The faces of modern Kyrgyzstan – portraits from Central Asia

The best part of Kyrgyzstan was meeting so many amazing people

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Normally I’m a bit of a lone wolf when I travel, keeping to myself. It takes a lot for me to be super outgoing and meet people.

I’m quiet, I sit in the back and I observe. I’m a people watcher through and through.

But that doesn’t mean I’m not interested. In fact, I’m exceptionally curious, just socially shy and awkward (well I used to be, I know that’s hard to believe with this BLOG thing – I’m a fake extrovert). But I like to watch people. I imagine what their names are. I invent their backgrounds and stories. I look at how they talk.

And man, let me tell you, Kyrgyzstan is the place for people watching.

For one thing, there are a lot of people. For another, unless you’ve spent some time in Central Asia, it’s a place that is probably very different from what you’re used to. Also, it’s just a fascinating cultural place; a giant melting pot of nomadic traditions meet post-Soviet Union vibes slash unique modern Islam.

I mean, Kyrgyzstan and its people couldn’t be more interesting to the curious traveler.

portraits Kyrgyzstan

For me, it was the kind of place where I wanted to be around people. I was so eager to learn why things were the way they were, what things meant, what different food was, what words meant in the different languages. It goes on and on.

And lucky for me I had different guides with me throughout the whole trip. It’s super cheap to hire guides in Kyrgyzstan, and I highly recommend it if you want to learn a lot about the place you’re exploring. You’ll also meet more people with a guide and translator with you. It’s a very helpful foot in the door.

It also helped I had my friend Eric (Instagram) with me to help me shoot photos and video, and he is very much the opposite of me. Incredibly outgoing, I’d walk into a room, and he’d already know everyone’s names, stories and probably a few dirty jokes in Kyrgyz before I even introduced myself. It certainly made meeting people heaps easier with him around.

portraits Kyrgyzstan

I went to Kyrgyzstan expecting my favorite part to be the nature, but I ended up leaving falling in love with all of the incredible humans I met there. The biggest impression on me was how friendly and welcoming universally across the board everyone was. From the guides to the shepherds, to drivers to grandmas, everyone had a smile and a big cup of tea for you in Kyrgyzstan.

Kyrgyzstan still seems like a place where you wave at people you don’t know and always say hello.

One of my goals with photography is to get better at portraiture. It’s my favorite type of image but it’s the hardest for me to shoot because I’m naturally quite shy.

I don’t feel super relaxed taking other people’s photos yet, and I’m still working on developing the fun kind of positive atmosphere that allows the person to feel comfortable enough for you to get a good shot of them. To me, it still feels quite intrusive even though I always ask permission.

Once an awkward turtle, always an awkward turtle.

Luckily Eric to the rescue! I wanted to share some of my favorite captures of the people who made my adventure in Kyrgyzstan so special. The majority were shot by Eric, but hey, some are mine too. I really wanted to share them with you all because each person here touched me in some way and helped me fall in love with this little corner of Central Asia a little bit more. And this is my thank you letter to them for sharing their world with me.


Are you a people-watcher too when you travel? Do you enjoy portraits? What’s your favorite? Share!

portraits Kyrgyzstan

One of the first locals we met on our horse trek over the Bozuchuk Pass

portraits Kyrgyzstan

Azamat and his eagle Ak Zholtoi – Kyrgyzstan’s champion eagle hunter

portraits Kyrgyzstan

A local shepherd family we camped with in the mountains

portraits Kyrgyzstan

My favorite photo – a quick iPhone snap passing a young shepherd in the mists

portraits Kyrgyzstan

Our incredible guide Kanybek pouring tea for us for the first time in Bishkek

portraits Kyrgyzstan

A feast in one of our group tents on our horse trek over the Bozuchuk Pass

portraits Kyrgyzstan

Our amazing guide Eldos in the Skazka Canyon

portraits Kyrgyzstan

Our mountain guide Daniyar as we head into the Bozuchuk Pass

portraits Kyrgyzstan

A boy and his little kitten at the Kyzyl-Tuu yurt camp

portraits Kyrgyzstan

The cutest, chubbiest baby you’ve ever seen nomming on some cheese

portraits Kyrgyzstan

A local shepherd in the Jergez Valley

portraits Kyrgyzstan

Our young guide who led us up to Kol Tur Lake, and carried my camera bag like it weighed nothing on his front for hours as I suffered from bronchitis. He spoke no English and had nothing but smiles and thumbs ups

portraits Kyrgyzstan

Working the traditional felt tapestries with Janil Baishova, at the Golden Thimble Workshop in Bakonbaevo – she had the kindest eyes you’ve ever seen

portraits Kyrgyzstan

One of our amazing drivers who drove us all over Issyk-Kul

portraits Kyrgyzstan

Outside the first local family yurt we stayed in the Jerghez Gorge

portraits Kyrgyzstan

Our amazing host Emil in Jygalan – a mountain village and one of my favorite places in Kyrgyzstan – him and his wife Gulmira run the Alakol guesthouse and it was my favorite place we stayed, there was much food, laughs and vodka til 2am had by all

portraits Kyrgyzstan

Bektemirov, one of the national yurt building champions (seriously) and his apprentice

portraits Kyrgyzstan

A local shepherd and his baby near Ailanysh

Many thanks to USAID for hosting me in Kyrgyzstan, like always I’m keeping it real, all opinions are my own, like you could expect less from me

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41 Comments on “The faces of modern Kyrgyzstan – portraits from Central Asia

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  1. Liz you capture awesome pictures. I am very impressed from your photography. Thanks for sharing with us. Its very informative.

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