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Sophie Ibbotson photographs her adopted home of Kyrgyzstan and its primary natural feature: its mountains.

NOMADS STILL MOVE THROUGH the steppe and mountain pastures of Central Asia, but just a few hours’ drive away, billions of dollars of oil and gas money have built extraordinary 21st-century cities, larger-than-life-sized golden statues, and ice palaces.

I arrived here two years ago, almost by accident. The snows came down unexpectedly early, I was snowed in, and what should have been a two-week transit became a permanent stay.

Kyrgyzstan straddles the Tien Shan and Pamir mountain ranges. Ninety-three percent of the country is mountainous, and a number of peaks are over 7,000m. Many have never been climbed, though Kyrgyzstan is gaining popularity as a mountaineering and trekking destination. Skiing is on the rise, but the resorts have not yet been developed. Now is the time to travel if you want to see the country before commercialization and mass tourism take hold.

Photo Essay


About The Author

Sophie Ibbotson

Sophie lives and works in Central Asia, where she writes about politics, culture and economics and advises the Kyrgyz Government on how to co-operate with everyone else.

  • JoAnna

    Wow! These photos are absolutely stunning! Kyrgyzstan is a place I’ve always wanted to visit. I first learned about the country when I attended the Silk Road Festival in Washington, DC, in 2001, and for awhile it looked like we were going to be placed here for Peace Corps. The desire to explore Central Asia has never gone away, and I really hope to make it there some day.

  • Heather Carreiro

    I have to echo JoAnna with “Wow!” Kyrgzstan has just been moved way up on my travel wish list. These photos are amazing.

  • Richard

    Oh man, those photos are beautiful. I feel restless just looking at them. Thanks so much for sharing them Sophie!

  • Kathy

    Beautiful views of a part of the world I know nothing about. Thanks for this collection!

  • Marie

    Beautiful photos of one of the regions I’ve wanted to visit for a very long time. Thank you very much for sharing!

  • Erika

    Wow! Thanks for the glimpse of this amazing country!

  • Lola

    Gorgeous work!

  • neha


  • Adri

    Wow! Very very beautiful pictures! Thank you for sharing!

  • Tim Patterson

    Stunning photos. I really want to get to Kyrgyzstan in the next few years. A couple of Dragons friends are there now putting together a backcountry ski community based tourism project in the Tian Shan range.

    • Ross

      DUDE — will you keep me in the loop on that trip? That sounds amazing.

      • Tim Patterson

        Yeah, it would be up your alley Ross. There’s a lot of fresh tracks in the Tian Shan mountains.

  • Scott
    • Tim Patterson

      Yup, that’s the one. Ryan Koupal and Abrie Brutsche are rocking out up there. We’ll see if community based back-country expeditions can work as an alternative to the glitzy resorts.

      • Allen Burt


        Just check out that website for your buddies doing the backcountry skiing! Looks awesome. I need t find a way to get out there stat!

        - allen

  • Ryukyu Mike

    Super photography. Bravo and thanks for sharing!


    Sophie Ibbotson:

    I teach photojournalism here at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. This May 9-30, I am bringing eight journalism students–six photographers, one writer and one videographer–to Kyrgyzstan.

    I’m looking contacts who could help our students–NGOs, Peace Corps, journalists and student journalists, drivers, guides and interpreters–and would help us be successful.

    I have taken students to Kosovo and South Africa and you can view their work from the link below.

    I look forward to hearing from you.

    Thank you…

    Check out our photo documentary project in Nebraska:

    Look at our in-depth audio photo stories about Kosovo and South Africa:


    Bruce Thorson, Associate Professor
    College of Journalism and Mass Communications
    University of Nebraska-Lincoln
    234 Andersen Hall
    200 Centennial Mall North
    Lincoln, NE 68588

    Office: 402-472-8279
    Cell: 651-491-9344
    Skype: profthor
    AOL IM: profthor

    Student-Run Picture Agency:

    College Web Site:

    Thorson Faculty Bio Page:

    My Pictures:

    • Tim Patterson

      Sounds like an awesome project. Keep us posted!

  • Candice


  • Allen Burt


    Keep me in the loop as well! That trip sounds rowdy!

    Do they have a website or blog I can check out?

    - Allen

  • Sean

    i just spent a few days near bishkek kyrgistan before heading to afghanistan, i had no idea how beautiful that country was until i got there. my next visit will be much longer

    • Sophie

      where did you go in afghanistan? im heading out there in may and looking for inspiration!

  • Sean

    well so far ive been to ghazni, kandahar, and spin boldak, but im sure ill be visiting many more places

  • Tim Patterson

    I love seeing this article gain momentum. Central Asia is such an incredible part of the world!

  • Aaron

    I am headed there on the 25th. I will be teaching English. Not sure exactly where yet. I am a Peace Corps volunteer. These pictures make me super excited. I’ll post this link on the Peace Corps facebook group of those headed to Kyrgyzstan.

  • Jika

    Rahmat which means thank you in kyrgyz for posting the pictures of my beloved country. I know these types of pictures would show people around the world the beauty of my country. I know my country is having problems right now, but we would overcome obstacles because we are strong and proud nation. Pls. do not be discourage by the recent events that were orchestrated by people that are hungry for the government seats, we would welcome you in our homes and offer the food, the most important thing that I love about my country. The food is organic; milk, bread, butter, and meat. I have learned to appreciate the kyrgyz food because I have traveled and compare many countries food and I still missed my homeland’s food. Welcome to my country.

  • Daniel Kadyrbekov

    Hey there Sophie, fantastic photographs! Thank you very much for sharing with us these beautiful pictures. I hope Max is doing well, please pass my best regards to him. By the way, are you guys still in KG? Take care,daniel

  • alexandra

    Great Nature! Messed up society!

  • Kanybek

    yeah the place uncomparable is our country Kyrgyzstan with its beatiful nature

  • Uri Engel

    The beautiful photo of  “Lake Karakul in Xinjiang, on the Chinese side of the Tien Shan range” is actually lake Ala Kol, in the Kyrgyz side, a few days’ hike from Karakol town.
    Having been there, and wanting to go back ever since, I can tell… :-)

    (While we’re at it, lake Karakul is in the Pamir mountains, not Tien Shan.)

  • Sami Calado

    Photos are incredible and thanks for the lovely narrative.

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