The mountain nomads
After a year of preparation, the journey with my gravel bike brings me to to the former Soviet republic of Kyrgyzstan. The Tian Shan mountains with their seven thousand meter high peaks are home of the last highland nomads. I travel to learn about the life of the local people, their view of the former Soviet Union and their almost neighbor Afghanistan. To the north it borders Kazakhstan, a country eight times the size of Germany. To the east is the long common border with China, and to the south only Tajikistan separates it from Afghanistan. 
I travel with Timur, he was born in Kazakhstan and moved to Kyrgyzstan as a child. I thank him for his deep insights into the history, culture and life in today's Kyrgyzstan. 
Find more in the related travel book. Click on image to enlarge.
The nomads of Kyrgyzstan live with their animals surrounded by seven thousand meter peaks in the Tian-Shan mountains.
The nomads of Kyrgyzstan live with their animals surrounded by seven thousand meter peaks in the Tian-Shan mountains.
The 3.460 m high Kalmak Ashu is already 1000 meters higher than the major passes of the Alps.
The 3.460 m high Kalmak Ashu is already 1000 meters higher than the major passes of the Alps.
The paths to the yurts and hermitages lead along the border with China and Kazakhstan.
The paths to the yurts and hermitages lead along the border with China and Kazakhstan.
I have lost my buddies, there is no cell phone reception. It gets dark and freezing cold.
I have lost my buddies, there is no cell phone reception. It gets dark and freezing cold.
Boys call out, run up to me and give me chocolate from their pants pocket for strengthening.
Boys call out, run up to me and give me chocolate from their pants pocket for strengthening.
The nomads in Kyrgyzstan are likely to have originated in the Altai Mountains of Mongolia.
The nomads in Kyrgyzstan are likely to have originated in the Altai Mountains of Mongolia.
Survival between steppe, semi-desert and high mountains requires livestock.
Survival between steppe, semi-desert and high mountains requires livestock.
The heat in the yurt lasts for two hours, then it's ten below zero again.
The heat in the yurt lasts for two hours, then it's ten below zero again.
First of all, the bicycle is taken care of.
First of all, the bicycle is taken care of.
The Tash Rabat caravanserai was built in the 14th century as a shelter for travelers along the Silk Road.
The Tash Rabat caravanserai was built in the 14th century as a shelter for travelers along the Silk Road.
I help a local to cross the river. In thanks, he waves the index finger of his right hand toward his throat and fetches a bottle of vodka for us.
I help a local to cross the river. In thanks, he waves the index finger of his right hand toward his throat and fetches a bottle of vodka for us.
Already since dawn the whole family cooks soup from horse meat for 500 guests of today's wedding celebration.
Already since dawn the whole family cooks soup from horse meat for 500 guests of today's wedding celebration.
That is also Kyrgyz hospitality.
That is also Kyrgyz hospitality.
Horse meat is available only at the birth of a child, a wedding and a funeral.
Horse meat is available only at the birth of a child, a wedding and a funeral.
Kyrgyzstan in the heart of Central Asia.
Kyrgyzstan in the heart of Central Asia.
The bike has arrived well.
The bike has arrived well.
Engilchek was once home to 9,000 miners and their families.
Engilchek was once home to 9,000 miners and their families.
Zaire moved here from the capital two years ago. He works in the mine, which is now run by a Chinese company.
Zaire moved here from the capital two years ago. He works in the mine, which is now run by a Chinese company.
We have found the guest house.
We have found the guest house.
They once had a hospital, a school and stores.
They once had a hospital, a school and stores.
Today, twelve families live in Engilchek.
Today, twelve families live in Engilchek.
With special permission I ride the Torugart Highway up to an altitude of 3,700m. Next to me the Chinese Uyghur Autonomous Region Xinjiang.
With special permission I ride the Torugart Highway up to an altitude of 3,700m. Next to me the Chinese Uyghur Autonomous Region Xinjiang.
It's wonderful to be able to reach China on its own strength.
It's wonderful to be able to reach China on its own strength.
At Tosor Pass at 3,900 m a wolf welcomes me. In the meantime, my companions tow parents who had to spend the night in the car with their infant.
At Tosor Pass at 3,900 m a wolf welcomes me. In the meantime, my companions tow parents who had to spend the night in the car with their infant.
I cycle from hermitage to hermitage along the border between Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan.
I cycle from hermitage to hermitage along the border between Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan.
Kasid explains to me with a happy face in Kyrgyz that she lives here in the yurt with her siblings.
Kasid explains to me with a happy face in Kyrgyz that she lives here in the yurt with her siblings.
Then come storms, heavy rain and snow.
Then come storms, heavy rain and snow.
Livestock market in Karakol, every Sunday at dawn.
Livestock market in Karakol, every Sunday at dawn.
For Kyrgyz nomads, animals are everything.
For Kyrgyz nomads, animals are everything.
Animals serve as food and transportation, signal wealth, and are means of barter.
Animals serve as food and transportation, signal wealth, and are means of barter.
Bargaining is an old Kyrgyz tradition and has a high social and community function.
Bargaining is an old Kyrgyz tradition and has a high social and community function.
Somehow I chat with the kids, then they proudly pose for my photo.
Somehow I chat with the kids, then they proudly pose for my photo.
The house of the family of five has a living room, a small kitchen, no running water and no toilet. The girl has been able to hear for a few weeks.
The house of the family of five has a living room, a small kitchen, no running water and no toilet. The girl has been able to hear for a few weeks.
Reached the Yssykköl. It is one of the largest mountain lakes in the world with its length of 182 kilometers.
Reached the Yssykköl. It is one of the largest mountain lakes in the world with its length of 182 kilometers.
The Ala-Too Square of the capital Bishkek gives an idea of the gigantonomy of bygone times.
The Ala-Too Square of the capital Bishkek gives an idea of the gigantonomy of bygone times.
The charm of Soviet architecture is complemented by huge SUVs. The car as the successor of the horse.
The charm of Soviet architecture is complemented by huge SUVs. The car as the successor of the horse.
"Carrying on the fire" has a high religious-cultural meaning in Zoroastrianism.
"Carrying on the fire" has a high religious-cultural meaning in Zoroastrianism.
I am invited to give a congratulatory speech. The longer, the greater the appreciation.
I am invited to give a congratulatory speech. The longer, the greater the appreciation.
The bride and groom come in the stretch limousine and celebrate in Las Vegas atmosphere.
The bride and groom come in the stretch limousine and celebrate in Las Vegas atmosphere.
As a farewell, there is horse meat and kumys, fermented mare's milk.
As a farewell, there is horse meat and kumys, fermented mare's milk.
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