fine art prints by National Geographic photographer Matthieu Paley

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Samarkand cleans the house of evil spirits by putting grains of spandr on top of hot amber. Spandr (in Wakhi language) is a local mountain herb called esfand in English. Its seeds have seen continual use for thousands of years in the rites of many cultures. All over the remote mountain world, from Buddhists temples to Sufi shrines, I have witnessed rituals associated with similar plants like the burning of Juniper started long ago by shamans of Siberia and American Indians.


InstagramTo The Snow

In the morning, women gather to get water. Even in winter, it never freezes thanks to underground thermal activities. In the distance, that pass leads towards the Karakoram. On the left, over the frozen Wakhan river up into the Pamir mountains, the roof of the world.

Sarhad Scree

To The Snow

I had never seen such a huge scree. Down below, horsemen made their way to a wedding. This is the Wakhan Corridor, an old branch of the Silk Road and Alexander the Great and Marco Polo probably looked up this mountain when they passed here in ancient times.


To The Snow

Sayeed Sardar was cold, he lifted his coat. The brother of the spiritual leader, he is a well respected and smart man. He remembered my name, but I had forgotten his, felt ashamed, he laughed! I had bought a donkey from his cousin 3 years earlier.



Hot springs are precious… what a gift to have hot water year round. Ato Mohammed and his dad, shortly before walking back home down the valley to their village. Looking at their faces, it’s fascinating to consider the implications on human migration. Think of our history, of all the ancient paths that have been taken to reach every corner of the earth, all the drama and excitement that must have taken place (and still is taking place).

Sidol, Jumagul, Assan I


I walked away from my tent, to a higher place for better reception. The sat phone rang and my wife was on the line. There she was – from another world.

I saw them coming from below, in line, dust flying. They reminded me of some Hell’s Angels on their motorcycles, except way cooler. Sidol, Jumagul and Assan Khan were just back from checking the growth of grass at lower elevations. That grass will be used for animal fodder in the winter months. They drove those 1000-kilogram beasts with incredible skill down steep valleys and across rivers, blissfully unaware of their cool factor.

Song Köl I

From the SteppesInstagram

The silky rolling hills around Song Köl, viewed as we approached it from the North. Shot with my medium format camera. We camped on the edge of it. I trekked with my friend Gilemon. He got sunburned, had altitude sickness and then his shoes started to hurt his feet! It was so bad that he ended the trek wearing his flip-flops.



Above the village of Passu, a teenager checks his Facebook. Many residents here are Ismaili, followers of a moderate branch of Islam. A sign on the mountain slope commemorates the time in 1987, when the Ismaili imam, the Aga Khan, visited this remote region.




Six-year old Susaï is fetching water near camp in a spring claimed as one of the sources of the Oxus, also known as Amu Darya, Central Asia’s largest river. It starts early, the jobs of a woman: water chore, making dough, taking care of fire all day, make 15/20 flat breads (average camp), collect dry dung whenever spare time, watch over kids, sew clothes, make blankets stuffed with wool, make more rope with camel hair, more cooking, make kurut (dry cheese) and place it on the roof, take the herd out, take it back in, milk the sheep and goats and yaks, drop everything and welcome passing guests at any moment, and always have huge quantity of chai ready. It rarely stops.

Tash Seri

To The Snow

The yurt, the ultimate nomadic dwelling of the steppes of Central Asia, can withstand blizzards in some of the world’s most inhospitable places. Made of felt, it takes a couple of hours to fold up, load it up on yaks and move to the next camp. Pamir mountains.



Snow blowing into China. View from Manara camp towards Tegirmensuu valley. Beyond the mountains in the distance is China. The Bam-e-Dunya, the  ‘Roof of the World’ was also dubbed the ‘Third Pole’ by early explorers like Francis Younghusband.

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Tella Bu II


The woman facing us is Tella Bu. This was 2012 and I had first met her in 2005, in her father’s yurt, the chief of the Afghan Kyrgyz community. She wore a red veil then, a sign that she was not married. A few months after her wedding, her red veil was replaced by this white one.



Lost Highway

“I think 32 years old… what you need?”. He was throwing garbages from the bushy roadside back into the road, plastic bags, bottles… Mixing local Gondi language and Hindi, jaw clenched hard. “Take more pictures!” he ordered, shirt button in his ear.