Issyk-Kul lake, making their way eventually to the lake. Issyk-Kul lake is a huge lake in Kyrgyzstan and has a very beautiful tropical colour, especially when its dampened by dark clouds. On this particular afternoon thunderstorms were hitting the mountains around creating this dramatic atmosphere. When you look closely, you can see the city of Karakol on the top left.


The Valley in front of Peak Eltcin is a place I already visited once before. But I loved to visit this valley again and spend an afternoon here. Thanks to Lida (Karakol Local woman, very adventurous and kind) for bringing me and driving up the bumpy road all the way to the end so we didn’t have to walk too far. In this valley you will find Kyrgyz local life with the local shepherd family controlling their cattle.


I really loved photographing this little boy on his beautiful white horse with his German shepherd dog. Kids grow up here in summer without much technology, but who needs technology when you have this beauty around you?



Skazka Canyon (Fairytale canyon) is a ‘touristic’ place in Kyrgyzstan. It’s a spectacular canyon with rugged peaks that looks like it’s coming out of Lord of the Rings. I had already visited this place 2 times but both times I didn’t get spectacular light. This time it was different, and I also really enjoyed flying around the peaks with my drone finding this viewpoint and composition.

The last light hitting the Skazka Canyon with its rocky towers.



On one afternoon I visited Peak Vera with my friend Ibraim (from VisitKarakol). We hiked up this mountain next to Issyk-Kul lake with a spectacular view of the area around. But what I liked most were the endless flowers we found here!


I visited the valley of Altyn Arashan, close to Karakol with driver Roma and his UAZ hunter. A bumpy road to get there, but worth it. From this valley you can see Peak Palatka (in the shade in the back). This valley has yurt camps to stay and even has hot springs. It’s a valley mostly used for hikers when they come back out of the mountains from the other side.


An abstract image of the trees in the Valley of Altyn Arashan. They almost look like sharp pins in this abstract photo created by quickly moving the camera up and down while pressing the shutter.


In the valley of Altyn Arashan peak Palatka (4730m) showed itself in the late afternoon with nice light hitting the peak, after some dramatic afternoon weather.


I visited Karakol Basecamp for one day. Having been there before for hiking to Peak Karakol and Ala Kul Lake, this time was a different experience. It was very rainy but the atmosphere was very interesting. I started to notice how interesting the trees in this area were, and asked my friend Ibraim to stand next to it so you could see how huge they were.

I hope you enjoyed this new body of work. I will continue to visit, explore and promote this beautiful country. You can find my earlier work of Kyrgyzstan HERE.


If you're interested in my gear during this trip, check THIS article on SonyAlphaUniverse.


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Feel free to ask me any questions as always.


Thanks for reading,


Albert






3 Comments


O jee Albert, nu ben ik compleet verkocht! Zo ontzettend prachtig ! Ik wil gewoon echt een lange reis maken naar Kyrgyzstan. Ik zie inderdaad alle seizoenen terug in je foto’s maar in welk seizoen was je nu echt? En is zo’n reis goed te doen voor twee vijftig plussers, niet russisch sprekend?

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I've been enjoying your lovely landscapes of Kyrgyzstan. I was also fortunate to visit that country just before Covid broke, with a medical research team – and our work concentrated more on the people who are suffering from COPD. I wish I had more time to do some landscapes which you seem to have done a great job of. However I did get some cracking portraits. What a wonderful country!.

You can view my photographs at my website: https://careymarks.co.uk/kyrgyzstan/

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Excellent series, beautiful landscape photos

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