Last September, I went to Central Asia for the first time and I totally fell in love with the place. This dreamy place of barren lands and steppes, visited by few tourists, but rich with history and legend, once the access route to the most precious riches of the East (Silk Road), is truly fascinating, its allure founded in its great simplicity.
If you, too, dream of visiting this incredible and spectacular area of the world, with its traditional dishes, breathtaking landscapes and unique and special hospitality, you can take a look at my choice of absolute musts of things to see and photograph in Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan.
Lake Song Kol
Lake Issyk-Kul is certainly the most famous stretch of water in Kyrgyzstan but I recommend that you take a trip (in a 4×4 on rough tracks and through mountains) to the enchanting Lake Song Kol, situated at over 3,000 metres above sea-level and nestling in a fairytale landscape. There are so many photo opportunities: you can play around with portraits of the families who live in the yurts, pictures of the horses and livestock on the pastures or send up a drone, perhaps, to capture it all from on high. At night, the sky over Song Kol is transformed into an awe-inspiring ceiling of stars, perfect for creating an incredible time-lapse!
Karakol is the fourth largest city in Kyrgyzstan, but I preferred it to the capital, Bishkek, in terms of both beauty (in reality, it is not much more than a large village of little houses set against the great mountains of Central Asia) and hospitality. There are lots of things to see in Karakol, from small canyons and mountains to museums, parks and wonderful churches. But even standing in the street until someone passes by in front of your lens is worth the wait. In the summer, the sun shines right through to the evening and the light is truly magical.
Modern cities and villages that still beat to past rhythms, alpine lakes and some of the highest mountain in the world, steppes, deserts and canyons… If I had to recommend one place in the world in which to create a beautiful photo reportage, it would be Kazakhstan! Partly because it is so vast a country (the ninth largest in the world) with much yet to be explored. Almaty is the former capital of the country but it is still the centre of cultural life for the whole of Kazakhstan. When visiting Almaty, my recommended musts are the Ascension Cathedral, the Green Bazaar, the bustling market full of sweet foods and spices, the many parks and, just a little outside the city centre, the beautiful Big Almaty Lake.
Almaty is also known for being home to one of the most famous ski resorts in Kazakhstan. The resort is just a short car or taxi ride from the city centre. The ski resort is called Shymbulak. In the summer, a number of Almaty events are held here; but, in the winter (from October onwards), there is so much snow that all you can do is go skiing. A very comfortable cable car takes you up to Peak Talgar, one of the highest and most beautiful summits in Kazakhstan, perfect for time-lapses and breathtaking shots.
As well as for its mountains, Kazakhstan is also famous for its amazing Charyn Canyon. It takes about 3 hours to get there from Almaty, but it’s definitely worth it. This is the perfect place to create photo reportages and put yourself to the test with professional shots. The Charyn Canyon is very well known in Hollywood and in the film world in general. In fact, numerous canyon scenes in international films we see on the big screen are filmed here. It is chosen both for the beauty of its coral pink scenery and because the cost of living is much lower than in the West, making it much more affordable to stay for many days’ filming.