kids at play in Kyrgyzstan

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December 3, 2015 Comments (6) Asia, Experiences, Photo Essays

The Entire World in a Face: The People of Kyrgyzstan

Old man at the animal bazaar

From the thousand-year old epic poem of Manas (the greatest hero in history, by volume), to the still common tradition of bride kidnapping, Kyrgyzstan is a place beyond imagination.

In four photo-essays so far, I’ve tried my best to bottle-up some of this country and give you all a sip:

One aspect of Kyrgyzstan struck me more than everything else. Epic-er than Manas; striking-er than the landscapes; wilder than the road circus; and legendary-er than Arslanbob.

Rivers cut their way down narrow valleys, past inquisitive wild horses and shy chubby marmots. These enormous alpine landscapes can only be done any justice in panorama.

Ladas and their kin of boxy, Soviet-era cars bumble down the streets (often loaded with animals) alongside a hodge-podge of battered old foreign luxury-brands. (Often “stolen” from their original German owners in cahoots for insurance money). These Mercs and Beamers get driven up into alpine meadows and down rutted mud tracks to animal bazaars, until even their emblems fall off. Add to this auto-melting-pot all the Japanese imports with steering wheels on the wrong side – which makes sitting in the passenger seat while your driver tries to overtake very exciting – and the nation’s roads become a circus.

Issykkul – the second largest alpine lake in the world – is hemmed in by mountain ranges. Climb just one of the countless valleys, sometimes past strange geology, and eventually it widens and flattens into a jailoo: An alpine meadow.

Only 7% of Kyrgyzstan is suitable for farming. So in this jailoo and repeated across hundreds of others, Kyrgyz families continue the nomadism that most other cultures ended centuries ago. I understood this firsthand when hiking, as I was caught in more than one avalanche of wool and horn.

In that tiny fraction of arable land, towns emerged so thick with legend they hardly feel real. Like Arslanbob, a town the Prophet himself is said to have called “the most beautiful place on Earth”. The layercake of history, created in small part by centuries of travellers on the Silk Road, has elevated this humble town through ancient history (Mohammad sent walnut seeds) to modern day fame (UNESCO protection of the largest walnut forest in the world). 

But one aspect of Kyrgyzstan struck me more than everything else

Epic-er than Manas; striking-er than the landscapes; wilder than the road circus; and legendary-er than Arslanbob.

The Kyrgyz people’s faces.

From day one, I couldn’t believe the variety I witnessed in the faces around me, nor how beautiful they were. I walked the streets and had daily interactions with countless strangers. And in their faces, I could see the entire world. In Kyrgyzstan, I had to became a portrait photographer. And now I want to share with you my fifth, final, and favourite photo-essay:


The Entire World in a Face – The People of Kyrgyzstan.

[Please do yourself a favour: Click images to make full-screen, and use the arrow keys to move between photos] 

6 Responses to The Entire World in a Face: The People of Kyrgyzstan

  1. Erika says:

    Wow! It’s impossible to pick a favourite. So many sets of glittering eyes and wise smile crinkles. Great work, Fuller.

  2. Ruthie Hilaiel says:

    I read a short article here:
    on interesting fact about Kyrgyzstan and found myself wondering what the people in general looked like
    Your portraits were exactly what I was looking for. Truly beautiful people! Thank you!

    • mike says:

      Agreed they are gorgeous folks! And I’m so happy you found my photos. Did you find via googling ? If so I’m glad it did its job.

  3. Erin says:

    These photos are gorgeous, and your description of the country has made it one of my number one fantasy travel destinations. I found the site when I searched Kyrgyz people in google images, curious about what they looked like, and the photo of the man holding his beautiful twin girls was the first to capture my attention, so I clicked and found this incredible photo essay- it’s truly remarkable how affectionately you’ve captured these beautiful faces with your lens. Thank you!

    • mike says:

      Hello Erin! Thanks so much for your kind words – it really means a lot to know that I’ve inspired someone to go and experience such an amazing place, and people :)
      Not sure if you clicked around here a bit but this photo-essay is just the tip of an iceberg I’ve written about Kyrgyzstan and Central Asia! So if you’d like to read more or see other photo-essays you can find them here, or on the “Experience Map” here. Thanks again for the feedback – it makes my efforts really seem worthwhile!

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