The Untouched Beauty of Kyrgyzstan

August 24, 2018

I just returned from 3 weeks in Kyrgyzstan. As a landscape photographer I have travelled lots countries in the world so I guess I can say I am ‘used’ to beautiful landscapes. Until recently Central Asia was unknown territory for me. I always love to explore countries that are not really on the radar of photographers and travellers in general. It inspires and pushes my creativity. The most important reason for visiting Kyrgyzstan was to meet my girlfriend’s family. But other than that I was triggered by the beauty of its nature. As a photographer and nature lover, you know that feeling when you see that untouched beauty? Crazy mountains with open valleys? It triggers you somehow. That’s what Kyrgyzstan did to me.

 

Kyrgyzstan doesn’t require a visa to access. It’s fairy easy to travel to if you’re willing to transfer somewhere. It doesn’t really offer direct flights from most places. You’ll be flying into the capital Bishkek which is already surrounded by crazy mountains. It starts right there. Upon entering the city you already see high snowcapped peaks around you. Basically this whole country has crazy heights and insane mountains. It’s on another level than what we’re used to in Europe, especially for me living in the Netherlands below sea level ;). Being on an altitude around 3000m is fairly common here with peaks over 7000m and occasional hikes to 4000m+. I had a bit of trouble with the altitudes in the beginning of my visit but this disappeared after a while.

 

Nature in Kyrgyzstan is really untouched and lots of locals live like nomads. The countryside roads are rather bad. I was actually surprised that most are marked as roads on Google Maps because a normal rental car would never be able to drive there. You need at least a high 4×4. But with some effort (driving ‘bad’ roads and hiking steep paths) you’ll be able to see some of the most beautiful untouched nature you’ve ever seen. Endless valleys with huge mountains around you, crystal clear turquoise lakes, wild eagles, canyons, you name it. This country has it all. I was surprised by its variety of landscapes in a rather small area. Just a few hours driving would bring me from snowcapped mountains to landscapes that looked like the moon with red canyons and unearthly textures. Americans will know this as ‘Utah’. Because of the remote areas there is literally zero light pollution here. During the night looking up you will see the brightest milky way in the sky you’ve ever seen.

 

When you’re exploring the valleys you’ll see the locals from time to time. They live in Yurts. Yurts are small ‘houses’ that look like a big tent. These people are mostly shepherds taking care of cattle in the summer. You’ll see hundreds of sheep or horses with glaciers in the background. It’s a really impressive sight. These shepherds live without any luxury like electricity or a toilet. All of the locals I met in the mountains were friendly. They didn’t speak English much but I think they enjoyed some variety of company as they’re in the mountains for months without much conversation. It’s life at its simplest. It got me thinking if these people actually need more. They’re just living day by day, with their cattle, not worrying about anything in the world. Literally disconnected from the world and living in their own small world. Just surviving.

 

During my travel I visited Bishkek, Chaek, Song-Kul, Around Isskyl-Kul lake and Karakol. There is still lots of more places to explore for me so I hope to return soon.

 

I’d like to mention that despite lots of people think the ‘stans’ are ‘dangerous’ to travel to I’ve never really felt unsafe. Especially in the mountains where no one really cares that you’re walking around with expensive gear. I slept a lot in tents, vulnerable to robbery but nothing ever happened to me. I was often accompanied with locals though, either my girlfriend (and family) or people from Visit Karakol, a travel agency from Karakol that helped me a lot in getting to places that I normally wouldn’t be able to go to by myself. 

 

Kyrgyzstan is an amazingly beautiful country with lots of really untouched nature and I would definitely recommend visiting it.

 

I tried my best to capture a general overview of the beauty of the country. As I am a landscape photographer I focus on the beauty of the country mainly regarding nature. I’ll let the photos speak for themselves.

 

A green valley with wild horses and a view on Peak Yeltsin. This is what Kyrgyzstan is about.

A shepherd walking down a mountain with his horse and dog. I shot this with a 400mm lens from a neighbouring mountain. A storm was coming in fast so he had to move his cattle down the mountain.

A wide open valley with glacial rivers coming from the mountains protecting the valley. These mountains are often 5000m+. This is a shot of the Barskoon Valley. It took a 4000m road pass to get here.

An intimate shot of a green hill. Kyrgyzstan has many opportunities for intimate shots as it has beautiful rocks and hills everywhere around.

A beautiful morning at Song-Kul lake. This lake is located in a majestic area at an altitude of 3000m which is hard to believe when you see surrounding mountains thousands of meters higher.

Twilight before the sun comes up. Standing at one of the crazy canyons in Kyrgyzstan that look like they’re coming straight from the moon.

Hundreds of sheep in just another valley in Kyrgyzstan, surrounded by glaciers. Notice the crazy scale.

The night sky in Kyrgyzstan is so clear with zero light pollution. You can even see the stars reflecting in the lakes. During this night we saw many meteors.

Standing in front just another Glacier at the Sary Jaz Valley which is located on the border of Kyrgyzstan and China. This area requires a permit. It’s an amazing valley surrounded by snowcapped mountains of the Tian Shan range which has peaks over 7000m.

Ala-Kul lake, a magical crystal clear lake turquoise-coloured lake located at an altitude close to 4000m. This lake requires a steep 5 hour hike at high altitudes to get to.

A crazy textured detail of mountain that looks like it’s from another planet

Sunset at the area around Son-Kul lake, an area located at an altitude of 3000m. It’s a wide open valley surrounded by glaciers and mountains. Weather can get crazy here. And the nights are cold.

Horses in a valley standing against the high mountains.

Camping at the Sary-Jaz valley on the border of Kyrgyzstan and China. Zero light pollution makes the skies so bright. We used this old Soviet bus as transport. Not much comfort but very reliable, they said. This thing could drive off road up to mountains. It was called ‘the pill’ as according to the locals it looked like a pill.

Getting intimate with the peaks of Kyrgyzstan. This is a 400mm capture of Peak Yeltsin, 5168m high.

You can always find different wildflowers in the mountains in Kyrgyzstan. This was at an altitude of 4000m in the Barskoon Valley. Glaciers, lakes and mountains everywhere around.

Mars-like landscapes in a canyon called Skazka Canyon which means ‘fairytale canyon’. Walking around here is really unreal.

A kid of the local family enjoying the sunset at Song-Kul, a wide open valley at a huge lake at an altitude of 3000m. The locals are living like nomads here without any luxury. Think about growing up here.

You’ll find this kind of landscapes next to a lot of roads. Like they’re carefully carved out of mountains. Interesting hills against blue skies form a beautiful sight.

Aerial shot of sunset at the Sary-Jaz valley on the border of Kyrgyzstan and China. This is just one of many of the dozens of glaciers you will find here.

Hundreds of sheep moved on the hills right before a storm hit.

Standing in front of Peak Karakol. A very scenic peak popular among mountain climbers. It has an altitude of 5200m

The night sky of Kyrgyzstan is unpolluted. We stayed at this yurt at 3000m. Looking at the beautiful night sky was a joy.

Aerial shot of textures from just another canyon in Kyrgyzstan.

An eagle flying over the tops of the Ala-Archa mountains. Unique light hitting inside of the mountain from reflecting onto the clouds.

These kind of scenes are common yet impressive to see in Kyrgyzstan. Hundreds of animals covering the empty lands.

Ala-Kul Lake at an altitude close to 4000m reflecting in it’s turquoise waters. For people wondering: yes you can swim in this lake. It comes straight from a glacier so it’s cold! But very clean.

Wild horses standing in front of the huge snow capped peaks in the Sary-Jaz valley on the border of Kyrgyzstan and China.

Sunrise at Skazka canyon, which means fairy tale canyon. Does this remind you of Mars?

Kids standing in the opening of their Yurt. They stay here in the summer months learning to take care of the cattle from when they’re young.

Common landscapes in the Chaek area in the South West of Kyrgyzstan. Beautiful interesting shaped layers.

An aerial panorama of a part of the Barskoon Valley. You can see all the rivers coming from glaciers of the mountains into lakes. This valley itself is already at 4000m with the surrounding mountains much higher.

An open view of the scenic Karakol Peak which lies at the end of Karakol Valley. You can see how the glacier mounts into streams and rivers. An impressive sight.