Behind the Cover of our Celebration Issue: Exploring the Landscapes of Kyrgyzstan

Behind the Cover of our Celebration Issue: Exploring the Landscapes of Kyrgyzstan

In the year during which we truly learned to appreciate stillness, Bulgarian photographer and filmmaker Alexandra Karadzhova packed her bags for Kyrgyzstan, to document the nomads who have long found joy in living among nature. The result was a stunning series of images, which she shares in our latest SUITCASE issue.

the pandemic clipped her wings, Alexandra Karadzhova
decided that, despite everything, she had to escape. It wasn’t as
much a desire to travel – a knee jerk response to closed borders
and lost holiday opportunities – as an urgent need for creative
fulfilment and a fresh perspective.

Karadhova, who first caught the attention of SUITCASE editors in
early 2021 when she won a scholarship to Corona’s Female Creator
Fund, was seeking a way to document a totally different environment
and culture. “I just wanted my mind to be fresh,” she says,

The answer lay in successfully pitching herself as a documentary
filmmaker to a Kyrgyz travel company with access to some of the
Central Asian country’s most spectacular landscapes and remote
communities. Leaving the fatiguing news cycle and social media
scroll hole behind, Karadzhova travelled from her Bulgarian
hometown of
to Kyrgyzstan’s capital, Bishkek, before heading off on
a road trip that, she tells us, was liberating in unexpected and
eye-opening ways.

Meet our cover photographer, documentary filmmaker Alexandra

What was it like to be shooting off-grid in Kyrgyzstan?

Arriving at the airport at Bishkek, my initial thought was that
I had travelled back in time, even if only to 30 years ago.
Kyrgyzstan was once communist, and the buildings took me back to
the vestiges of Soviet influence that I saw growing up in Bulgaria.
Once outside the capital, however, a different landscape emerged –
or rather, many, ranging from mountains thousands of metres high,
to deep canyons, bright green fields and enormous lakes. With few
roads and very patchy mobile phone signal, I started to feel time
passing differently, after waking each morning from nights filled
with vivid dreams.

How did you communicate with locals without a common

At a small yurt camp near Song Köl lake, high up in Naryn
Province, I spent time with a local family that lives in a
hard-to-reach village nearby. They put up the yurts every year in
May and stay there until October. Although I don’t speak any Kyrgyz
and was trying to learn some Russian along the way, interacting
with these people wasn’t hard, because it came from the heart. They
cooked for us, piling the dining table with food and finding it
funny that we wanted to film the process. After dinner, night
rolled in and I quietly watched the starry sky, reflecting on the
fact that, when 5am came, I’d have to say goodbye to this family,
and others, and would probably never see them again.

How did you meet Ruslan, the eagle hunter on our cover?

The drives across the Kyrgyz landscape are so long and so
otherworldly, it’s hard to imagine how the caravans of the Silk
Road that once ran through this country could ever have made the
journey. At the end of a day that felt like we’d been travelling
across Mars, I met Ruslan, one of the few eagle hunters left in
Kyrgyzstan. Showing off his treasured bird, which he had named
Karabarchin, Ruslan explained how the eagles are caught when still
in the nest, then trained for six months, ready to be active
hunters for the next 15 years. After that, they’re released into
the wild again, where they can reach up to 60 years of age.

Who else did you meet along your journey?

Towards the end of our journey, we travelled to Sary-Jaz, a
region on the Chinese border. At more than 4,000 metres above sea
level, it was cold, windy and dark. The rain slowly turned into
snow and our original plan to sleep in tents disappeared into the
thin air. When we saw a lonely shepherd’s house, we sought shelter.
Mayrambeck was the name of the 27-year-old man who let us in, with
a big smile on his face. Inside, it was warm and cosy. Time drifted
by as we waited for the dawn and its beautiful views – peace and
stillness in the air.

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