Soaring into Kazakhstan

Photo © Bob Krist

We were supposed to go to Uzbekistan as part of our Silk Road adventure, but there’s a State Department travel warning (or was) so we flew into Kazakhstan instead.

Yes, Kazakhstan: the country made infamous by Sacha Baron Cohen, aka, Borat.

So everybody kind of modified their expectations and our first view of Almaty, the main city, didn’t do anything to lift them. But then we started touring around, and Kazakhstan turned out to be a sleeper hit on the last leg of this long jet journey.

We visited a falconer (where I shot the above sea eagle, D90, 70-300mm VR, Vivid jpeg, ISO 400, Aperture Priority wide open) and got great looks at a variety of raptors, attended an Orthodox  service in the Cathedral of the Assumption in the main park, heard a variety of unique folk instruments playing haunting melodies at the music museum.

We hit a big open market where all the vendors were friendly and open to being photographed, and ate some great food. Authentic and as yet unspoiled by mass tourism, K’stan is on my bucket list to come back and explore in depth. For a look at some of the situations that convinced me that Sacha Baron Cohen was all wet, hit the jump.

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Chillin’ in the Gobi

Photo© Bob Krist

What a difference latitude can make. And not just in your attitude.

We’re in the same desert as Dunhuang, but we’re further north, in Mongolia now, one of my all time favorite places. We spent a day in Ulan Bataar, where we caught a big service at Gandan Monastery (cool to shoot outside, but not of the monks chanting inside). Then we flew back out to the Gobi desert, to the Three Camel Lodge.

Last time I was here, it was early October of 07 or 08 (I forget) and we had a freak blizzard. Now, I’m here in late April, and guess what? Temps in the single digits and snow! Can you say “Weather Jonah”? I’m beginning to think my weather karma has really run out.

Time for an office job? Maybe become a Photoshop guru? Grow my beard really long and talk about 64 bit processing and stuff like that????? Nah, I’d rather be shooting in the Gobi, even in the snow!

Fortunately, our gers were heated with wood burning stoves, the Flaming Cliffs  were beautiful (and we got to hike them with one of my fellow speakers on the jet trip, Mark Norell.  Mark is chief paleontologist of the American Museum of Natural History and a real 21st century Indiana Jones. Going fossil hunting with him is like taking batting practice with Derek Jeter….it just doesn’t get any better.)

For a look at more from Ulan Bataar and the Gobi, and an insight into the type of motivation it takes to leave a toasty ger in the predawn twilight to shoot friggin’ icicle pictures, hit the jump. (more…)

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The Dunes of Dunhuang

Photo © Bob Krist

Marco Polo and other Silk Road travelers may have used camels in the past, but this is the new China. Now, visitors to the Mingsha Dunes in Dunhuang can get around on camel, dune buggies, or even an ultra-light aircraft (seen in the above picture.  D90, 70-300mm VR, Vivid, Daylight WB).

Yes, this far west outpost in the Gobi Desert, home to the famous Mogao Caves of Buddhist art and carvings (no photos allowed inside, thank you very much!), is another place, like Lijiang, that is catering to the surging domestic tourist business.

It’s also the first place where we’ve seen sun and blue skies since….well, since I don’t know when. What is that yellow orb in the sky? It appears to emit heat and light….strange.

Our hotel is really nice and the staff is super attentive and well trained. This is not the China I knew. But there’s still some polishing to be done. When I checked into my room, there was a charming handwritten note in English from the maid, welcoming me and ending with this: “I look forward to severing you in the next few days.”

Yikes!

I’m sure she meant “serving you.” (But just in case she didn’t, remind me to use the deadbolt in my door while I’m here).

And hit the jump for some more pix…. (more…)

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Spectacular Lijiang

Photo © Bob Krist

We’ve caught a bit of a weather break in Lijiang, in western China.  What a beautiful area this is! In the foothills of the Himalayas, it’s one of the gateways to Tibet, and it’s being promoted heavily as a destination for Chinese tourists by their government.

Here, the lives of acceptable ethnic minorities like the Naxi and the Mosos are celebrated (as opposed to the minority in the T-word country, which as you know, is not being celebrated).

Yes, tourism is king here. I used to joke with my brother Gary, a writer with whom I’ve worked on countless stories, that if we had a nickle for every hotel folklore show we’ve sat through, we’d be millionaires.

But as jaded as I am in that department, nothing prepared me for the 500-man spectacular show called Lijiang Experience. It is the mother of all folkloric shows, and was directed by the same gentlemen who directed the opening ceremonies for the Beijing Olympics.

Gadzooks! I knew I was being fed a company line on the way all minorities get along together, but just like the Coca Cola Disney (thanks to reader Peter for pointing out the error in sponsorship attribution)  “It’s a Small World After All” exhibit did at the New York World’s Fair in the early ’60’s, this show just captivated me. What can I say?

Sometimes, despite the 45-or-so years that has passed since I saw “It’s a Small World” out in Queens, spectacular visuals still sway me and help me overlook glaring script inaccuracies. I guess that’s why I’m a shooter and not a writer!

But, despite the slickly-packaged tourism product available in Lijiang, we did manage to capture some slices of real life, including photographing a couple Dongbas, or holy men, doing their thing.  To see a few of them, plus a few more of the show pix, hit the jump.

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