Kyrgyzstan – Lenin Peak

Close to the Lenin Peak

On stand-by in Osh town with only a few days left in Kyrgyzstan, I wish to experiment mountain rural life before crossing into Uzbekistan. Real village life, I mean. Born in the Swiss Alps, I am not indifferent to Kyrgyzstan’s second-highest mountain – the Lenin Peak (7,134m) – located on the Pamir range bordering Tajikistan. Thus, I will spend a few days in Sari Moghul, the last village on the main Kyrgyz itinerary to Lenin Peak. Sari Moghul is only four-hour drive away from Osh.

I travel to Sari Moghul with a German alpinist met in Osh who intends to climb the Lenin Peak in solo. Now officially named Koh-i-Garmo inKyrgyzstan, the massive mountain has little of a peak shape. It is reputed as one of the easiest 7,000 to climb in the world.

High-altitude alpinism remains a risky endeavour. In 1990, 43 alpinists resting in an intermediate camp on the Lenin Peak perished in a major avalanche triggered by an earthquake. It took me three days to shoot the two pictures above because of unfavourable weather conditions.

Lenin Peak was first ascended in 1928/1934 from Achik Tash canyon in the Alai valley in Kyrgyzstan. This is also Köni’s departure point. I join him in the car ride until Achik Tash.

On our way, I beg the driver to stop for meeting those… no, not cows, but yaks. Not as big as the mammoth-like yaks that I met a couple of years ago in the Pakistani Karakorum, but yaks still. And so cute!

Sari Moghul 2013

Yaks will not divert us from reaching Achik Tash at the bottom of the Lenin Peak. The driver stops close to the canyon edge. Köni is quick to set off on foot. If everything goes fine, he should be back here in a few days. If not, he will return earlier, he promises me. In any case, he will rely on himself only during his mountaineering adventure. Neither companion nor telecommunication mean. When back at this location, he will need to trek another eight hours to reach Sari Moghul.

I much prefer my trekking and photographic endeavour. The Achik Tash haut-plateau (3.600m) is beautifully dressed in autumn colours and studded with exquisite turquoise-emerald ponds.

Rural life in Sari Moghul

Once back in Sari Moghul, I wander in the outskirts of the village looking for shepherds returning from their pastureland. This is when I spotted this cute girl, walking serenely hands in her pockets behind two calves in a soft late afternoon light. Her pastoral task to bring two young animals back home seemed so easy whereas it is not in fact. At close range, the girl confirmed her fresh and genuine attitude, including in front of my camera. A naturally-born photo model.

On the next morning, the air bites fiercely my puffy eyes. The water running across the village froze over night, owing to a clear sky. Sari Moghul is well above 3.000m high. I hope Köni is okay somewhere in the Lenin Peak.

In the village, people start their day nearly as usual. Only fetching water in the icy streams is more difficult than usual. Shepherds live to the surrounding grassland with their livestock. Youngest cattle heads are lucky enough to eat at home.

Foreigners reaching Sari Moghul are numerous in summer season, but most of them stay there only for one night on their way to theLenin Peak. Surprised that I prefer them over the majestic mountain, they welcome the foreigner-traveller-photographer who shows interest in their daily routine.

Fascinated by my photographic equipment, children often request spontaneously to play the model. Adults including women are less easy to approach, but still mostly reachable provided a sound and clever attitude.

Eid al-Adha is a bad day for the sheep in Sari Moghul. Roaming across the village to document the event, I invite myself to the preparation of the feast in a family. Three generations of first-degree relatives are there. I am explained with gestures that the festive meal will not take place before the late afternoon.

Not for me, thanks. The beautiful sunny day is my visual festival. I pursue my trek outside the village. As I am the only foreigner in the village, I am the only human being on these highlands today. The beauty and the serenity distilled by the landscape fills and feeds my soul.

Sari Moghul 2013

On my return way to the village, I witness the usual late-afternoon pastoral activity. Children are so made that, even busy, they find always the time to pose for you guys.

On the next morning, I quickly roam the village again, because I am travelling back toOshsoon. A college of elders sits in the market area, commenting the festival of the previous day and other local matters.

Peak Lenin 2013

Curious about me, they ask me whether I came to Sari Moghul for climbing the Lenin Peak. ‘I came for you’, I reply. Their smile is my best souvenir from Kyrgyzstan.

Tomorrow I will enter Uzbekistan. Bukhara, Samarkand and other major stopovers along the Silk Road that I look forward visiting.


By Bertrand

Trotting the globe with vision, values and humour