Interview with Silk Road photography tour guide, Simon Foster

I recently learned about the following tour:

Silk Road Photo Tour

15 day adventure, 13-27 October 2008 from Xian to Kashgar

Maximum of 8 people

US $3400 per person. Further details go online to www.ewenbell.com.

I’ve sent interview questions to the two tour guides, photographer Ewen Bell and travel writer Simon Foster. Here are responses from Simon:

1. Can you give us an idea of the trip itinerary? What do travelers see the first day, the second day, etc.?

Days 1-3 = Xi’an

Days 4-5 = Jiayuguan

Days 6-8 = Dunhuang

Days 9-10 = Turpan

Days 11-15 = Kashgar and Lake Karakul

2. How is this tour different from other Silk Road tours (many of which do the Terra-Cotta Warriors of Xi’an to Kashgar)?

Whilst this tour visits many of the “regular” Silk Road destinations, that is where the similarities with other trips end:

Firstly, as a photographic tour, the emphasis is on spending enough time at each of the places we visit (rather than the whistle-stop tours offered by some operators). This enables us to capture the ambience and scenery of the environments we pass through as well as to interact with locals and thus get some great people shots.

Secondly, travelers will enjoy the benefit of two expert leaders. This being a photographic tour, Ewen Bell’s skills both as a photographer and an instructor are paramount (Ewen was voted Australian Travel Photographer of the Year 2007). But the experienced tour leader, Simon Foster, is also an accomplished author in his own right and has contributed to numerous guidebooks, including the current editions of the Rough Guide to China and Frommer’s China as well as having penned a solo adventure guidebook to the Middle Kingdom for Hunter Guides (www.hunterpublishing.com).

3. I know that I can’t even imagine 100,000 people in a Sunday market like you would have at kashgar. Would you mind sharing a photo to help people like me picture Asia’s (and the world’s?) largest market?

Not sure quite how many people head for Kashgar’s Sunday market, but it’s safe to say there are at least ten times more animals than people! In order to get a feel for the atmosphere of the market I’ve attached a few photos to a separate mail, but it’s also worth checking out my blog (www.simonfoster.wordpress.com) which has a story about the Silk Road markets (“Silk Road Rocks”) and my photo website (www.flickr.com/photos/mebesimon).

Note: I did receive several photos, but I need to resize them before I can post them here. So a future blog entry will have the photos…

4. Which part of the itinerary is the least heard of and can you explain why you chose that place?

Lake Karakul is probably the least well known destination on the tour. It was chosen as it offers both spectacular scenery (a crystal clear lake at 4000m surrounded by 7000m peaks, including mighty Mustaghata) and an insight into nomadic life in these harsh conditions, Bactrian camels and all! We spend the night in a typical Tajik or Kyrgyz yurt which gives us the opportunity to interact with the hardy locals, witnessing mountain life firsthand, idyllically beautiful and yet at the same time, unforgivingly tough. What’s more the journey to Karakul (along the start of the Karakoram Highway) is as stunning as the lake itself, starting from the desert and ascending through colossal barren mountains and high plains dotted with goats and yaks.

5. What will travelers learn on this tour?

As well as getting an understanding of the cultural and geographic diversity of China, travelers have the opportunity to learn about photography with a wide range of subject matter, and tips from an expert photographer. The tour leader is also conversant in Chinese and will pass on the basics of the language.

6. What photography equipment should travelers bring (is a pocket size digital camera good enough)?

I’ll defer to Ewen for more expert advice on this one, but a pocket digital is certainly adequate, although many travelers bring a digital SLR.

7. In what ways is this tour eco-friendly, low impact, or sustainable tourism?

By limiting the group size to 8, visits to out of the way communities remain personal and uninvasive. Furthermore, to support local communities, we use local services and guides, which also gives a more accurate regional perspective than is achieved with some of the larger operators who often use Han guides.

Well that’s the end of this interview. I hope you found hearing about the Silk Road from a travel writer / tour operator as interesting as I did. I’ll get the pictures resized and posted soon, probably tomorrow.

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Comments (2)

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  1. Rich Davis says:

    Being a better than average pnotographer thru photoshop I do have problems walking up hills and aging is a problem…

  2. Discovering nature and people through photography is a great way to stay in touch with the environment while learning about people, animals, plants and the land that you photograph. Sounds like a truly fun tour not just for those that are experienced outdoor people but also for those that wish to try something new like me.

    I am also a photographer and run an entirely different photo tour, one that runs through urban architecture and the ancient sites of Rome Italy. I take pictures of people visiting the city spontaneously and authentically trying to add creativity and fun to the photo shoot using different methods that run from photojournalism techniques, portraits and HDR photography while keeping the urban city of Rome both ancient and modern as a backdrop.

    I will take the time to show you all the details and curious aspects of an off the beaten track tour where you will be able to visit, see, experience and tour places, situations, people that would be otherwise difficult to come across if you were to move on your own. You will avoid the tourist pedestrian highways and will take more secluded, intimate and truly Italian passageways. Let it be romantic, creative, fun and friendly, the astounding images will do the rest.

    Beautiful pictures of you in Rome could finally include everyone and not just everyone but the one behind the camera.

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