The Silk Route Through Kyrgyzstan by Bharat Patel

Since a very young age, I was fascinated by stories of the Silk Route that passed through many countries stretching from China to parts of Europe.

Since a very young age, I was fascinated by stories of the Silk Route that passed through many countries stretching from China to parts of Europe.

Recently I had the opportunity to visit Kyrgyzstan and experience its culture and landscapes.

Kyrgyzstan is a mountainous country with over 40% of its above 3000 meters. Many of the ancient trade routes passed through the deep valleys along the mountain ranges. Kyrgyzstan is a relatively young country, getting its independence from Russian in 1991. It has had a long and troubled history which to some extent still continues to this day. Its population is a mix of several ethnic groups with different cultures and religions that have congregated from surrounding countries over centuries.

During summer months the nomadic communities of Kyrgyzstan (Kyrgyz) take their livestock up into the mountains for greener pastures. It was in one of the Yurt camps in the valley run by a nomadic community that was to be my home for several days. The nights were cold, even in the height of the summer. Standing in the valley surrounded by high mountains on all sides was a humbling experience. The majestic yet serene beauty of the land is quite something. However, the weather here can change suddenly. I experienced that one morning walking out of the Yurt and confronted by a snow covered landscape.

Kyrgyz nomads are hardy people relying heavily on their prized possessions; relatively small but extremely reliable horses. They are used for everything from transport to payment for the girl’s hand in marriage. Mare’s milk and horse meat are also part of the Kyrgyz cuisine. Learning to ride at a very young age Kyrgyz is extremely agile on their horses, a feat they are always ready to show off. This is evident in the traditional Kyrgyz horse game of Kok-Boru in which two teams of riders try to carry a goat carcass into the opposing team’s end zone. A rough sport which needs good horse control.

When walking or horse riding along the valley with nobody else around one starts to wonder about the ancient traders who would have passed through those valleys, resting at a caravanserai such as the one I visited at Tash Rabat. Fortified stone-built caravanserais along the silk route were places where the traders would have slept, cooked, and kept their animals in relative safety. Walking in the dark chambers of the caravanserai at Tash Rabat was a surreal experience.

About Bharat Patel

Bharat is an Indian born photographer now living in Oxford, UK. He has lived and experienced life in four different continents with vastly different cultures. From a young age his inclination to connect everything has had an influence on his photography. He uses both black and white and colour images depending on what he wants to portray. 

Bharat’s interest in photography goes back to his early teenage years. For many years it had stayed on the back burner. However, over the last 20 years photography has become his passion, at first embracing its many genres but now concentrating on contemporary photography. He has amassed a large collection of images for his many humanitarian projects and travels, some of which are available as books.

Over recent years he considers his work as “Photography for a Purpose”. This can be seen in his long-term project on “Nomadic Tribes of India”, “Brick Workers” and “Women Workers in the Informal Sector”. He is always looking to preserve his work and hence the history, so as to retain the importance of what is present and that which may inform the future. [Official Website]

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