Saving Snow Leopards in Kyrgyzstan:
the NABU Rehabilitation Center
Alternate Title: Gratuitous Pictures of Snow Leopards
The whole thing started, really, with a ‘Special Exhibition on Snow Leopards’ in the Kyrgyzstan State Museum of Fine Arts. Walking through those quiet halls looking at a hundred-odd photos and drawings snow leopards made by artists from across Kyrgyzstan there really can only be one overriding though: “I want to go to there.”
It took several months, a lot of research, a new job title, and more than a bit of “show up and hope for the best” but in the end: Snow Leopards! Gratuitous snow leopards. Snow leopards sunning and playing and stalking and frolicking. All the snow leopard once could hope for, in fact, outside of that rare chance encounter in the actual wild.
World Nomad Games in Kyrgyzstan:
An Olympics for Nomadic Cultures
If you’ve been following my Facebook Page or Instagram you have undoubtedly seen a flood of images from old-school portraits to crazy sporting events, all from one very specific and amazing event: The World Nomad Games 2014.
Hosted by Kyrgyzstan and featuring teams from across the Pan-Turkic world and beyond, the World Nomad Games has been touted as equal parts celebration of traditional nomadic culture and competition in the many sports that come out of that nomadic tradition. No matter whether watching a close match of Horse Wrestling or just walking around the town of Cholpon-Ata looking for lagman noodles, the entire event has had an incredibly festive atmosphere.
Categories: Afghanistan, Azerbaijan, Central Asia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Mongolia, Photo Blogs, Tajikistan, Turkey, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan
Tags: Caucasus, Central Asia, Festival, Former USSR, Nature, Photography
Kyrgyzstan’s Independence Day Holiday:
Celebrating Nomad Style
Holidays are always an awesome time to travel, and Independence Day is a particularly fine festivity. No matter whether Hot Dogs and Fireworks for the 4th of July in the US or Military Parades on Bastille Day in Paris, Independence Day holidays are usually a combination of patriotism and tradition and more than a little raucous celebration. But of course, not every country can celebrate with the panache of Kyrgyzstan.
As both a male and a foreigner, my interest is always drawn inexorably towards the Ak-Kula Hippodrome and the horse games there. This is a traditionally male-dominated environment, to be sure, and like any big sporting event it attracts a fair amount of bravado and celebration and overripe team spirit. It also happens to be fantastically photogenic.
[Females should have no fear, but you will certainly be in the minority once you get there.]
On Beautiful Places in Kyrgyzstan:
Hiking in Shamsi Gorge
There are countless beautiful places in Kyrgyzstan – I often feel like every new valley and every new gorge offer some new and incredible view. Mountains, alpine pastures, shepherds and yurts galore. It was with some excitement, then, that I signed up for a Trekking Union trip to what is widely regarded as one of the prettiest valleys in the Chuy Valley that surrounds Bishkek: Shamsi.
Terezin Concentration Camp:
Visiting the “Model Ghetto”
History isn’t always pretty and so, by extension, with travel. There are so many dark parts to our collective pasts, whether you happen to be in Prague or America or Cambodia or… anywhere really. Learning about these things in a book, at school, tends to leave one with a logical understanding of the horrors of history. Being there in person, however, just makes the places and people involved a lot more real.
Which is exactly why I think its important to visit places like Terezin Concentration Camp. Because to walk the halls of a place where unthinkable systematic cruelty happened makes for an understanding so much more visceral than to read about the same. To know that THIS is where 140,000 were imprisoned and worked as slave labor for the Nazi state. The point from which over 70,000 of those people were sent on to their deaths at Auschwitz and Treblinka.
Aynalikavak Pavilion – The Ottoman Sultan’s Garden
Much like the magnificent Beylerbeyi Palace on the Asian shore of the Bosphorus, the AynaliKavak Pavilion stands as a forgotten reminder of Ottoman power in the middle of an otherwise quiet neighborhood on the Golden Horn. While places like the Topkapi Palace and Hagia Sophia get millions of visitors each year, Aynalikavak gets barely a trickle of that. When I visited, in the height of the August tourism season, I was literally the ONLY tourist there.
Which speaks a little bit, actually, to both the history of the Aynalikavak Palace and why you would even consider visiting it today. Though once a grand and sprawling summer palace all along the shore of what is now the Hasköy neighborhood, the growth of the Ottoman Empire and the need for an increasingly large naval power saw the palace destroyed bit by bit to make room for expanding shipyards. The only reason the present-day Aynalikavak Pavilion was spared, really, was so that the Ottoman Sultans would have a place to rest and receive visitors while they were here to inspect the progress of the Ottoman Navy.
The Vienna Monastery you
SHOULD be Visiting.
Like most wine-drinking religion-enthusiasts, you’ll probably visit some sort of historic monastic abbey if you’re spending more than just a few days in Vienna. They have religion and culture, after all, including the sort of culture that leads to fermentation and eventually delicious monk-wrought wines. For most travelers, this will likely be the Melk Abbey way outside of Vienna at the end of the Wachau Valley. A closer and better option, however, is just outside of town on the edge of the Vienna Woods: Klosterneuburg.
Austrian Wines and Crumbling Castles:
A Wachau Valley Bike Tour
Vienna is not, on the face of it, Europe’s most active or adventurous destination. My average day in the Imperial City involves exploring lots of traditional coffee houses and the historic Old Town, and only very occasionally something like a bike ride through the city center.
Having the chance to get out of town to spend the day biking along the Danube with two friends and a bunch of awesome strangers, stopping occasionally to ascent an ancient castle or taste the freshest and best white wines the Wachau Valley could produce… how could I POSSIBLY turn that down?!
Being so close, I showed up to Austria on my first trip uninformed and assuming there would be just as much delicious hearty heavy beer in the Österreich as in the German region of Bavaria just a few hours away. Had I been a bit more prepared or even just a touch more observant, of course, I would have seen that while Austria has any number of delicious beers there is a much important alcohol to the Average Austrian: wine.