Through friendly Kyrgyztan

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Through friendly Kyrgyztan

From Stade to Bishkek – Dennis Ciminski-Tees and Nina Harenberg from Stade report about their photo journey into the central Asian Tianshan mountain. They had four Tamron objectives in their bag, among them also the new SP 45mm F/1.8.

Where to next? Everybody who likes travelling knows this question. As North Germans we try to use every opportunity to see the mountains. And as Nina and I wanted to discover a new country away from tourist paths, we opt for an unusual destination: Kyrgyzstan. In the Central Asian country, the Tianshan mountain rises up to 7,500 meters. Just the thing for a pronounced photo trip, we thought, and could not even think about how great this trip would be at that time. In short: the nomadic country of Kyrgyztan would conquer our hearts immediately.

Equipment check before the start

Two days before it started, we checked cameras and objectives again: We had decided for our Canon DSLRs EOS 5D Mark III and Canon EOS 6D, plus four Tamron objectives: SP 24-70mm F / 2.8 Di VC USD, SP 70-200mm F / 2.8 Di VC USD, SP 15-30mm F / 2.8 Di VC USD and the new SP 45mm F / 1.8 Di VC USD. We also added a flash and various filters, including our "Big Stopper", which allows us, in combination with the special support for the wide-angle objective, to make special time-exposed shots of landscapes.

And then it started. Fortunately the Aeroflot staff was very accommodating in terms of size and weight of my photo hand luggage. After a stopover in Moscow and more than 13 hours after the start of our journey, we finally landed in the Kyrgyz capital Bishkek. Already during the approach, it almost took our breath away: The southern outreaches of the town directly border the mountains, which rise as snowy giants nearly 5,000 meters up into the sky. A magnificent panorama!

The contrast between the breathtaking mountains and the bustle of the capital could not be greater. We used the first two days for a photo tour through the bazaars of Bishkek. The dark alleys writhe through the stalls like a narrow labyrinth. It was good that we had our fast objectives. The openness of the people inspired us. While a big camera often evokes rejection in Germany, the Kyrgyz saleswomen could not get enough of being photographed. An experience which we would make more often in the coming weeks on our way through the entire country.

Kyrgyztan has a very appealing landscape – perfect for a varied photo tour. SP 15-30mm F/2.8 | Focal length 15mm | Shutter speed 15 s | Aperture 14 | ISO 100 | Grey filter

There are certainly countries that have more to offer architecturally than Kyrgyzstan. It takes some imagination to imagine that the Soviet architecture would ever have impressed anybody. But the wonderful landscape with its wild rivers and snow-covered five thousand-metre peaks that emerge anywhere on the horizon compensated us for this. As soon as we had left Bishkek, one photo highlight chased the next. With our rented off-road vehicle, we drove towards Yssykköl, the largest lake in the country and the second largest mountain lake in the world. On the way to the mountains, we met the nomads for the first time, for who the small country in Central Asia is famous. We stopped at, grabbed the cameras and walked over to the playing children.

As a photographer, I naturally always try first to approach people without the camera in front of my eyes. Especially when I only have rudimentary knowledge of the language I try to show respect and build a little confidence before I press the release for the first time. But it was somehow not necessary here. The children were totally hooked at the sight of our cameras with the large objectives. Everyone wanted to admire his image on the display of the DSLRs. As they all wanted to press the release themselves, our camera was passed around straight away.

Keep smiling! The Kyrgyzes are not at all camera-shy and these women enjoyed having their photo taken. SP 45mm F/1.8 |Focal length 45mm | Shutter speed 1/2000 s | Aperture 2.8 | ISO 100

We could hardly refuse the mandatory invitation to tea, we could not refuse, and so we were soon seated together in one of the traditional yurt and exchanged gifts. The children were as happy as can be with the cans of Pepsi that we brought along. Our first encounter with the people of this wonderful country thus took a good three hours.

Along the southern shore of Yssykköl, we carried on further in the direction of the Chinese border. But already 80 km in front of it, we were intercepted and sent back by fierce-looking border guards. On gravel roads we drove further on to Tash Rabat, a century-old caravanserai from the times when trade flourished on the Silk Road.

SP 45mm F/1.8 | 45 mm | 1/250 s| F/1.8 | ISO 1250

On the way there, the cameras once again opened the way into the hearts of the people for us. Suddenly, an old Lada overtook us. It is still a mystery how the driver got the idea that we could photograph him and his family. We had no alternative but to take a photo of the eight-member group. Grandmother, grandfather, mother, father and children - we were amazed how many people could fit into the rickety car. During the subsequent picnic, to which we were invited, our hosts told us that they came from the town Naryn, 200 kilometres away, and that the visit to Tash Rabat would be an expression of national sentiment.

On the tours through the Kyrgyz regions, every meeting with the locals becomes a heartfelt photo session. The nomad families like to be photographed and invite the photographer duo from Germany to tea and conversations. SP 45mm F/1.8 | Focal length 45 mm | Shutter speed 1/1600 s| Aperture 2.2 | ISO 100

Communication with gestures and looks

We have rarely met people who are so honourable and open. Never mind where we stopped and got out with our cameras, we were invited to take photos, drink tea with the people and talk a bit about home. We were understood somewhat with our broken Russian, but sometimes gestures and looks could express more.

We slowly came to understand where this seemingly endless hospitality of the Kyrgyz comes from. In the past, travellers on the Silk Road were often left to their own devices. If one had not helped each other here in the wilderness, the journey would have become life-threatening for all. The nomadic tradition lives on in the hearts of people until now, whose faces tell the stories of the mountains, the stories of a life in harmony with nature.

Our journey took us to the southeast through the relatively densely populated Ferghana Valley with Osh, the second largest town of Kyrgyzstan. We sniffed city air for two days and visited one of the largest bazaars of the country. In the dark alleys and the small spaces away from the stalls, the Tamron SP 45mm F / 1.8 is my first choice to photograph spices, faces, jewellery and other details. The high brightness and the image stabiliser contributed best services under the difficult lighting conditions.

Since we still had enough time, we make a detour into the Pamir high mountains. Off the main road, we arrived in a roundabout way to the base camp of the peak Lenin located at an altitude of 3,600 metres, the highest mountain in Northern Pamir. When the sky cleared up, it again took our breath away. What a view! I am glad that I have taken along the 15-30mm SP, otherwise it would be difficult to capture the 7,134 metre white giant on the image. It is hard to imagine that there could be a landscape that impresses even more. We were glad to have driven the extra detour of 500 kilometres. What does a detour of 500 kilometres matter for such a memorable sight?

Back to Bishkek, it was more than 1,200 kilometres, for which we had eight days. A further eight days in a country that had captivated us. Captivated with its history, the infinitely wonderful landscapes and the sheer unbelievable hospitality of the people.

SP 15-30 mm F/2,8 15 mm | 1/320 s | F/ 9 | ISO 800

About the author: Dennis Ciminski

Dennis Ciminski takes photographs as a sideline out of passion. Even though he only used the camera seriously at the age of 30, he now operates a small photo studio in his hometown of Stade. When he does not successfully set a wedding couple into the scene, the passionate motorcyclist loves going all around the world in search for motives with the camera. 

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