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 | $13,995* Closed
Expedition July 6 - 22, 2017 | View other workshops

Kyrgyzstan with Justin Black and Jerry Dodrill

Map via Google

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 an immensely hospitable culture and some of the most awe-inspiring mountain landscapes on the planet. This overland adventure, following a route we scouted in July 2015 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 Kyrgyzstan, and look forward to sharing this wonderful corner of the planet with you! –Justin Black

For lovers of wild mountain landscapes, Kyrgyzstan 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 Kakshaal-Too range soars to truly Himalayan heights, on the world's most northerly 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, or "jailoo," 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 largely off the tourist radar. Kyrgyzstan is an emerging democracy, commonly referred to as the "Switzerland of Central Asia," but even that compliment isn't fair, as it neglects to recognize the nation's unique qualities. A former Soviet republic with a struggling economy, 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 boast 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 Khanates, the Russians, the Soviet era, and the challenges of building a viable independent nation.

Our adventure begins in the Kyrgyz capital of Bishkek, where participants will be met at the airport and driven to the Golden Tulip Hotel, offering thoroughly modern and 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 Toyota caravan, comprising three highly capable and comfortable Landcruisers to carry our six guests, Visionary Wild photo leaders Justin Black and Jerry Dodrill, as well as our team's Kyrgyzstan native and Russian-language interpreter, Lena Black, Visionary Wild Director of Operations. Two additional 4WD support vehicles will carry gear, provisions, 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 virtual 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, along the way, 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 6: 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 group meeting in the salon bar, followed by dinner at the restaurant. Overnight at Golden Tulip Hotel. (Meals included: Dinner)

July 7: 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 8: Day at Song-Kul. Excursion in the vehicles to Tuz Ashuu pass, with panoramic views of the south Sonkulskaya Valley and the Jumgal edge. In the evening, back to Song-Kul and yurt camp. (B/L/D)

July 9: Karatal - Zhapyryk Nature Reserve. After breakfast, we drive south into the Karatal - Zhapyryk nature reserve, photographing Overnight in tents in the reserve. (B/L/D)

July 10: Silk Road Route. After a morning photo session and breakfast, we head toward the town of Naryn, located on a main Silk Road route. Depending on your preference, you'll have the option of visiting the 15th-Century caravanserai Tash Rabat or relax at the hotel. Overnight at Khan Tengri Hotel. (B/L/D)

July 11: Köl Suu. After an early breakfast, drive to the alpine lake Köl Suu, located in a narrow gorge winding between high peaks. We've arranged a unique excursion by boat on the lakes turquoise water, and we will enjoy superb 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 12: Köl Suu. Up early to photograph pre-dawn light, and after breakfast we've organized a horseback excursion into an area nearby inaccessible to vehicles. We'll be back in time for dinner, more sunset and twilight photography near camp, and overnight in our yurts. (B/L/D)

July 13: Eki-Naryn Gorge. After sunrise photography and breakfast, we drive into the dramatic white-water river gorge of Eki - Naryn, cut deep into the mountains south of Lake Issyk-Kul. We will make our tented camp in the valley of Kara-Bodur, as the guests of local yak breeders. (B/L/D)

July 14: Trip to Zhylu-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.  We may make an excursion on horseback to explore and photograph a mountain canyon, but in any case the photography along the way and near camp is incredible. We will make a tented camp in the mountains at about 10,500ft. (B/L/D)

July 15: 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. Overnight at Green Yard Hotel. (B/L/D)

July 16: Sary-Jaz. We'll be up early for breakfast this morning before heading east toward the high Tien Shan mountains, and the beautiful Sary-Jaz river valley. Overnight in yurts or tents at around 10,000ft. (B/L/D)

July 17: Karkyra. After making the most of morning light in Sary-Jaz valley, we will drive north into the Karkira Valley, stopping to photograph on our way back to to Karakol. Overnight at Green Yard Hotel. (B/L/D)

July 18: Khan Tengri Base Camp. In the morning, we transfer to the helipad for our flight to Khan Tengri Base Camp on Engilcheck Glacier at 13,000ft, aboard a reliable and spacious Russian Mi-8 transport helicopter, piloted by a highly experienced flight crew who fly this route regularly. Beneath the 23,000ft. peak of Khan Tengri and even higher Pik Pobeda (AKA Jengish Chokusu), 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, and on to Issyk-Kul. This day begins with staring in awe at morning alpenglow on the highest peaks in the Tien Shan range, and ends with a swim in the second largest saline lake in the world, Issyk-Kul. We will make the most of early morning light on Khan Tengri and the surrounding mountains. In early afternoon, we fly back to Karkira and then move on to the shore of Lake Issyk-Kul at Hotel Kapriz in Cholpon-Ata, with accommodation in cottages. (B/L/D)

July 20: Issyk Kul, and back to Bishkek. Early morning photography on the shore of Issyl-Kul, followed by breakfast and time to swim or relax, before returning to Bishkek after lunch. 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 a little (or rather a lot) of everything from spices, to produce, to dried fruit, traditional breads and pastries, and special halls for the butchers, cheesemakers, and on and on. The photographic potential her is phenomenal. Nearby, we will make a short visit to the Tumar Group, makers of high quality Kyrgyz-designed handicrafts, including felt carpets, hats, slippers, handbags, toys, and more. Both Tumar and Osh Market offer great 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 sixteen nights. Single occupancy available at hotels (prorated double-occupancy available as well). Note: Yurt camps and tent camps are shared accommodation only.
  • All meals and beverages (including wine and beer at dinner).
  • All in-tour photographic instruction, land transportation, and guide services by leader team of two professional photographers, Visionary Wild's Kyrgyzstan-native Director of Operations, and professional Kyrgyz guide.
  • Helicopter flights to South Engilchek Glacier Base Camp beneath Mount Khan Tengri
  • Excursion by boat on Lake Köl-Suu
  • Horseback rides (optional) at Song Kul, Köl Suu, Kara-Bodur, and Zhylu-Suu
  • Support provided by professional local overland drivers/camp staff, and camp cook
  • Permits for special access to border zone areas, taxes, and basic 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, hotel room service or minibar charges, travel insurance (required), etc. Optional activities not explicitly listed as included in the itinerary.

Note: We advise anyone considering this adventure to read "The Realities of Travel in Kyrgyzstan," 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 is an award-winning landscape and adventure photographer who in the early years of his career was a protégé of the legendary Galen Rowell. An unrelenting passion for photography and outdoor adventures made it clear that Jerry was not destined for a desk job. An avid climber for twenty years, 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.


  • One of the world's great mountain landscapes: 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 overnight at base camp on the South Engilchek Glacier beneath the 23,000ft. pyramidal summit of Khan Tengri.
  • Horseback excursions (optional)
  • Group transport in three capable and comfortable Toyota Landcruisers, plus two 4WD support vehicles.
  • Small group – ideal for superior field photography experience, ample one-on-one instruction, and enhanced camaraderie.
  • Professional instruction by Justin Black and Jerry Dodrill, with excellent local support
  • Creativity and visualization: learn to find new and unexpected compositions
  • Advanced field techniques for landscape and cultural photography
  • Breaking through creative block and making great photographs in challenging situations
  • Constructive critiques of participant photographs
  • All-inclusive from Bishkek
  • Visa-free for citizens of sixty countries, including the USA

Accommodations & Travel

Please note: This overland adventure involves travel into little-visited corners of a sparsely populated former Soviet Republic, 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 nights only. Participants traveling alone share yurts and tents on a gender specific basis, though in both cases 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.

Karatal-Zhapyryk Nature Reserve: Visionary Wild Tent Camp (with hot shower and toilet facilities) – roomy tents for two with portable twin beds. Expedition staff handle set-up and camp management, including meals by our camp cook. 

Naryn: Khan Tengri Hotel – A decent place to spend a night, with clean and comfortable guest rooms, internet, and a serviceable restaurant.

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

Kara-Bodur: Visionary Wild Tent Camp

Zhylu-Suu: Visionary Wild Tent Camp 

Karakol: Green Yard Hotel – The best hotel in Karakol: clean, modern, good A/C, good showers, good breakfasts, and solid Wi-Fi.

Sary-Jaz: Visionary Wild Tent Camp

Khan Tengri Base Camp: Tents supplied by base camp operators

Issyk-Kul: Hotel Kapriz cottages – Lakeside resort in a beautiful setting, surrounded by nature

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 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 4WD vehicles (Landcruiser Prado and Sequoia or equivalent). 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 in the 30s or 40s. 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 given the limited facilities at many of the locations we are visiting, it is designed for folks who are adventurous and willing to roll with the realities of travel in a developing nation where life tends to be simple, rules of the road can be a little unconventional, and the toilet in places is a hole cut in the wooden floor of an outhouse. The particularly faint of heart and those who freak out when removed from the comfort zone of middle-American norms would not be well-suited to this experience. 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 SUVs to transport our group, and we will definitely make use of their off-road capabilities. Main artery highways in Kyrgyzstan are generally very good, but many of the locations we access will be by a mix of pavement, gravel, dirt roads, and jeep trails. We will ford creeks, cross bridges that have seen better days, 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, – nothing really to worry about too much – but getting around the mountains of Kyrgyzstan is not like a drive through a National Park in the USA.
  • Turkish Tiolets: If you’ve never had the pleasure of using a Turkish toilet, you will on this trip. To be indelicate, this sort of facility requires you to squat and balance while you do your business. Proper toilets with seats are the norm in hotels, 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 have outhouses, rather than 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. 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 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 or three to a yurt, though there is tons of space inside. There will be
  • Tent Camp: In locations where yurts and hotel rooms aren't available, roomy tents will be set up by our expedition staff, to be shared by two participants per tent. Portable beds are provided. We recommend bringing a personal sleeping bag rated to 15ºF to 20ºF, 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 camps have solar powered electric lighting, but not outlets for charging or running hair dryers. We recommend bringing sufficient camera batteries to cover at least two 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 excursions over 14,000ft. If your experience is that you acclimate to high elevations reasonably well, then you should be fine.  If have never spent a day at 12,000ft or if you know that you have serious trouble at high elevation, you ought to 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 12,000ft. in fairly rugged alpine terrain, off-trails. We won’t be doing any glacier travel or rock climbing, so technical mountaineering skills are not required.
  • 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: It helps if you like green tea. The Kyrgyz drink it at every meal. Of course, we’ll bring some good coffee, beer, wine, and other beverages too.
  • Vegetarianism: Though the Kyrgyz don’t believe that vegetarians actually exist, they cater for them 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 outside of the cities, 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. I never felt threatened or unsafe at any stage of our scouting trip. Ok, so I did get a little nervous riding with a maniac taxi driver in Bishkek one day, but that’s it, I swear.
  • Visas: Easy! No visa required required for U.S. citizens and many other nationalities.
  • Flights: Turkish Airlines offers regular direct flights from Istanbul to Bishkek at very reasonable cost. One can also fly Aeroflot direct from Moscow, 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!


Kyrgyzstan Facts

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.

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, and Mt Everest's summit is truly in the jet stream, at 8,848 meters above sea level.

Cuisine: Food in Kyrgyzstan is generally tasty and 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, 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. You will likely see more watermelon on this trip than you have in your entire life. 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.

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 it's 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 Soviet atheism as official state policy, 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 combination of Islam and more traditional Kyrgyz spiritual practices of shamanism, animism, and ancestor worship. The ethnic Russian minority is generally either Russian Orthodox or atheist.