Kazahkstan is a surprise to first time visitors. Most people don't expect to see and experience such beautiful landscapes, such impressive architecture (both modern and ancient), and such warm and friendly people. Located at a crossroads where many powerful empires clashed, Kazakhstan's history is fascinating, tragic, and inspirational all at the same time. Many cultures comprise the population of this country, and we will interact with several of them. Most notable are the famed eagle hunters, and we will have close encounters with these people. When you photograph them, you will get the feeling you're looking into the faces of direct descendants of Gengis Khan . . . and you are. The backdrop to these cultures, to the stunning mosques you'll see as well as the incredible churches are snowcapped mountains that are so beautiful it will be hard to turn away. Don't miss this amazing photo tour that offers a tremendous variety of photographic subject matter. Our local guide, Mehmet Ozbalci, is one of the best guides I've had anywhere in the world. He is extremely knowledgeable about the history of this area, and he also enjoys photography and therefore he knows what we need in terms of lighting, models, and vantage points to help us get the best travel pictures possible.
DAY 1, Tuesday, Aug. 22. Departure from your home country for Almaty, Kazakhstan (airport code ALA).
DAY 2, Wednesday, Aug. 23. ALMATY You arrive in Almaty International Airport and transfer to the hotel by our local representative. Almaty is the former capital of Kazakhstan. Its name comes from Alma Ata which means "father of apples". Apples originate from Almaty and Kazakhstan. The city is surrounded with numerous snowcapped peaks of the Tien Shan Mountain range. Our hotel is a beautiful 4 star superior hotel located in the heart of the city. Jim will host an orientation of the tour in the lobby of the hotel at 5pm and discuss the photographic challenges and opportunities you will have during the tour. We will then have dinner at 6pm. Overnight 4 1/2 stars.
Day 3, Thursday, Aug. 24. ALMATY Today we have a 4x4 vehicle to drive to a scenic 6000 ft plateau where we will see and photograph nomadic people herding their animals, living in yurts, and carrying on traditions that have lasted thousands of years. The drive to the plateau offers breathtaking views of the dramatic Kazakh landscape. Overnight 4 1/2 stars.
Day 4, Friday, Aug. 25. ALMATY This morning we will photograph privately arranged ethnic and cultural activities. These include local people in their colorful traditional dresses, kazakh men on their horses, elderly ladies spinning wool, and children. In the afternoon, we will photograph a colorfull fruit, vegetable and meat market where you can take compelling portraits. Our next stop will be stunning Zenkov Cathedral showing typical architectural style for Russian orthodox churches. This cathedral is one of the tallest wooden buildings in the world. Overnight 4 1/2 stars.
Day 5, Saturday, Aug. 26. SINGING DUNES AREA Drive to the "Singing Dunes" which are located in the middle of steppes, in Altyn Emel National Park, where it is believed that Gengis Khan and his troops set up their yurts and cooked. This stunning site is a 3 mile long, 200 ft high sand hill offering very photogenic sand dunes images. If you walk on the edge of the hill, because of the sliding sand you can even hear them sometimes as they are roaring and sometimes as whistling. Our hotel here is a guesthouse with comfortable rooms with bathrooms and showers for common use. You will feel like you are in the house of a local family. Local women prepare the meals. It is a great opportunity to be in touch with the local people and taste delicious homemade Kazakh food. Overnight.
Day 6, Sunday, Aug. 27. SINGING DUNES AREA This morning you have time to work on your pictures taken thus far for a group critique by Jim. In the early afternoon, we will depart for the other part of the national park where we will photograph a 700 year old weeping willow tree and the unusual and dramatic, and bizarre rock formations of Katutau Mountains. In the late afternoon, we photograph the Aktau Mountains which have been eroded over millennia to reveal a palette of exquisite colors. The beautiful landscape photography you'll be able to do is reminiscent of the graphic shapes and colors in the American Southwest. Overnight.
Day 7, Monday, Aug. 28. KOLSAY LAKE. This morning we drive toward Kolsay Lake, a scenic mountain lake surrounded with snow capped mountains. On the way, we will stop at the Charyn Canyon, a unique natural complex offering wonderful views and great photo-opportunities. The "Valley of the Castles" is full of interesting looking sedimentary rock formations. We will spend the whole afternoon photographing this unique natural wonder. We overnight in the quaint mountain cottages at the Kolsay Lake. 3 stars.
Day 8, Tuesday, Aug. 29. KOLSAY LAKE. In the morning we will photograph people and a mosque in a small village nearby, and then we will shoot the unique Kaindy Lake with tree trunks sticking out from the bottom of the lake. In the afternoon, we will explore and photograph the photogenic Kolsay Lake near our hotel, located at an altitude of over 5000 ft. We overnight in the quaint mountain cottages at Kolsay Lake. 3 stars.
Day 9, Wednesday, Aug. 30. SHYMKENT. Kazakhstan is a large country, and this is a travel day. In the morning a 6 hour drive will take us to the Almaty airport for our afternoon flight to Shymkent which was once one of the important trade centers along the silk road. We arrive in Shymkent and transfer to our 4 star superior hotel. If time (and energy levels) permit, Jim will hold another critique session to review images taken thus far. Overnight 4 stars.
Day 10, Thursday, Aug. 31. SHYMKENT. One of the major mosques of Shymkent with its striking architectural style will be our first stop this morning. Then we will photograph the colorful market of Shymkent. In the afternoon, we will visit the Aksu-Zhabagly Nature Reserve, located in the western part of the Tien Shan Mountains. The reserve is a rich treasury of rare and endemic species of animals and plants. It is home for argali and ibex, roe deer, lynx, snow leopards, wolves, foxes and bears. Bearded vultures, griffons and golden eagles are flying high in the sky. We may also see the local people milking their horses. At twilight, the mosque looks completely differently than it does in the morning, and you'll want to photograph it using a tripod and HDR. Overnight 4 stars.
Day 11, Friday, Sept 1. TURKESTAN Turkestan was founded around the 6th Century at the crossroads of caravan routes from Samarkand, Bukhara, Khiva and northern Kazakhstan. The city was known as the spiritual and political center of the Turkic-speaking people in the 16th century. Turkestan has gained wide international reputation due to the teachings of the famous Sufi sheikh and philosopher Khoja Ahmed Yasawi who was buried in a small mausoleum here in the 12th century. The existing mausoleum was erected later by the order of Tamerlane, and today it is a masterpiece of medieval architecture and one of the main places of worship for Muslims. The Mausoleum of Khoja Ahmet Yasawi is a great pilgrimage site where we can photograph one of the most impressive buildings of Central Asia as well as the diverse types of local people visiting the mausoleum. Overnight with a great view over the mausoleum. 3 stars.
Day 12, Saturday, Sept. 2. ALMATY Rise early to photograph the Khoja Ahmet Yasawi Mauseolum in sunrise lighting. It's dramatic from any angle. After breakfast we head to the Shymkent airport with a possibilty of a visit to a camel farm where we can photograph the two-humped camels endemic to Central Asia. We take an afternoon flight to Almaty then transfer to our 4 star hotel, which is an iconic hotel from Soviet era, offering breathtaking views over the city of Almaty. At twilight you'll be able to capture a stunning cityscape. Overnight 4 stars.
DAY 13, Sunday, Sept 3. ALMATY After we visit a quaint church and capture its reflection in water, we will then photograph one of the most interesting traditions of Kazakh people: Hunting with birds of prey. We will have a private show of the hunting eagle trainers and a great opportunity to photograph golden eagles, eagle owls, and other birds of prey on the arms of their trainers. This is a wonderful opportunity to make classic travel portraits as well as closeups of beautiful birds of prey. In the afternoon, we will have free time. Jim suggests you photograph the Almaty metro stations because the architecture is futuristic and absolutely wild. We enjoy our farewell dinner. Overnight 4 stars.
DAY 14, Monday, Sept 4. DAY OF DEPARTURE We transfer to the Almaty airport for our return flight home, knowing we've taken a remarkable variety of incredible images of this central Asian country.
Tour cost: $6795. Includes all accommodations as mentioned in the itinerary based on double occupancy, all meals beginning with dinner on August 23 through breakfast on Day 14, comfortable private minibus when we are in the cities and 4x4 vehicles for the national parks (there would be 3 people maximum in every 4x4 vehicle plus the driver), two domestic flights -- Almaty to Shymkent to Almaty, all admission fees to the places we visit including the national parks, private photo session and shows to photograph local people in the traditional attire, Kazakh horsemen and trainers with hunting eagles, arrival and departure airport transfers, English speaking guide(s), photo instruction, and water in the tour vehicle during traveling.
Single supplement: $750 (Those who are requesting a single room might have to stay in a room with WC and shower out of the room for 2 nights (on Aug. 29 and 30).
Not included: International airfare, visa fee (American and Canadian citizens do not require a visa for stays of 15 days or less), gratuities to bell boys, guides, and driver, alcohol, and items of a personal nature.