Kyrgyz Republic has some of the most spectacular mountain landscapes on Earth: soaring peaks ranging from Alpine to Himalayan in beauty and scale, glaciers, pristine lakes, wild rivers, spruce and fir forests, alpine wildflowers, and expansive high pastures. The Tien Shan mountains rise higher and wilder than the Rockies, Sierra Nevada, Alps, or Andes. Along the Chinese border, the Kokshaal-Too range soars to truly Himalayan heights, on the world’s most northern summits over 7,000 meters: Khan Tengri and Jengish Chokusu (known in the Soviet era as Pik Pobeda). The landscape beneath the peaks is sublime: glacier-carved gorges, slopes covered in alpine wildflowers, raging rivers, spruce and fir forests, and high pastures (“jai-loh”) where semi-nomadic Kyrgyz graze small herds of horses, yaks, sheep, and cattle during the short summer.
Our itinerary, led by Visionary Wild photo leaders Justin Black and Jerry Dodrill - both veterans of three prior trips to Kyrgyz Republic - is designed to take advantage of prime light in the morning and evening each day. After dark, clean air and absence of light pollution provide a superb opportunity for nighttime landscapes including the Milky Way. We will also enjoy excellent opportunities for photography of the Kyrgyz people themselves, in the high pastures, at our yurt camps, and at the sprawling and colorful Osh Market in Bishkek. This will be a highly productive and immensely fun photographic adventure that you’ll never forget.
US$13,995 per person double occupancy; US$14,500 single occupancy.
Note: Single occupancy available at hotels and in tent camps. Due to limited availability, when we stay in yurts, they will be shared on a double-occupancy basis only.
Accommodation for all seventeen nights. All meals and beverages (including wine and beer with dinner). All in-tour photographic instruction, land transportation, and guide services by leader team of two professional photographers, and professional Kyrgyz guides. Round-trip helicopter flights to South Enylchek Glacier Base Camp beneath Mount Khan Tengri. Private excursion by Zodiac on Lake Köl-Suu; horseback rides (optional, and according to availability). Support provided by professional local overland drivers/camp staff, and camp cook. Permits for special access to border zone areas. Taxes. Supplemental gratuities for Kyrgyz staff.
All international air travel and domestic transportation within your home country; any other travel services required to arrive at the tour commencement location, along with all associated taxes, levies and insurances. Immigration, duty, passport and visa fees where applicable. Personal items including gifts or other purchases, any paid communications, alcoholic beverages other than wine and beer served to the group at dinners, hotel room service or minibar charges, travel insurance (required), etc. Gratuities for local guides, drivers, and camp staff (we recommend that each guest budget US$300, or the equivalent in Euros or Kyrgyz Soms). Optional activities not explicitly listed as included in the itinerary.
July 5: Arrival Day. Meet your driver at the airport, for transfer to Golden Tulip Hotel in central Bishkek. Meet your fellow photographers, relax in the hotel, or perhaps take a walk to explore downtown. That evening, our itinerary officially starts with a 4pm group meeting in the salon bar, followed by dinner at one of Bishkek’s finest restaurants. Overnight at Golden Tulip Hotel.
July 6: Into the Mountains. After an early breakfast, we drive via Kochkor valley up into the mountains and a landscape almost too perfect to be real: lake Song-Kul. Enjoy a home-cooked lunch in our yurt camp, photograph around the lake and up into the mountains, have dinner, and have a restful night in our comfortable and traditional Kyrgyz yurts.
July 7: Day at Song-Kul. Sunrise and sunset photography around the lake, plus photo sessions with local herders. Overnight at yurt camp.
July 8: Silk Road Route. After a morning photo session and breakfast, we descend from Song-Kul via the scenic canyons of Karatal-Zhapyryksky State Preserve toward the town of Naryn, located on a main Silk Road route. After lunch, we continue on to a yurt camp beside a mountain creek in a gorge with soaring rock walls, near the 15th-Century fortified stone caravanserai Tash Rabat, that once sheltered travelers on the ancient Torugart Pass trade route into China. Overnight at yurt camp.
July 9: Tash Rabat and Köl Suu Valley. After an early breakfast, we will explore and photograph Tash Rabat before driving via the At-Bashy mountain range to the escarpment of the Kokshaal-Too mountains and the turquoise alpine lake Köl Suu, located in a narrow gorge winding between the high peaks. This evening we will enjoy the spectacular scene photography of the mountains and Köl Suu River. Assuming the weather is clear, this is a great location for night sky photography of the Milky Way over the mountains. Dinner and overnight at yurt camp.
July 10: Köl Suu Lake. Up early to photograph pre-dawn light, and after breakfast we’ve organized an excursion by boat on the little visited turquoise lake Köl Suu, dramatically positioned in a deep glacier-carved gorge between peaks soaring to 16,000 feet. The relatively short approach from our camp to the lake can normally be traversed in our group vehicles, though in wet years, it may involve a combination of travel by specialized 4WD vehicles and a few kilometers on horseback. We’ll be back in time for dinner, more sunset and twilight photography near camp, and overnight in our yurts.
July 11: Köl Suu area exploration. Sunrise shoot, breakfast, and further exploration and photography in the Köl Suu area and its many canyons. Overnight in our yurts.
July 12: Kok Shaal-Too. We continue on to a new location, beneath a breathtaking panorama of glacier-draped high peaks of the Kok Shaal-Too range. Overnight in our luxury tent camp.
July 13: Kok Shaal-Too. Early morning and evening “magic hour” light on the peaks, and an excursion to the glaciers.
July 14: Eki-Naryn Gorge. After sunrise photography and breakfast, we drive into the dramatic white-water river gorge of Eki – Naryn, cleaving the mountains south of Lake Issyk-Kul. Overnight in yurt camp.
July 15: Jailoo-Suu. Up to photograph at first light. After breakfast, our caravan traverses a beautiful overland route through the mountains south of Issy-Kul, following wild rivers through high pastures, or “jailoo,” with alpine wildflowers in bloom, waterfalls plunging in side canyons. The photography along the way and near camp is incredible. We will make a tented camp in the mountains at about 11,000ft.
July 16: Onward to Karakol. After morning photography and breakfast, we will continue over the high pass of Tosor, dropping down to our first views of the vast sapphire waters lake Issyk-Kul, and on to the town of Karakol for an afternoon of rest and relaxation at the comfortable Green Yard Hotel. Dinner will be an assortment of traditional dishes from the Dungan ethnic minority, served in the home of a friendly and hospitable Dungan family. Overnight at Green Yard Hotel.
July 17: Karkyra. We will get a leisurely start this morning, and will then drive north into the Karkyra Valley, to our camp along the Turuk River on the border with Kazakhstan. We will make an excursion into the beautiful Turuk River canyon in the afternoon. Overnight at tent camp.
July 18: Khan Tengri Base Camp. After breakfast, we head to the helipad for our jaw-droppingly spectacular forty-minute flight to Khan Tengri Base Camp on Enylcheck Glacier at 13,000ft. The flight is a superb opportunity to do aerial photography of the high peaks, glaciers, and valleys, through the helicopter’s open windows. Beneath the 23,000-foot peak of Khan Tengri, and 24,406-foot Jengish Chokusu (AKA Pik Pobeda, the highest peak in the entire Tien Shan mountain system), we will be positioned in a virtually Himalayan setting, with outrageous photographic potential. Nighttime photography with star trails over the mountains is one of our goals. Overnight in tents at base camp.
July 19: Khan Tengri Base Camp. This morning, we will make the most of early light on Khan Tengri and the surrounding mountains, and then explore the glacier via the rocky medial moraine (no special gear or experience required). We will hope for the late alpenglow on Khan Tengri that can turn the marble summit pyramid a deep orange-pink.
July 20: Back to Bishkek. Sunrise photography of the mountains from basecamp will be followed by an early helicopter flight back to Karkyra. After breakfast there, we will load up into our vehicles and drive to the north shore of Issyl-Kul, the second largest saline lake in the world, for lunch and a visit to a fascinating Kyrgyz cultural center. We will then return to Bishkek, check into our hotel, and enjoy dinner at one of our favorite restaurants. Overnight at Golden Tulip Hotel.
July 21: Day in Bishkek. After breakfast, we will make an excursion to the sprawling Osh market. This large city center market features everything from spices, to produce, to dried fruit and nuts, traditional breads and pastries, traditional Kyrgyz clothing, rugs, housewares, and more, with special halls for the butchers, cheesemakers, and on and on. The photographic potential here is phenomenal. Nearby, we will make a short visit to the Tumar Group, makers of high quality Kyrgyz-designed handicrafts – both traditional and modern – including felt carpets, blankets, hats, slippers, handbags, toys, pottery, and more. Both Tumar and Osh Market offer excellent and authentic souvenir shopping options. After lunch, we will continue our tour through the city center, followed by a celebratory final dinner at one of Bishkek’s best restaurants. Overnight at Golden Tulip Hotel.
July 22: Day of departure. We all say “Jakshy bargyla” (goodbye) and go our separate ways until our next adventure. Airport transfer provided.
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