Visionary Wild, LLC • 2200 19th St. NW, Ste 806, Washington, DC 20009

E-mail:    •    Tel: 1-202-558-9596 (9am to 5pm, EST).

Justin Black – Managing Director: 1-202-302-9030 • Email:

Jennifer Woolley – Director of Operations • Email:

We look forward to hearing from you!


Limit 6 spaces | $14,500* Register
Expedition July 5 - 22, 2019 | View other workshops

Kyrgyz Republic with Justin Black and Jerry Dodrill

Map via Google

There's a reason why two of the six participants from our 2017 expedition to the Kyrgyz Republic chose to join us again in 2018. Yes, this trip is that good.

When I tell folks that my wife Lena is from Kyrgyzstan, the response is usually, "She's from Kurdistan?!?" or alternatively, "What? Where is that?" This little-known Silk Road country is, however, home to some of the most awe-inspiring mountain landscapes on the planet, as well as an immensely hospitable culture. Visionary Wild's first overland expedition there in July 2017 grew out of a lengthy scouting trip that Lena and I made in 2015. This photographic adventure, from the idyllic alpine lake of Song Kul to the glacier-borne basecamp beneath mighty Khan Tengri – one of the world's most beautiful peaks rising to 23,000ft. – represents what Lena and I consider the finest of the Kyrgyz mountain landscape. We have fallen in love with the Kyrgyz people and their spectacular homeland, and look forward to sharing this wonderful corner of the planet with you! –Justin Black

For lovers of wild mountain landscapes, the Kyrgyz Republic is among the most underrated travel destinations on Earth. The Tien Shan mountains rise higher and wilder than the Rockies, Sierra Nevada, Alps, or Andes, and peaks below 16,000-feet in elevation are barely considered worthy of a name. 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.

The sheer scale and beauty of this landscape is phenomenal, but what is almost unimaginable is the fact that it is barely on the tourist radar. The Kyrgyz Republic is an emerging democracy, and the Kyrgyz people take their freedom seriously. Though it is commonly referred to as the "Switzerland of Central Asia," this complimentary moniker neglects to recognize the nation's unique qualities. A former Soviet republic with relatively slow economic growth, Kyrgyzstan has been spared excessive development, so what it lacks in infrastructure is made up for with glorious wild nature. The Kyrgyz people are a Turkic nomad culture that boasts the longest history of all currently extant groups in Central Asia. Over the last fifteen centuries, their language and culture have survived the Uyghurs, the Chinese, the Mongols, various Khaganates, the Russians, the Soviet era, and the challenges of building a viable democracy while surrounded by less democratic neighbors.

Our adventure begins in the Kyrgyz capital of Bishkek, where our guests will be met at the airport and transferred to the thoroughly modern Golden Tulip Hotel, offering excellent accommodations in the city center. There, we will welcome you to our introductory orientation and first dinner as a group. Early the next morning, we load up into our four-wheel-drive caravan, comprising three highly capable and comfortable Toyota Sequoias to carry our six guests, plus Visionary Wild photo leaders Justin Black and Jerry Dodrill, both veterans of three prior trips to Kyrgyzstan. Two additional 4WD support vehicles will carry gear, provisions, our cook and camp staff. From there, we set off on our spectacular route through the Tien Shan mountains.

Our itinerary is designed to take advantage of prime light on the landscape 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.

Click "read more" at below right for the full itinerary, inclusions, exclusions, and more photos...


July 5: Arrival Day. We expect that most participants will arrive in the morning on a Turkish Airways flight from Istanbul. Meet your driver at the airport, for transfer to Golden Tulip Hotel in central Bishkek. There, we have arranged early morning check-in so you can go straight to your room several hours ahead of normal check-in time. 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. (Meals included: Dinner)

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. (Meals: B/L/D)

July 7: Day at Song-Kul. Sunrise and sunset photography around the lake, plus photo sessions with local herders. Overnight at yurt camp. (B/L/D)

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. (B/L/D)

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. (B/L/D)

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. (B/L/D)

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. (B/L/D)

July 12: Kok Shaal-Too. We continue on to new location, beneath a breathtaking panorama of glacier-draped high peaks of the Kok Shaal-Too range. Overnight in our luxury tent camp. (B/L/D)

July 13: Kok Shaal-Too. Early morning and evening "magic hour" light on the peaks, and an excursion to the glaciers. (B/L/D)

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. (B/L/D)

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. (B/L/D)

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. (B/L/D)

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. (B/L/D)

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, aboard a reliable and spacious Mi-8 transport helicopter, piloted by a highly experienced military flight crew who fly this route regularly. 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. (B/L/D)

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.  (B/L/D)

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. (B/L/D)

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. (B/L/D)

July 22: Day of departure. We all say "Jakshy bargyla" (goodbye) and go our separate ways until our next adventure. Airport transfer provided. (B)


  • Accommodation for all seventeen nights. Single occupancy available at hotels and in tent camps (prorated double-occupancy available as well). Note: Due to limited availability, when we stay in yurts, they will be shared on a double-occupancy basis only.
  • 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, Visionary Wild's Kyrgyz Republic native Director of Operations, 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

EXCLUDED: 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.

Note: We advise anyone considering this adventure to read "The Realities of Travel in the Kyrgyz Republic," farther down on this page.

Justin Black

JUSTIN BLACK is a photographer, writer, editor, expedition leader, photo workshops instructor, a Fellow of the International League of Conservation Writers (ILCW), and a former executive director of the International League of Conservation Photographers (ILCP). Since 2011 with Visionary Wild and for ten years at Galen Rowell's Mountain Light Photography, he has created inspiring and effective educational photographic experiences for thousands of passionate photographers. He is widely recognized as one of the world's leading photo workshops organizers.

A professional photographer since 1995 when he signed his first picture agency contract, before founding Visionary Wild he served the ILCP as Executive Director, and for seven years was General Manager and Curator of Mountain Light Gallery.

Justin's photographs have been published by magazines such as National Geographic Adventure, Sierra, Sunset, American Photo, Outdoor Photographer, Rock & Ice, and Nature Conservancy among others. His work has also been published by major news outlets in print and online, and has been used in advertising for brands such as MasterCard, Patagonia, Nikon, and Fujifilm.

Among conservation NGOs that have used his photographs in their campaigns are World Wildlife Fund, Conservation International, The Sierra Club, National Parks Conservation Association, Panthera, Land Trust Alliance, Earth Justice, The Wilderness Society, the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, ILCP, and the Wild Foundation.

In 2017, he entered the world of motion pictures as an Executive Producer on the award-winning documentary film, Headhunt Revisited: With Brush, Canvas, and Camera, produced and directed by Michele Westmorland. Justin was invited to serve as a judge for the 2015 and 2017 Nature's Best Photography Africa competitions. He has also been an editor and contributor to numerous award-winning photo book projects, including Galen Rowell: A Retrospective; Freshwater: The Essence of Life; The Wealth of Nature: Ecosystem Services, Biodiversity, and Human Well-Being; Our National Parks: America's Natural Heritage; as well as Flying South: A Pilot's Inner Journey by Barbara Rowell. His limited edition fine prints are available through his portfolio website at

An early career as a travel photographer and image licensing specialist led him to Mountain Light Photography in the San Francisco Bay Area, founded by Galen Rowell – a world-renowned National Geographic photographer, author, and mountaineer – and his wife and business partner, Barbara Cushman Rowell. Beginning in May of 1999, Justin managed marketing of the Rowell image collection, assisted Galen on assignments and in his workshop program, and taught seminars on nature photography. In April 2002, the Rowells invited Justin to relocate with them to California's scenic Owens Valley as Mountain Light's General Manager. Justin eagerly embraced his new responsibility, along with the sublime Eastern Sierra Nevada landscape as his new home.

Four months later, Galen and Barbara perished in the crash of a chartered plane, leaving behind a tremendous creative and visionary vacuum. Justin went to work, building on the impressive Rowell legacy to reinvigorate Mountain Light by establishing a seasonal series of guest photographer exhibitions, expanding the image collection, and relaunching the highly acclaimed photo workshop program through collaboration with Galen's leading professional peers, including Frans Lanting, Pat O'Hara, Jack Dykinga, John Shaw, David Muench, and Jeff Foott. In May 2008, Justin's successful efforts were recognized by both Sunset and American Photo magazines, as each magazine featured editorial recommendations of his workshop program at Mountain Light.

After ten years with Mountain Light, Justin was recruited to take over the position of Executive Director of ILCP, a non-profit association of the best photographers worldwide working in the field of environmental and cultural conservation. At ILCP, Justin oversaw an explosion of productivity in expeditions, publishing, multimedia production, and the achievement of successful conservation outcomes. He contributed photographic coverage to ILCP's Rapid Assessment Visual Expeditions (RAVE) program, including Flathead Valley (Canada, 2009), Yucatán (Mexico, 2009), and Chesapeake (USA, 2010), as well as a solo project for The Nature Conservancy, documenting the Dragon Run wetland on Virginia's Middle Peninsula. One of Justin's photographs from the Flathead River project appeared as a section opener in the Vancouver Sun newspaper – the first time the threatened watershed received significant coverage in that nationally important media outlet.  The photograph was later selected by the United States Senate for display in the U.S. Capitol Building, as Canada and the USA reached an agreement to protect the Flathead.

Justin left his position at ILCP in late 2010 to establish Visionary Wild, building on his successful leadership of the Mountain Light workshop program and applying expertise gained at ILCP to provide superlative workshops and expeditions for passionate photographers seeking to advance to the next level of creativity, quality, purpose, and meaning in their work. His own work continues to evolve in new directions, driven by the ongoing search for extraordinary qualities in our world's dynamic landscapes.

Justin lives in Washington, DC, with his brilliant wife, Lena, and their children Philippe and Alexandra.

Justin Black's limited editions portfolio

Justin's Outdoor Photographer Profile

Bringing focus and meaning to your photography

The Top 40 Nature Photos Project

Justin's Conservation Photography Projects


Justin’s Camera Bag

After using an array of 4x5, medium format, and 35mm film cameras in the first two decades of his career, Justin fully embraced digital cameras in 2010. His current gear includes Nikon DSLRs and Fujifilm mirrorless systems.


Fujifilm Medium Format Mirrorless:

GFX 50S camera

23mm f/4 GF Fujinon

32-64 f/4 GF Fujinon

120mm f/4 GF Fujinon


Nikon DSLR:

Nikon D810 cameras (x2)

24mm f/3.5 PC-E tilt-shift Nikkor

45mm f/2.8 PC-E tilt-shift Nikkor

85mm f/2.8 PC-E tilt-shift Nikkor

24mm f/1.4 Sigma Art

35mm f/1.4 Sigma Art

50mm f/1.4 Sigma Art

85mm f/1.8 G AF-S ED Nikkor

200mm f/4 AF-D Micro-Nikkor

500mm f/4 AF-S Nikkor

18-35mm f/3.5-4.5 G AF-S ED Nikkor

24-70mm f/2.8 G AF-S ED Nikkor

70-200mm f/4.0 G AF-S ED VR Nikkor

200-400mm f/4.0 G AF-S ED VR Nikkor

Nikon TC-14EII teleconverter

Nikon TC-20EIII teleconverter

Nikon SB-900 flash

Nikon SB-700 flash

Assorted Nikon TTL flash cables


Fujifilm APS-C Mirrorless:

X-Pro2 Cameras (x2)

14mm f/2.8 XF Fujinon

23mm f/2 XF Fujinon

35mm f/1.4 XF Fujinon

50mm f/2 XF Fujinon

18-55mm f/2.8-4 XF Fujinon

55-200mm f/3.5-4.8 XF Fujinon


Filters and Light Modifiers

Nikon Circular Polarizer II

Singh-Ray Vari-ND

Tiffen WW IRND neutral density filters

Photoflex reflectors and diffusers

Lumiquest soft boxes

Rogue Flashbender

Rosco gels



Really Right Stuff TVC-24L with leveling base and Really Right Stuff BH-55 ballhead or Arca-Swiss D4 geared head

Gitzo 1028 with RRS BH-25 ballhead


Photo Packs

MindShift Backlight 36L

MindShift Backlight 26L

Mindshift FirstLight 30L

MindShift Rotation 180 Pro

Mindshift Rotation 180 Horizon

Mindshift Rotation 180 Panorama

ThinkTank Airport Addicted V2.0

ThinkTank Urban Disguise 50 V2.0


Jerry Dodrill

Jerry Dodrill has been an award-winning professional photographer and highly regarded photography teacher for more than two decades. A protégé of the late legendary adventure photographer Galen Rowell in the late 1990s, an unrelenting passion for photography and outdoor adventures made it clear that Jerry was not destined for a desk job. An avid climber and outdoorsman for most of his life, he feels equally at home in a rocky bivouac or a soft bed. In college, pre-med classes gave way to studies in fine art and weekends spent scaling Yosemite's granite walls. Photography was at first a byproduct of his adventures but quickly became his artistic medium of choice as he captured each experience with a concise aesthetic and quality of light revealing his inspiration.

Jerry's adventures have led him around the globe. He has climbed all the major walls in Yosemite Valley, at crags across the West, close to a hundred summits in the Sierra, and peaks in Bolivia, Argentina, Kyrgyzstan, and China. His full embrace of the many disciplines of climbing have led to many adventures and tales best told late at night around a raging campfire.

Jerry holds degrees in fine art and photography, which in 1997 led him to work for acclaimed photographer Galen Rowell at Mountain Light in Berkeley. There, he managed Galen's gallery space and workshops, an amazing experience (akin to a photographer's bootcamp).

Since 2000, he has been pursuing his own adventures and photography career. Jerry's immense talent and creative eye have been well recognized through international awards and exhibition in fine galleries, such as the Ansel Adams in Yosemite, Mountain Light, Mumm Napa Valley, and the Banff Center for Mountain Culture. Through his numerous workshops for Mountain Light Gallery, Visionary Wild, and Sierra Nevada College, and college-level teaching at Pacific Union College in Napa Valley, he has proven himself as a highly engaging and effective photography teacher and workshops leader.

After running his own gallery on California's North Coast for five years, he now resides in the Sonoma County town of Sebastopol, California, focusing on commercial and editorial assignment photography, exhibitions of his work, and sharing his vision and expertise with others. Jerry's work has been featured in many ad campaigns, books, and publications and is represented by Aurora Photos. Editorial and commercial clients include The North Face, Vanity Fair, Sunset, Men's Journal, Outside, Alpinist, Rock & Ice, and Climbing magazines. Expert in Photoshop and digital color management, Jerry is regularly sought out as a color pre-press manager for high-end photo books, and as a fine digital printmaker. He was also recently recruited as a design consultant for the exciting new outdoors-oriented photo pack company MindShift Gear, a spin-off from Think Tank Photo.

Visit Jerry's website

Visit Jerry's blog

Jerry Dodrill portrait: © Grant Ordelheide.


  • Among 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.
  • Culture: the Kyrgyz people are proud of their ancient culture at the Silk Road crossroads. Their hospitality and good humor are famous. If you are curious about the cultures of Central Asia or the former Soviet Union, this is a great way to experience them.
  • Helicopter excursion for two nights at base camp on the South Engilchek Glacier beneath the 23,000ft. pyramidal summit of Khan Tengri.
  • Group transport in three capable and comfortable Toyota Sequoias, plus two 4WD support vehicles.
  • Small group – ideal for superior field photography experience, ample one-on-one instruction, and enhanced camaraderie.
  • Horseback excursions (optional, and as available)
  • Professional instruction by Justin Black and Jerry Dodrill, with the support of excellent local guides
  • Creativity and visualization: learn to find new and unexpected compositions
  • Advanced field techniques for landscape and cultural photography
  • Constructive critiques of participant photographs
  • Visa-free for citizens of sixty countries, including the USA
  • All-inclusive from the capital, Bishkek

Accommodations & Travel


Please note: This overland adventure involves travel into little-visited corners of a sparsely populated nation, where lodging options are limited. We therefore make use of a mix of hotels, yurt camps, and tent camps. The single-occupancy option refers to the hotel and tent camp nights only. Participants traveling alone share yurts on a gender specific basis, though they are roomy and set up to accommodate sharing well.


Bishkek: Golden Tulip Hotel – an excellent and modern European business-class hotel in the city center.

Song-Kul: Yurt Camp (with hot shower and toilet facilities) – Spacious, comfortable, and featuring the impressive hospitality of our Kyrgyz hosts, yurt camping may be simple, but it is very civilized.

Tash Rabat: Yurt Camp (with hot shower and toilet facilities)

Köl Suu: Yurt Camp (with hot shower and toilet facilities)

Kotur Valley: Visionary Wild Tent Camp (with hot shower and toilet facilities)

Eki-Naryn: Yurt Camp (with hot shower and toilet facilities)

Jailoo-Suu: Visionary Wild Tent Camp

Karakol: Green Yard Hotel – The best hotel in Karakol: clean, modern, good beds, good showers, good breakfasts, solid Wi-Fi, and lovely grounds.

Karkyra: Tent Camp (with hot shower and toilet facilities)

Khan Tengri Base Camp: Tent camp (Wi-Fi, steam room and toilet facilities)

airplane iconcar iconboat iconfoot iconweather icon
Fly into Manas International Airport (code: FRU) in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan (Turkish Airlines via Istanbul is recommended – international flights not included). Package includes round trip helicopter flight to Khan Tengri Basecamp on the South Engilchek Glacier. Airport pickup and hotel transfer by van is included, as is ground transportation throughout, in a caravan of capable and comfortable Toyota Sequoia 4WD vehicles. We have made special arrangements for an excursion by boat on lake Kol Suu, conditions permitting. Hikes will be easy to moderate, at elevations up to 14,000ft. At some locations, we will have the option to ride horseback into the mountains as well. Weather in Kyrgyzstan in July is generally fine – sunny and for the most part dry – but with a small chance of rain showers or light snow possible in the mountains at any time. Expect high temperatures at elevation in the mountains to be in the 70s fahrenheit, with lows generally in the 30s or 40s. At Khan Tengri basecamp on Enylchek Glacier, nighttime lows may be around 15ºF. In Bishkek, temperatures will likely range from around a high of 90ºF to a low of 65ºF.


The Realities of Traveling in Kyrgyzstan

by Justin Black

A trip through the mountains of Kyrgyzstan means real adventure travel. While this will be a surprisingly comfortable trip, it is designed for folks who are adventurous and willing to roll with the realities of travel in a nation where life tends to be simple, and rules of the road can be a little unconventional. Here are a few things you’ll need to be prepared for:

  • Group Vehicles and Roads: We will use experienced local drivers and several capable and comfortable 4WD Toyota Sequoia SUVs to transport our group, and we will make use of their off-road capabilities. Main artery highways in Kyrgyzstan are well-paved and generally very good, but many of the locations we access will be by a mix of pavement, gravel, dirt roads, jeep trails, and even a little cross-country travel. We will ford creeks, cross bridges that might appear questionable to western eyes (despite being sturdy enough to support much heavier vehicles than ours), drive on narrow mountainside roads with long and steep drop-offs below us, drive off-road as necessary to bypass obstacles or washouts, etc. In reality, these are all manageable issues – to be taken seriously, but nothing really to worry about – but getting around the mountains of Kyrgyzstan is not like a casual drive through a National Park in the USA.
  • Tiolets: Most of the toilets you will encounter on this trip are western-style, but if you’ve never had the pleasure of using a Turkish toilet, you probably will at least once on this trip. To be indelicate, this sort of facility requires you to squat and balance while you do your business. Toilets with proper seats are the norm in hotels, in our tent camp, and at most yurt camps, but you will inevitably come face to face with a hole in the floor at some point on this trip, and probably more than once. Yurt camps generally have outhouses, sometimes with flush toilets. Clever gravity-fed sinks with soap are available so you can wash up after.
  • Showers: For bathing in camp, our expedition staff will bring along a portable “banya” – a Russian steam room set up for bathing. Due to limits of time and capacity, it may or may not be feasible for each person to have a shower every day in camp, but I would expect to shower at least every other day. Showers in the hotels are great, with plenty of hot water.
  • Yurts: A yurt is a large, round, semi-rigid tent-like structure with an exterior made of wool felt over a frame of wooden ribs. In the Kyrgyz language, they are called "boz-uy," which literally translates to "grey house." In addition to Kyrgyzstan, yurts are traditional shelters in Mongolia (where they call them "gers"), Kazakhstan, and the western minority areas of China. Your yurt will have either proper twin beds or several sleeping pads inside, the latter of which one can stack to make a bed that is thinner and firmer, or thicker and cushier. Sheets, pillows, and lots of cozy blankets are supplied too. Guests will need to sleep two to a yurt, though there is lots of space inside. At some high-elevation locations, a stove may be installed for heat, and operated as necessary.
  • Tent Camp: In remote locations where neither yurts nor hotel rooms are available, two-room tents will be set up for each participant by our expedition staff. Comfortable portable beds are provided. We recommend bringing your own goose-down sleeping bag rated to keep you comfortable in temperatures as low as 0ºF, though we can arrange a loaner if you need one.
  • Electricity: Kyrgyzstan operates on 220-volt current, using Type C and F plugs. Hotels will of course have power, as will our vehicles for the purpose of charging camera batteries. Yurt and tent camps may have electricity via solar panel or generator, available for a limited period each day.  We recommend bringing sufficient camera batteries to cover four days of photography between recharges.
  • Elevation and Fitness: Our travels will take us to elevations between 10,000 and 13,000 feet for extended periods, with possible excursions up to 14,000ft. If your experience is that you acclimate reasonably well to high elevations , then you should be fine.  If you have never spent a day at 10,000ft or if you know that you have serious trouble at high elevation, you should probably give this trip a pass.  We don’t plan any death marches, though you will want to be fit enough to do short hikes at 12,000 feet, on or off-trail. We won’t be doing any technical hiking involving ropes, crampons, or climbing gear.
  • Horses: The Kyrgyz are an ancient horse culture, and we will offer optional horseback rides at a few of our locations, in order to access interesting vantage points.
  • Tea: If you like tea you'll be in heaven, as the Kyrgyz drink it at every meal. Of course, we’ll bring plenty of good coffee, beer, wine, and other beverages too.
  • Vegetarianism: The Kyrgyz cater for vegetarians surprisingly well, preparing meatless meals on demand (given a little advance warning).
  • Safety: Kyrgyzstan is welcoming to foreigners, and is in essence a safe, secular democracy with little petty crime, though it is no stranger to basic corruption, such as graft and nepotism among the political class. Culturally, the ethnic Kyrgyz practice a rather relaxed form of Islam, the Soviet period having made the nation impressively tolerant of religious and ethnic differences. We have never felt threatened or unsafe at any stage of our visits there.
  • Visas: Easy! No visa required required for U.S. citizens and about sixty other nationalities.
  • Flights: Turkish Airlines offers regular direct flights from Istanbul to Bishkek at very reasonable cost. One can also fly via Russia or China, though we consider this an unnecessary complication.
  • Travel Insurance: Participants are required to arrange insurance to cover any costs associated with travel delays or disruption, cancellations, medical needs while traveling, evacuation, and repatriation expenses. We recommend

Please feel free to contact me if you have any questions about this or anything else related to the trip. Kyrgyzstan is a phenomenal place, and we look forward to sharing the adventure with you!


Kyrgyz Republic Facts

Mountain Nation: 40% of Kyrgyzstan is over 3,000 meters in elevation. It boasts the two northernmost peaks over 7,000 meters, Khan Tengri (7,010 meters / 23,000ft.) and Jengish Chokusu (a.k.a. Pik Pobeda, "Victory Peak," in Russian, named for the 1943 Russian victory over the Nazis at Stalingrad) topping out at 7,439 meters (24,406ft.). For sake of comparison, Denali in Alaska is "only" 6,190 meters, while Mt Everest's summit is truly in the jet stream, at 8,848 meters above sea level.

Honey: Kyrgyz beekeepers produce so much honey each year that if it were collected in one place it would fill a volume of one meter by two meters by four kilometers (8,000 cubic meters, or eight million liters). That's a lot of honey. With their hives set up on flatbead trailers, Kyrgyz beekeepers follow peak wildflower bloom as it ascends the mountain slopes in spring and summer, ensuring that their bees have plenty of high quality nectar.

Cuisine: Food in Kyrgyzstan is generally tasty and quite accessible to western palettes, featuring an interesting mix of influences from Turkic, Chinese, Persian, Russian, and Mongol cultures. Given the Kyrgyz herding background, one can generally expect dishes at lunch or dinner to incorporate either lamb or beef, as well as some combination of carrots, onion, mild peppers, potato, noodles, or rice, among other ingredients. Dumplings, or "manti" are popular, as is shashlik, the ultimate shish kebab. Salads of various types are often served on the side, as is watermelon.  The tandoor oven was, in fact, introduced to India by Kyrgyz traders, and the Kyrgyz use it well, producing some of the most gorgeous naan bread we've ever had. Breakfasts commonly include eggs, Russian blini pancakes, and fresh breads accompanied by homemade raspberry and apricot jam, homemade clotted cream, and lots of tea. We provide good coffee as well.

Kumis: If you believe the melodramatic hype, this homemade, mildly alcoholic traditional Central Asian beverage of fermented mare's milk is bound to grow copious amounts of hair on your chest as you retch in agony for days. In reality, while westerners may be unaccustomed to the flavor, many of those brave enough to sample it find it to be harmless enough even if it isn't their thing, while others find its effervescence and slightly sour, slightly smoky flavor surprisingly refreshing and can't get enough. Let's just say it's an acquired taste.

Religion: In the wake of seventy years of official Soviet atheism, Kyrgyzstan remains an officially secular state, and most Kyrgyz seem very comfortable with that arrangement. The prevailing religion of Kyrgyzstan is a relaxed version of Sunni Islam of the Hanafi School. It is in sharp contrast to more conservative versions of Islam practiced in other parts of the region, and is best understood as a long-standing melding of Islam with more traditional Kyrgyz spiritual practices of shamanism, animism, and ancestor worship. The ethnic Russian minority is generally either Russian Orthodox or non-religious.