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.


Tree in the mountains of Kyrgyzstan

Trees only grow below 4,000m, so much of the ranges is barren.


Kyrgyz horsemen

Horsemen lead a calf back to their herd.


Mountains in contrast

The Tien Shan and Pamir ranges have exceptionally low population density -- trekkers should be well-prepared and self-sufficient.


Rock and eagle

Millions of years of weathering has left killer rock formations for climbers.


Turquoise lake, Kyrgyzstan

Natural copper deposits in the rock turn some alpine waters bright turquoise.


Kyrgyz children

Nomadic children playing with their dog on the "jailoo" (summer pasture).


Wildflowers, Kyrgyzstan

Bright wildflowers growing on the "jailoo."


Lake Karakul

Lake Karakul in Xinjiang, on the Chinese side of the Tien Shan range.


Besh Tash National Park

Glacier-fed river in Besh Tash (Five Rocks) National Park.


Winding mountain road, Kyrgyzstan

Roads are rarely paved but, with views like this, who cares.


Camping by the lake

Wild camping on the banks of Lake Song Kol.


Kyrgyz horsemen at dusk

Kyrgyz horsemen gather on the border with Tajikistan.


Rock striations

River-cut valleys reveal striation in the rock.


Opium poppies, Kyrgyzstan

Opium poppies grow wild on the mountains' slopes.


Pamir Mountains from the air

Aerial view of the Pamir Mountains.


Horse statue and mountains

Statue of a Kyrgyz horse -- the 'spirit' of the Kyrgyz people.


Kyrgyz boy on a donkey

In the remotest areas, inaccessible to vehicles, a donkey is still a good means of transport.