A Heart of A Nomad — Amazing Trip Report from a Russian Photographer
Interacting with different people every day, one can notice that all of them change the way we see the world. Every new person we meet lets us try on their metaphoric eyeglasses with their unique lens. It also changes our mood, which means also the way we react different events. Thus, every person shares his unique atmosphere with us, which in turn helps creating our own. If you have ever traveled you will agree that a new country or even a new place can do the same trick with your mind.
Mountains are the most interesting in this regard. Saint tracts of the ancient east, Bhagavad Gita in particular, describes rough material world, which consists of mixture of five primary elements — fire, water, air, earth and ether. If you look at landscape in this context, it becomes obvious that the higher you are in the mountains, the less are those elements mixed. Rocks are earth, water is a clearest ice lake, the air is light and dry, ether is silence, when every rustle is perceptible, and fire is the sun burning exposed skin in 15 minutes. So, in theory you can find those primary elements not mixed somewhere on top of the highest mountain in the world. And the higher you go the more difficult it is to bear this purity.
Elevation purifies and disciplines and after a week in the mountains in isolation you discover different miracles in your mind. Every single thought becomes clear and detailed and when you come back to the city you look at familiar things in a different way like it’s a first time you see them and you can’t understand what’s going on. And you think “Why do building in this town have such a strange form? It seems like a yurt is more natural home then those stone racks for people. And what are those colored boxes moving on purposely leveled earth? Someone’s elbow’s put out — oh, look, there are people inside... So crowded, poor people, why did they get into?” But then you remember: “Those are marshrutkas (route taxi minibus)! Well, I live in a similar apartment 2,000 km away from here, wow, how far. And what am I doing here? Oh! Went hiking a week ago, well, I remember now...”
Tian Shan is a diamond, a true gem for mountain lovers. Walks in Tian Shan gorges are like parables told by Celestial Mountains. You won’t know how the story ends until you go the the very end and get on top of the pass.
Tian Shan had a strong nomad warrior atmosphere besides its dazzling beauty. Kyrgyz folk is entirely about battles, betrayals, fabulous wealth, poverty, lie, rulers’ cruelty, murders, magic, women kidnapping, horse races, hatred for relatives and etc. There are still women, who were kidnapped by their husbands when they were young. For a northern guy it’s quite shocking. Honestly Kyrgyz Republic seemed way more calm and tired from endless hardships of past. Still, if you are an uninhibited European and you want to sunbathe on Issyk-Kul beach in a shining yellow G-string or moreover without any, ‘zhigits’ won’t let you home without making you feel misunderstood and a black eye.
You can meet a lot of shepherds in Tian Shan, who live in yurts with their families. Any of them will shelter a tourist for a tiny fee of KGS 10-20 per night ($0.15-0.3, actually it is USD 10-20 — GO__KG). A yurt is a traditional Kyrgyz tent with a wooden folding frame covered with felt and carpets on the floor. Spending a night in yurt is a special pleasure. Life in a yurt camp is so different from living in a city that you feel like you’re living on a moon. And the shepherds are very simple, kind and friendly. Ask the landlady of a camp on Son-Kol for a glass of milk and she will run to the field, catch a cow and milk it right into your cup. What a service!
Lakes. I’m sure that every lake and every mountain are alive and are like us — they have individuality and temper and, thus, can change people. We don’t just visit places, we communicate with them or at least feel them.
‘Issyk-Kul’ means ‘hot lake’. This saline lake-giant is 1,600 m above sea level. The water warms up to 20 degrees (C) in summer and never freezes in winter. The lake is surrounded by endless wild beaches with light pink sand. There are resorts and very cozy yurt towns. Solitude of Issyk-Kul scenery gives you unparalleled feelings.
‘Skazka’ canyon on Issyk-Kul’s coast attracts visitors with its fabulous forms of clay and limestone rocks. Simply a miracle of the nature.
Ala-Kol is a fantastic lake with rich turquoise color. The Creator has added a special dye so we could admire its superlative color sense. This dye is nothing but a purity. The water in Ala-Kol has no suspended mud, which usually gives water a darker color. Hardly you can find such a gem-sparkling beauty anywhere else.
Son-Kol, 3,000 m above sea level, large 30 m long mountain freshwater lake, surrounded with yellowed-grass-meadows and mountains of Tian Shan, makes quite a strange impression. Son-Kol is a mystic. Being its guest, you feel like you are in a different world with constant unimaginable miracles, which temporarily stop not to shock its guests. In September many shepherd go back to their villages for the winter, but there are still some sheep, horses and cows on some meadows — constant witnesses of its mysticism. They’ve got used to it already and unprepared aliens from the north may not bear the performance.
Cities become a challenge with their turmoil and pressure after quiet mountain valleys and Bishkek is not different. Bishkek is an epicenter for ‘marshrutkas’. It probably has a million of them, same amount of routes and no one knows where the bus is going except for the drivers. I’ve taken three attempts to ask which ‘marshrutka’ I should take to get to the western bus station or to post office on the streets. All three given bus numbers were wrong. At rush hour number of passengers in ‘mashrutka’ exceeds the limit ̶b̶y̶ ̶n̶i̶n̶e̶t̶y̶ ̶p̶e̶o̶p̶l̶e̶. Car makers have to think about launching a special bus model for Central Asia with no seats inside and eye-level windows instead of belly-button-level. It won’t be fun for passengers, still it will be more comfortable.
I was not able to bring myself to shooting Bishkek. I hope people of Bishkek won’t be offended, I didn’t shoot Monte Carlo and Barcelona too, I just don’t like cities.
Majority of Kyrgyz people know Russian since soviet times, children learn it in school and speak fluent Russian. Houses in villages are built from dung (actually from air-bricks, — GO__KG). It’s dried and added into a special mixture, which goes into bricks, which, in turn, make house walls. Painted walls hide nature of the material. Interior design is standard soviet style — stove, mud room and wash stand.
I am always surprised how open and hospitable are village people, especially, in the mountains. I feel myself lame, cold-hearted and hard downer. Why are city people so different from village ones? It could have been great. Why the less people per square km the better the interaction between them, what is the reason?
Once we sat up late having some tea, we went outside and there they were... So many times I’ve been to the mountains, but I’ve never seen a sky like that. So, this is where ‘Celestial Mountains’ name comes from — you can see millions of stars and Milky Way nebulas with the naked eye. Metaphoric eyeglasses of Tian Shan turned out to be rapid lens. After throwing my head back and staring for some time I tried to get everything I could from my baby-camera.
A Night Sky Over Ratzek's Hut
Kyrgyz Republic is no doubt one of the best countries for mountain hiking. Brilliance of mountain landscape and ancient nomadic culture incredibly get along with Soviet towns, generously built-up with Khrushchev-era apartment buildings. This country is like it’s located on the edge of time, where it seems like eternity is keeping watch over you somewhere nearby behind those white peaks of Celestial Mountains — where you can temporarily feel a totally different taste of life, simple and clear, where everyone you meet is your friend. Knock on any yurt’s door and you are welcomed. Nothing but a heaven! I will miss you, Tian Shan.
By Dmitrii Dubovtsev, 2016
Source: Dmitrii Dubovtsev’s blog on LiveJournal
Translated by: GO__KG