2021-2022 photography expeditions

Connecting Central Asian Community-Based Tourism and Europian Market

Silk Road Community-Based Tourism Initiative

the framework of ACTED project

версия на русском здесь

Citadel. "Suyab medieval city remains" of Ak-Beshim. Kyrgyzstan

There are at least three photography expeditions accomplished back in 2022. The expedition's outcomes are three series of photographs to complement the project's online platforms and websites of the Community-Based Tourism Association. 


In September 2022, I completed a large project that included photo expeditions in five regions of Chui, Issyk-Kul, Osh and Jalal-Abad Provinces of Kyrgyzstan.

In the summer of 2021, I won a competition to photograph tourist sites and territories. The tender was held within the framework of the Silk Road Community-Based Tourism Initiative (CBT): Connecting Central Asia Community-Based Tourism and European Market project

I was assigned the task of photographing and describing the areas and sites selected by the project.

In Chui region, the expedition was organized by an ACTED staff member. In other regions, I was fully responsible for the travel organization and implementation. The expedition trips were made during autumn 2021 and spring/summer 2022.

I was expected to visit places where I had already been and photographed, as well as completely new places, some of which were not open to the public at that time.


This is the first assignment where I had to shoot more landscapes than people and more historical and cultural sites. All my previous assignments were for humanitarian non- and governmental organizations working mainly with people. Particularly this project was a new experience, an opportunity to visit undiscovered places, meet people, and get a fresh collection of photographs for the benefit of the Kyrgyzstan tourism industry.

I present some of these images in this gallery.

Kan-Dyobyo Medieval Settlement Remains 

and Archeological Museum in the School of Tura-Suu Village.

Southern Shore of Issyk-Kul Lake 

In the last few years, I have discovered two school museums in Issyk-Kul. What they have in common is that they both have their origins in the formation of school history circles; both are located in the coastal villages of the Issyk-Kul hollow; both are near ancient settlements with preserved ruins; and both are supported by public organizations and state administrations in their areas.
These are the museums of Tura-Suu village, Ton district, and Sary-Bulun village, Tyup district.
The museum of Tura-Suu village and the nearby Kang-Dyobyo ancient settlement are part of the general chain of attractions of the Southern Issyk-Kul Lake Destination located around Bokonebaev village and along the eastern part of Ton district.
I first visited this museum as part of a small working group that was getting acquainted with the work of community organizations. We came then to the Tura-Suu school, where a large cultural festival was taking place. Now it was my time to revisit and explore this area again.

Sary-Bulun Medieval Settlement. 

Archeological Museum in the School of Sary-Bulun Village.

Eastern Shore of Issyk-Kul Lake

The Chigu School Museum of Sary-Bulun village was initiated and founded by history teacher Kuvan Imanaliev in 2018.
The first information about the Usuns people and their capital Chigu-chen appears in the Chinese chronicles "Shi-Ji" by the historiographer of the Han Empire, Sima Qian. They were recorded from the words of the traveler Zhang Qian, who was sent to Central Asia to search for China's allies in the fight against the Huns.
According to the Chronicle, Zhang Qian learned about the city of Chigu while in the State of Dawan in the Fergana Valley. In the early 2nd century BC. Zhang Qian visits the city as part of his second expedition. It had 300 men, 600 horses, 10,000 rams, a huge amount of money and silk. Ambassadors of that expedition had to disperse different embassies to neighboring countries.
It is believed that Zhang Qian's expeditions gave an impetus to trade between China, Davan, Sogdiana, Bactria and other Central Asian states in the 2nd century BC. It was the beginning of the formation and functioning of the Great Silk Road.

Kurmentu Medieval Settlement and Catacombs of the Armenian Monastery

Kurmentu Village, Eastern Issyk-Kul Lake

It's only at first glance it seems that Lake Issyk-Kul is small, but with every next kilometer from west to east, from Balykchy to Karakol you begin to notice and appreciate the scale and vastness of the expanses on both sides of the shores. And the farther to the east, the more vast this land is, the more fertile and abundant it is.
Behind the breadth of the expanses enclosed by the ridges of the Heavenly Mountains, the depths of unexplored mysteries are hidden from modern man. The fertility of these lands and the abundance of rivers and forests have attracted many here at all times. 
The first to start searching for the ancient Armenian monastery at Issyk Kul was Pyotr Semenov, a Russian geographer, botanist, statistician, economist, traveler, statesman, and public figure. He had "Tyanshansky" prefixed to his 
name, because he had described the Celestial Mountains - Tenir Too an ancient nomadic name of these mountains and introduced the Chinese transcription taken from chinses scriptes (in modern writing - Tien-Shan) into scientific use.
Peter Semenov first saw the mention of the Armenian monastery in Issyk Kul on a medieval Catalan Atlas of the world in Venice during his travels and studies in Europe. Here is what it said: "The spot is named Isikol. Here is a monastery of Armenian brethren, which is said to possess the relics of Saint Matthew the Apostle and Evangelist".
The so-called Catalan Atlas was produced in the Majorcan cartographic school. The author was Abraham Cresques, self-described
as a 'master of maps of the world. The atlas has been in the royal library of France since the time of King Charles V. It consisted of six parchment leaves. The first two contained texts covering cosmography, astronomy and astrology.
The presence of various kinds of artifacts leads us to these places, rugged with bays and coves, on the shores of the Eastern Issyk-Kul Lake.
In 2015, a joint Kyrgyz-Russian archaeological expedition found a fragment of a ceramic vessel with Armenian and Syrian inscriptions. Disappeared Syriac was used in those early days by Christian communities in the Middle East. This finding could confirm the version that the relics of the Apostle and Evangelist Matthew found their final resting place on the shore of the Issyk-Kul Lake. 

Kurmentinskoye settlement is located not far from the ala of the same name in Tyup district.
The last archaeological expedition to these places took place in 2015, one of the finds of the collection of artifacts contained, presumably, a seal with Armenian and Syriac script. This fragment of a jug was found on the opposite shore of the bay in the underwater settlement of Chigu.




Walnut Forest of Kara-Alma and Kyzyl-Unkur

Central Asian Amazonia of Kyrgyzstan

in the villages of Kara-Alma and Kyzyl Unkur, Jalal-Abad Province

Looking at a map of Jalal-Abad's walnut and fruit forests, I would identify three large forested areas: Arslanbob, Karamart and Kara Alma. 
Before visiting the walnut forest in the spurs of Kyrgyzstan's Fergana Valley, I had never seen a broadleaved forest that remotely resembled the rain forests of tropical latitudes. The forests here are such. Nor had I ever seen the lives and livelihoods of people living in or near the forest before I first came here. It's a paradisiacal place that attracts me with its charm.

Kara-Alma and the surrounding forest are 30 km northwest of the city of Jalal-Abad. If you head to the south of Kyrgyzstan, along one of the adventure routes from Son-Kul Lake or Naryn city or from the side of Tash-Rabat caravanserai and the Kyrgyz-Chinese border, you will certainly travel along the new Kyrgyzstan North-South road or along the old road through Kazarman and Sary-Kyr pass. All these routes going to Jalal-Abad and further south pass by this forest. You may prefer to stay in quiet Kara-Alma, surrounded by walnut forest, for your next overnight stay rather than the noisy, hot city of Jalal-Abad.
In Kara-Alma, you can use the contact of SVT Jalalabad to find a room for the night in the house of a local schoolteacher named Elmira. In the evening before sunset you can walk along the streets of the village and see the houses and lives of local residents who live near the forest, and some of them live in the thick of it. The streets that lead to their homes are surrounded by trees, so you feel like you are walking through a park, but the designer is the forest. 
Some houses are located on the opposite bank of the Kara-Alma River, and to get there, you need to go down to the lower level, and then the river bank, where the coastal bushes hide an uncomplicated bridge, and the house on the bank, surrounded by dense bushes look mysterious, with its own special atmosphere.
Many gardens in the village and homestead plots are stacked with apiaries. Wherever they are, these little boxes of bee dwellings always remind me of peace and prosperity, just as one meets a cyclist unexpectedly. Where you see an apiary and a cyclist, rest assured that you have entered a place of peace and hospitality.    



Kyzyl Alma and Arslanbob are united by one forest - the Central Asian Amazonia walnut and fruit forest. Kyzyl Unkyur is a settlement located in the valley of the Kara Unkyur River at the confluence with the Kyzyl Unkyur River. The valley is known for its red canyons formed by small tributary rivers of the Kyzyl-Unkyur, Kyol-Kamysh, Kosh-Terek rivers originating in the Kattar-Jangak tract, all of which are forest lands of endemic walnut forests of natural origin.
The locals will first suggest a hike along the Kyzyl Unkyur River. The trail starts just behind the first big bridge on the road at the entrance to the village. Going up the river you go deeper into the thicket of the forest located on both sides of the river with numerous red rock fragments. If you go further you will find yourself in the tract Kattar-Zhangak and then you can descend to Arslanbob. Here many trails lead to Arslanbob. The forest is all around here.
In the center of Kyzyl Unkyur village, you will immediately notice a petrified, red, sandy clay mountain with many small caves and hollows. Perhaps it was the mountain that inspired people to name the whole area Kyzyl-Unkyur, which means "Red Cave". It is said that once upon a time, there was a huge cave in this mountain, which was subsequently blocked up and ceased it to exist.
The wide valley of the Kara-Unkyur River, which runs down the valley by numerous streams, dense forest on the slopes, red rocks sticking out with red spots on the forest surface, together with forest massifs and Arslanbob tracts, form an ideal place for hikers to go on mountain trails.

Kutman-Koel Lake

The Walnut Amazonia of Arslanbob Village

I would not be wrong to call this lake the pearl of the Arslanbob forest and walnut region. Perhaps I am not the first to give it that epithet, and it in no way rivals the beauty and grandeur of the neighboring forests far below at the foot of the mountains. The lake, the forested Arslanbob Amazons, and the way of life of the local community all complement and depend on each other in many ways.
On maps, you will most often come across the name of this lake as Kutman Koel. The coordinator of the local chapter of the Community-Based Tourism Association (CBT Arslanbob), whether you contact him by phone or email, will most likely tell you that the locals call this lake Koel Mazar or Sacred Lake. However, a local cab driver from the district center told me that there is another name, Koel Kuban Ata.
The area around Arslanbob is a paradise for hikers. But personally, I call these places Central Asian Amazonia, and crowned this forest - Holy Lake, hiding at an altitude of 2880m behind the mountain Babash Ata 4428m. But to get around this mountain on the way to the lake, you have to overcome about 27 km on the mountain trail, through the summer pastures.
Residents of the surrounding villages actually honor the Lake. However, it is not all so clear-cut.
The day before our trip to the lake, a group of 40-50 people, including women and teenagers, made their way there. Some on foot, some on horseback, and donkeys were used as pack animals and as human transport. Their only purpose was to visit the lake and give the sacrificial lambs and horses to the lake in gratitude for the long-awaited baby born to the couple.
Our 12-hour hike to the lake was nearing its end when by 7:00 p.m. we had climbed the rocky hills of the natural dam that makes up the lake. There were several huts made of metal decking and people who had come before us were wandering around for the rest of the day. As the sun set, the lake looked like a mirror, fringed by mountains on all sides and reflecting on its surface the rocky peaks of its shores.
An hour earlier we had stood on the shore of Little Kutman Köl, lower in the gorge. Deep, with clear water, it is fed from a single source - a huge spring that erupts from the ground. Apparently, it is the water of the large lake is gnawed into the rock to form a spring and fill the small lake with pure water. Little Kutman Köl is an amazing place.
The local CBT group offers two hiking options at Kutman Köl: a 4-day hike and a 3-day horseback riding tour.
This may be one of the most adventurous horseback riding tours I've ever been on. Never before had I spent 12 hours a day on horseback. In this tour I was accompanied by a personal guide, who was responsible for the route, the organization of the hike and overnight stay, and an assistant guide, whose task was to organize food. 

Shah Fazil - Safed Bulan

Historical and Architectural Site, Gulistan Village

Lake Kulun 

Kulunata State Nature Reserve, Konduk, Osh Province

The largest lake in southern Kyrgyzstan. 
It is located in the eastern part of the Fergana Mountain Range, north of the Alaiku River valley - one of the most remote areas of the country.
In Bishkek or 
Osh it will be difficult to find a guide or a tour company that can organize a tour. There are two reasons for this: Lake Kulun, as well as its companion, Small Kulun Lake, is located on the territory of the Kulunata State Reserve; there are no organized tours in this part of the region yet.
To get to the lake, I had to contact the management of the reserve, whose office is located in the village of Kara-Kulja, Osh Province. To accompany my photo expedition I was provided with a ranger from Köndük village, as a guide. 
The way from Osh to Kyondyuk took about 3-4 hours by car. Upon arrival, after lunch, we were ready to go, on three horses, our guide, myself, and my driver, who acted as an assistant on this expedition. Most of the way was through a gorge, with a small Kulun river, and several summer camps of local cattlemen, on its banks in the thick of an old birch forest. 
The lake is formed by the Kulun River originating in the mountains of the Alaikuu Range. Immediately behind the lake, downstream, the river disappears and bursts out as a giant spring, behind a natural blockage, turning into a rough mountain river and forming, in turn, a new lake of smaller size - the Small Kulun. 
That same day, at dusk, after overcoming a dangerous section of steep slope, above the Small Kulun, we reached the cordon with a hut, on the eastern side of the Maly Kulun.
Both lakes stretched from west to east. Lake Kulun reaches 4.6 km in length, Small Kulun - 0.5 km.
The next morning after a 1.5-2 hour trekking we reached the Bigger Lake which is about 2.5 km from Smaller Lake. The big mountain blockage on the way forms a pass, after which the general view of the mountain lake opens lower down. The shore is studded with boulders, among which you can find a place for a stopover and even a tent camp.
Among the local population, in the recent past, the lake was revered as a holy place. Most likely, those times are gone, and the inaccessibility of settlements and unfavorable conditions for farming make people conduct their farms in even more intensive ways.
According to the reserve staff who live in Köndük, some activities are not possible on the territory of the reserve. They are ready to support those who are willing to come and see their surroundings, but such activities require the involvement of government agencies dealing with nature conservation.