Mar 16

Photography Inspired by Traditional Art


33 Parrots Road to China

The 33 Fears, Kyrgyzstan China Border.

How does traditional art influence your image making?

Mist covered mountains on paper and silk paintings have filed my imagination since my late father brought one home from a trip to Beijing long ago. He loved Asia and China in particular. I think it’s because of his influence that I have also had a special place in my heart for Asia and always jump at a chance to travel there. Although it wasn’t obvious to me when I took it, this particular photograph was inspired by the mythical China we see in traditional art.

Feb 14

Kyrgyzstan Nomads

I previously wrote about our experience at a Nomad Kyrgyzstan Yurt camp. A remarkable experience, recommended if you ever get the chance. Here is another photo I wanted to share that shows the vastness of the high altitude Central Asian Steppe near the Chinese border.

Yurt, Kyrgyzstan Steppe.

Yurt Camp, Kyrgyzstan Steppe.

Feb 14

Past Meets Present in Uzbekistan

Travel to Uzbekistan and you will be hard pressed to experience a land and people with as deep a history so close to the surface. The people of Uzbekistan are friendly and beautiful. During our Silk Road trek, we crossed Uzbek desert and steppe overland because we wanted to see it all. From the viewpoint of a westerner, Central Asia is a lynchpin to understand the modern world. Uzbekistan was one to the five “stan’s” created by the Soviet government to divide and rule the Turkic population of Central Asia. The “stan’s” of Central Asia include Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan. Prior to the Soviet collapse in 1991 all five counties were part of the USSR (Union of Soviet Socialist Republics). Have a look at the Great Game to get a better understanding of the relationship of Uzbekistan and Central Asia to Europe prior to the modern era.

The ancient city of Shakhrisabz, formerly a stronghold of Amir Timur (Tamerlane) replaced it’s central statue of Lenin with one of Timur and the Soviet era hotel stood abandoned. Timur’s descendents gave rise to the Mughal Empire, who can be credited for building the magnificent Taj Mahal.

Silk Road Merchant. Samarkand, Uzbekistan

Silk Road Merchant. Samarkand, Uzbekistan

Timur and his palace. Shakhrisabz, Uzbekistan.

Timur and his palace. Shakhrisabz, Uzbekistan.

Cyrillic. Shakhrisabz, Uzbekistan.

Cyrillic. Shakhrisabz, Uzbekistan.

Sacred Tile. Samarkand, Uzbekistan

Sacred Tile. Samarkand, Uzbekistan


Dec 13

Song-Kol Lake

This is a black and white conversion of horses grazing at Song-Kol Lake in Kyrgyzstan. It was early on a bitterly cold morning. We had spent the night in a yurt and were headed further into the mountains on our overland passage to China. The sun had just come up to illuminate the distant mountains on the far side of this vast high altitude landscape. The conversion was performed in Silver Efex Pro 2.

High Steppe. Kyrgyzstan

High Steppe. Kyrgyzstan

Sep 12

Son Kul Lake to Tash Rabat

The road from Son Kul Lake to Tash Rabat is considered the most dangerous road in Kyrgyzstan because of the 33 Parrots. Our guide Sasha explained that the Russian word for “fear” sounded just like the English word “parrot”. This pass was the most stunning yet and the 33 referred to the number of switchbacks on the treacherous descent. Our passage was simple enough but I imagine in the winter months it would live up to it’s reputation.

Our Tash Rabat yurt camp was quite different from the one at Son Kul Lake. The air was about five degrees celsius warmer and the camp was run by Russians rather than nomads. Although there was no lake to chill the air, in the middle of the night the wind came howling down the gorge and beat the heavy walls and entry flap of our yurt. There was something different about this place, it made the hairs on the back of my neck stand up in a way only a few places have. I had dreams that night. I dreamt of animals and hunting parties. I imagined yeti like creatures roaming the hills and opened my eyes half expecting to see one standing in the middle of the room staring back at me. The dream was so vivid I was almost disappointed when there wasn’t.

A controversy surrounds the origin of the Tash Rabat caravanserai. Some experts have pointed to carved crosses and claim it was an early Christian church. Another scholar insisted it was built in the 10th century. Most experts believe the fortress like structure was built in the 15th century. Unlike the Caravanserai I visited in Bukhara, this one was constructed to withstand attacks by bandits. Being the largest stone building in Central Asia it felt more like a small European castle than Silk Road merchant hotel. The narrow river gorge continued to wind up past Tash Rabat and provided an alternate route to the one we were taking to Torugart Pass.
Russian Sauna

Russian Saune by Curious Lizard

At the Tash Rabat yurt camp

Aug 12

Kochkor Village to Son Kul Lake

We left Kochkor Village early in the morning and after about 40 km we turned off the main road and onto a narrow dirt one that wound it’s way up the side of a mountain. The beauty was breathtaking and at the top of the first pass we saw a man and woman on touring mountain bikes laboring up the hill from the opposite direction. Stopping to greet us, the man introduced himself as Rudy. He and his girlfriend had ridden 5000 km from their home in Switzerland. They were mere wisps, thinned and toughened by their long journey and heavily laden bikes. I asked if they were camping along the road ” oh yes, and the people are wonderful, they come out to greet you and bring you food.” We laughed about the heat of the deserts, I couldn’t imagine crossing them by bicycle! After several minutes of chatting, we bid them safe voyage to Kochkor and they were off.

Son Kul Lake is one of the larger alpine lakes of Kyrgyzstan. At 3000 meters the landscape was cold and barren of bushes and trees. Herds of horses and sheep ran freely or grazed on the stubby grass. Our yurt camp was owned and operated by nomads. As soon as we arrived, Christy and myself were corralled by a pair of women and taken aside. They carried a plastic bag between them and pulled out bits of dry bread, a greasy joint of lamb and a bottle of vodka. Feeling obligated by our new hosts we ate, drank, then joined in a traditional blessing of their children.

Heading over to the kitchen yurt, we met mountaineer Ted Fairhurst. Ted was climbing the “Seven Summits” and had just completed Mt. Elbrus. He was a terrific guy, full of good stories and great advice. After tea, a hike took us high above our yurt camp looking through the rocky outcroppings for petroglyphs. We found three of long horn sheep just as we had seen in a museum. These petroglyphs were at least three thousand years old and were early examples of the long running theme in nomadic art of rams horns.

The night was cold and my warm weather clothing wasn’t much help. In our effort to travel light, I had neglected to anticipate the needs of our two mountain camps. Ted kindly sold us his spare headlamp which he had taken up Everest, Elbrus, Kilimanjaro and many other mountains so we could see in the pitch black camp.

Breakfast was a bowl of hot oatmeal. I noted that a nomad man sat across from me wearing a tall felt hat. He was scraping the flesh from the base of a boiled sheep’s head with his pocket knife and putting it into his toothless mouth. I watched in horror and fascination for several minutes as he turned it this way and that to get at the meat. The sheep’s ears still look pliable and soft. I glanced guilty back at my oatmeal, feeling like an intruder. A short while later Christy, Sasha, Ivan and myself climbed into the car and journeyed to Tash Rabat by way of the “33 Parrots!”

33 Parrots Pass

33 Parrots Pass by Curious Lizard

One of the passes through the Pamir Mountains.