Uzbekistan gets a bad rap for its repressive government and dysfunctional economy. But the landscape can still take one’s breath away, as Japanese photographer Ikuru Kuwajima found during his first visit to the Central Asian nation.
High mountain villages in Tajikistan’s Pamir Range are quiet and cold in the winter. Snow leaves many villages difficult to access, and there is little to keep locals occupied. A large number of men are off laboring in Russia. To keep warm, people burn dried manure chips and the occasional block of wood.
Somewhere on Kazakhstan’s vast steppe, about halfway between Almaty and the new capital in Astana, a statue of Soviet founder Vladimir Lenin stands alone, staring at a vacant old military facility and the empty horizon. The forlorn monument is one of many Soviet relics at the Sary Shagan Polygon, a partially abandoned missile testing range on the west bank of Lake Balkhash.
From Kazakhstan’s southern city of Shymkent, Bifatima Dauletova walked hundreds of miles across the steppe about a decade ago, finally stopping at a “holy hill” in the village of Ungurtas. Or so goes the legend.