Lots of destinations boast epic landscapes, fascinating cultures or ancient traditions – but few manage to contain them all quite like Kyrgyzstan.
The landlocked nation in the heart of Central Asia is truly exceptional, and within its small size it contains almost everything a photographer could desire. Whether you are into landscapes, portraiture, photojournalism, sports or history, the opportunities for photography is never-ending.
And with Kyrgyzstan being one of the safest places in Asia, with friendly people and prices that will keep even the most budget-conscious traveller happy, there’s no better time to head there for your next photography adventure.
1# Majestic Mountains
93% of the landscape in Kyrgyzstan is covered by mountains, so it’s little surprise that the alpine scenery is some of the best in the world. It has developed a reputation as the Patagonia or Switzerland of Central Asia, and for good reason.
Here you will find still lakes hidden at the bottom of snow-capped peaks. Fields of wildflowers flow along picturesque valleys. Glacial-fed rivers carve their way between sandstone gorges. It’s the kind of place that will have you filling up more SD cards than you could ever consider bringing.
2# Silk Road History
When the trading routes of the Silk Road were in their prime, exotic products were transported all across Central Asia, allowing for glorious cities to rise in the landlocked nations. While nations like Iran and Uzbekistan constructed the captivating blue-tiled mosques they’re known for, smaller lands like Kyrgyzstan developed sprawling caravanserais and minarets.
The best known spots for visiting the ancient Silk Road are Tash Rabat and the stunning Burana Tower, however there are also dozens of smaller sites around the country, as well as many spots to find petroglyphs.
Our Tip – Bring a good filter suite with you to make the most of your photographs, no matter what the light is like.
3# Nomadic Sports
The Kyrgyz people are passionate about their history, and one element that has survived generation after generation is their love for sports. Yet these sports are nothing like you’ll find back home.
Many of these sports are performed with horses. There’s the controversial kok boru, which is like horseback rugby or polo, with the challenge being to throw a goat carcass into a goal at either end. Er enish is a brutal display of horseback wrestling, and cirit has teams throwing spears into circular rings from the tops of their trust steeds.
The sports in Kyrgyzstan will prove to be one of the most interesting aspects of your travels. And while they may be intense to watch, they make for some amazing photographs.
Our Tip – Have a lightweight, durable camera bag with you so you can run into the best positions with all of your gear.
4# Traditional Living
Get out of the cities and you’ll soon find yourself amongst sprawling jailoos (summer pastures), tiny villages and wide-open spaces. It is here you’ll find the Kyrgyz people going about their nomadic lives in much the same way they have been for years.
The iconic yurts can be found almost everywhere, and the people are always happy to welcome visitors inside. Shepherds wander the fields tending to their livestock, and the women prepare delicious meals using ingredients sourced from around their homes.
Photographing these scenes is like stepping back into a time that many people never even knew existed.
5# Cultural Experiences
When you travel to Kyrgyzstan, you will have the wonderful opportunity to learn all about the fascinating Kyrgyz culture. It managed to survive the control of the Soviet Union, creating a place that is almost as colourful and vibrant as it ever was. Seeing it for yourself is something you won’t ever forget.
Timing your visit with a local festival will ensure you get a chance to see the culture at its very best. The people will wear their favourite clothes, take part in traditional games, play wonderful music, and delightedly showcase the true beauty of their culture.
6# Hospitable People
The Kyrgyz people are among the most hospitable in the world. Even in the capital city of Bishkek, the locals are warm, friendly and welcoming, excited to meet travellers exploring their beautiful nation. Get out into the countryside and the hospitality takes on a whole new level.
You will be called into yurts for tea and snacks, kids will run up to you wanting to play games and the elderly will stop to chat, whether you can understand them or not.
And almost always, as soon as you ask if you can take their picture, you will be given a big smile and cheerful eyes.
7# The World Nomad Games
The World Nomad Games is like the Olympics for nomadic sports, but this competition is more than just watching kok boru and er enish.
This event combines the absolute best of Kyrgyzstan, with cultural exhibitions, traditional music, ancient sports and historic demonstrations. The people are immensely proud of the World Nomad Games, and will be enthralled and excited throughout the multi-day festival.