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Song-Kul to Kazarman

October 22, 2017

 

When planning a photography trip, it’s easy to spend hours researching the perfect location, only to arrive and find it slightly underwhelming, inundated with tourists or shrouded in bright, less than ideal light. I can happily say that these few days were nothing like the above, and indeed far less planned for. What you are about to see, in my opinion, is nothing short of film worthy.

 


Leaving Skazka Canyon on a high, we backtracked westward along the southern shores of Issyk-Kul for a refuel in Balykchy. We stopped in for lunch at a local restaurant where we met a young local girl by the name of Rebecca. She was in awe of the fact that people from so far away could travel here and visit places so freely.

 

 

There was also a sense of sadness in her tone and she explained that she dreams of traveling like us but has never even left her hometown! She told us that she must finish her studies and work for many years before she would have enough money to even visit other areas of Kyrgyzstan. We both felt a sense of privilege yet disappointment that there were people out there just as driven and passionate about travel yet, for the luck of the draw, were born in a country where poverty is so prevalent. We chatted with her for a little while longer before finishing our meal tipping her handsomely with the notion that she would put it aside for travel to see the world.
 

Rebecca our Waitress (Matt Horspool)

OMD-EM1 MK2 + MZUIKO 12-100mm f/4 Pro: 1/6 sec at f/4, ISO 320, 23mm

 

 

It was from Balykchy down to the Orto-Tokoy Reserve that the landscapes began to dramatically change shape, form and colour. When you know that there is a solid 9-10 hour drive ahead, photo stops become less frequent with only ‘must have’ shots taken outside of the vehicle.
 

 

Salty Shores: The Orto-Tokoy Reservoir (Matt Horspool)

DJI Mavic Pro + Polar Pro CPL: 1/60 sec at f/2.2, ISO 100

 

The Grand Orto-Tokoy Reservoir (Kel Morales)

OMD-EM1 MK2 + MZUIKO 12-100mm f/4 Pro: 1/1250 sec at f/8, ISO 400, 50mm

 

After meandering through hours of barren green valleys we sighted our first Marmot! Soon after, we came to the first of many switchbacks and dizzying mountain passes. Now I know Australia has some crazy roads, as do many other countries in the world, but, surely these would have to be some of the most isolated and undocumented of the bunch. I’m also quite confident that we were amongst the first to have ever visually documented these from the air. And boy were they impressive.
 

 

1st Switchbacks (Matt Horspool)

DJI Mavic Pro + Polar Pro CPL: 1/50 sec at f/2.2, ISO 110

 

Winding River (Matt Horspool)

DJI Mavic Pro + Polar Pro CPL: 1/100 sec at f/2.2, ISO 148

 

 View from Kalmak Ashuu Pass (Kel Morales)

OMD-EM1 MK2 + MZUIKO 12-100mm f/4 Pro: 1/100 sec at f/10, ISO 250, 100mm

 

Cold Passes (Matt Horspool)

DJI Mavic Pro + Polar Pro CPL: 1/100 sec at f/2.2, ISO 197

 

Driving into Song-Kul was like something out of a movie… only we were in a 4WD rather than on horseback. Massive expanses of low lying fields were scattered with numerous yurt camps along the northern shores of the lake. The overhead cloud formations were nothing short of perfect and were useful to create scale in our shots.
 

 

 

Grand Scale of Song-Kul (Matt Horspool)

OMD-EM1 MK2 + MZUIKO 40-150mm f/2.8 Pro: 1/2000 sec at f/8, ISO 200, 150mm

 

Summertime Roads (Matt Horspool)

OMD-EM1 MK2 + MZUIKO 12-100mm f/4 Pro: 1/800 sec at f/5.6, ISO 200, 35mm

 

Massive Rainclouds Over The South Shore (Kel Morales)

OMD-EM1 MK2 + MZUIKO 12-100mm f/4 Pro: 1/1250 sec at f/4.5, ISO 250, 24mm

 

Scattering of Yurt Camps (Matt Horspool)

OMD-EM1 MK2 + MZUIKO 40-150mm f/2.8 Pro: 1/400 sec at f/8, ISO 200, 150mm

 

 

The CBT office in Kochkor had organised for us to stay in a yurt camp dedicated to customers of the organisation. Each minicamp is owned and run by local families and features large numbers on the outside of the yurts to identify each respectively.

 

 

Our host family consisted of 7 members, which, at first we believed were one whole family. After numerous confusing messages over WhatsApp between Zarina and I, we finally established that Zarina was staying here with her extended family, and that Altyani was in fact her cousin not sister. The two girls guided us to the yurt we would be sleeping in for the night. Both giggling uncontrollably, no doubt at our expense. Zarina spoke relatively good English and both girls demonstrated a keen interest in learning new words and phrases to interact with new guests as they pass through.

 

 

The Southern region of Song-Kul Lake is quite flat in comparison to its northern shores, which provide a stunning backdrop of mountains reflected in the clear water. It seemed impossible not to take a good photo here. Horses, yurts, lakes and mountains. Perfect.
 

Southern Song-Kul Reflections (Matt Horspool)

DJI Mavic Pro + Polar Pro CPL: 1/60 sec at f/2.2, ISO 100

 

 

It was like slow motion, the youngest daughter of the family Ayana and her Grandfather Orozaly appeared from nowhere and strolled past us, arm in arm. Ayana with a cheeky grin on her face, looked up at her grandfather as if to say he was the greatest thing in the world. It was just luck that I had my wide-angle lens mounted. And as soon as I fired off this shot I knew it was to be one of my favourites of the trip. This was, in essence, the reason we were here. 
 

 

Walk With Me: Ayana & her Grandfather Orozaly (Matt Horspool)

OMD-EM1 MK2 + MZUIKO 7-14mm f/2.8 Pro: 1/1250 sec at f/5.6, ISO 200, 14mm

 

Over dinner, we learnt that as it was school holidays, the kids were back to help at the the family’s camp. This was also apparent in other regions of Kyrgyzstan that we visited.

Zarina had a little diary accompanied by a translation book that she was referring to. She was asking us questions in English and attempting to initiate extended conversation. Being a teacher by profession, I offered my help in forming some sentences and questions she could ask guests who stayed at the camp. Before we knew it, hours had passed and we had missed the setting sun. It was one of those times that the experience overshadowed everything else and was far more fulfilling than shooting an epic photograph.

 

Pastel Song-Kul Sunset (Kel Morales)

OMD-EM1 MK2 + MZUIKO 12-100mm f/4 Pro: 1/100 sec at f/4, ISO 400, 50mm

 

Evening Silhouettes (Matt Horspool)

OMD-EM1 MK2 + MZUIKO 12-100mm f/4 Pro: 1/500 sec at f/4, ISO 640, 100mm

 

Bright Side of the Moon (Matt Horspool)

OMD-EM1 MK2 + MZUIKO 300mm f/4 Pro + MC-14 1.4x Teleconverter: 1/320 sec at f/8, ISO 800, 420mm

 

Evening Graze (Matt Horspool)

OMD-EM1 MK2 + MZUIKO 12-100mm f/4 Pro: 1/12000 sec at f/4, ISO 200, 100mm

 

The temperature at Song-Kul dropped significantly as the sun began to dip. We were glad to have packed winter clothes in our kit, and even then, they weren’t enough. The Yurts each featured a small heater that is stocked with all sorts of dung. The seeping fumes agitated my asthma a little, however, the heat was openly welcomed.
 

Our Yurt Camp (Matt Horspool)

OMD-EM1 MK2 + MZUIKO 40-150mm f/2.8 Pro: 1/6 sec at f/8, ISO 200, 77mm

 

The next morning was spent near the lake, capturing some shots of the horses grazing along the thin stretch of land dissecting part of the lake. I had promised the kids that we could get the drone out and whiz around the shore. The look of utter amazement and joy was quite heartwarming. Especially since many of these families had never seen such a machine.
 

Yurtcamp Against The Mountains in Northern Song-Kul (Kel Morales)

OMD-EM1 MK2 + MZUIKO 40-150mm f/2.8 Pro: 1/5000 sec at f/2.8, ISO 200, 40mm

 

Follow the Leader (Matt Horspool)

OMD-EM1 MK2 + MZUIKO 300mm f/4 Pro + MC-14 1.4x Teleconverter: 1/1000 sec at f/7.1, ISO 200, 420mm

 

A Shepherd Walks to His Horses (Matt Horspool)

OMD-EM1 MK2 + MZUIKO 40-150mm f/2.8 Pro + MC-14 1.4x Teleconverter: 1/800 sec at f/9, ISO 200, 210mm 

 

False Freedom (Matt Horspool)

OMD-EM1 MK2 + MZUIKO 300mm f/4 Pro: 1/1600 sec at f/5.6, ISO 200, 300mm

 

Morning Milk (Matt Horspool)

OMD-EM1 MK2 + MZUIKO 12-100mm f/4 Pro: 1/125 sec at f/7.1, ISO 200, 100mm

Fun as it Should be. Without Digital Distractions (Matt Horspool)

OMD-EM1 MK2 + MZUIKO 12-100mm f/4 Pro: 1/60 sec at f/7.1, ISO 640, 100mm

 

 

Matt and the Kids Flying the Drone (Kel Morales)

OMD-EM1 MK2 + MZUIKO 12-100mm f/4 Pro: 1/200 sec at f/4, ISO 200, 12mm

 

Our Host Family in Song-Kul :)  (Kel Morales)

OMD-EM1 MK2 + MZUIKO 25mm f/1.2 Pro: 1/5000 sec at f/3.5, ISO 400, 25mm


 

Upon our departure, I handed Ayana one of the Olympus cameras to run around and take photos. She jumped at the chance and managed to capture images from a perspective we simply could not have achieved ourselves. Kel had brought over a portable printer which heat stamped an image onto a small polaroid sized piece of paper. We made it customary to take a family photo of each family we stayed with so that they could put it inside their yurt/house. Considering most of these families would never have had a family photo taken before they cherished this gift over money itself.

 

Ayana the Aspiring Photographer (Matt Horspool)

OMD-EM1 MK2 + MZUIKO 12-100mm f/4 Pro: 1/160 sec at f/4, ISO 320, 35mm

 

 

 

 

 Photos Taken By The Girls

 

 

 

 

 

 

Road To Kazarman 

 

Around 2.5 hours drive from Song-Kul we encountered a slight obstacle. The brand new bridge ahead, which we were told was open, was blocked off by large concrete blocks on either side. There were numerous people getting out of their cars, talking, yelling and carrying goats and sheep across. Kel went back to check our paper maps and I jumped on Google Maps. Neither matched up to what we had been told in relation to an alternative route.  We knew that there was a hell of a long way to go, especially if we were to go along the only other road we could see. Oh, the joys of travelling in Central Asia.
 

 

Craziest Road in The World (Matt Horspool)

DJI Mavic Pro + Polar Pro CPL: 1/60 sec at f/2.2, ISO 100

 

Nomadic Life (Matt Horspool)

OMD-EM1 MK2 + MZUIKO 12-100mm f/4 Pro: 1/200 sec at f/8, ISO 320, 100mm

 

Goats in High Places (Matt Horspool)

OMD-EM1 MK2 + MZUIKO 12-100mm f/4 Pro: 1/800 sec at f/8, ISO 320, 47mm

 

The Road to Kazarman (Kel Morales)

OMD-EM1 MK2 + MZUIKO 12-100mm f/4 Pro: 1/250 sec at f/6.3, ISO 400, 100mm

Layers Upon Layers (Matt Horspool)

OMD-EM1 MK2 + MZUIKO 12-100mm f/4 Pro: 1/800 sec at f/8, ISO 320, 47mm

 

 

Driving back a couple of kms we stopped and asked (but really pointed to Kazarman on a map) a local shopkeeper where the route to Kazerman was. Luckily for us, they both agreed that the paper map was indeed correct and we were on our way.

Of all the countries and landscapes I have been to, none have come close to what we witnessed over the next 8-9 hours on the road. Literally around every corner, the landscape changed. From lush rolling green hills to barren weathered canyons all the way to mountains that featured patterns so unique we could have been on Mars.

 

Interesting Landscapes: Green on One Side, Barren on the Other (Kel Morales)

OMD-EM1 MK2 + MZUIKO 40-150mm f/2.8 Pro: 1/4000 sec at f/7.1, ISO 320, 110mm

Last Rays Illuminate a Valley (Matt Horspool)

OMD-EM1 MK2 + MZUIKO 12-100mm f/4 Pro: 1/80 sec at f/8, ISO 320, 21mm

 

Moonrise: Are We In Mars? (Kel Morales)

OMD-EM1 MK2 + MZUIKO 12-100mm f/4 Pro: 1/1250 sec at f/4.5, ISO 320, 85mm

 

Unfortunately, we were losing light and still had no real idea how long it would take to reach our destination. This meant a lot of our shots had to be from inside the car with the windows down to save time. If there is one place I’d return to explore it would be this stretch of road.
 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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November 16, 2017

October 22, 2017

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