We’ve just spent the last week back in Kazakhstan. More about our adventures there in a bit.
I was unable to blog from there, so here is the final episode of our fun time Kyrgyzstan. More will follow over the next couple of days – I hope.
16 September.. We departed the freezing high country with mixed feelings. The romance of staying in yurts receives a hard dose of reality when we’re making the midnight journey, way lit by headlamp, to outhouses far across frozen open ground, and when a bitter wind nips nether regions from under the seat. There is a sense that these high wild pastures and mountains, inhabited by hardy shepherd families and their livestock, are timeless and immune to modern pressures. The modern world is creeping in. We, the tourists, now stay in yurts and ride horses, thus supplement income. Yurt camps are moved by truck now, not by animal drawn carts. Traditional clothing is giving way to cheep imports from China.
We stop in a small town down in the flatlands and Nazgul picks up some supplies for a picnic. We’ve been told we are going on a more than 8 hr ride. It is already well past mid morning. Do the math. When’s sunset? Ludicrous idea. We point out this obvious fact and the plan is reluctantly changed. We will ride for two hours up a valley and other two hours back down. Everyone is happy with the logic of this plan.
Soon our van stops in the middle of nowhere on a dusty track and from across a stream come a couple of horse men with some horses. The meet’s been arranged but seems almost magical. We’re soon mounting up. The horse tack is in deplorable condition. A few of the reins are just thin bits of rotting twine. The saddles are worn and the blankets are filled with holes. We sit on moth eaten sheep fleeces thrown over the top. My horse barely opens his eyes, making it clear he’d rather be sleeping. I end up nudging him constantly for the entire ride. Thankfully, he responds to the continued pressure to keep moving, but it’s a bit wearing. After the previous horse, this one is dull. I feel he’s probably been over-ridden and is exhausted.
We ride up a steep sided valley, along a busy stream that leaps and burbles over boulders on it’s way to lower places. At one point we cross a small wooden bridge. The horses aren’t too keen on this, rolling their eyes, carrying on and balking like they’ve never seen it before.
The trail climbs steeply and is soon far above the stream and wending it’s narrow way along a cliff. As my horse strains to climb over a particularly large rock outcrop on the path, I hear a cling. His hoof hitting the rock? No, he’s not shod. The drop below is long and steep. Suddenly I feel myself leaning – with the saddle – towards the abyss. It takes less than a second to realize my saddle is no longer attached to the bloody horse. I grab his mane and lean the other way, looking down, I see the girth strap hanging free. I call out to the horse man who is just ahead. He turns. I point. His eyes widen. He hops off his horse and hurries back to help me off mine. There is limited space on this narrow trail for all these goings ons. I hold his horse. He sort of fixes the girth on mine. I climb back on, swinging my leg out over the drop as I do so. We continue until the trail widens, then everyone takes a break while my saddle’s girth is replaced. Like I mentioned – crap tack.
The rest of the ride continues without mishap. The trail passes through yak pastures, occupied by frolicking baby yaks and argumentative older yaks asserting dominance over each other. Our horses pay scan attention to them, but they all watch us with worry. Have we come to herd them?
In places the trail is steep and slippery with mud. It begins to snow. We exit the tree line. We are making good time so will now ride all the way to the waterfall. A more than eight hour ride is now being touted as four. In the end it is about five.
The waterfall is one of the highest in Centra Asia. It drops in a vertical ribbon from cliffs far above. Now we have achieved our required destination we will have our picnic – freezing weather be damned.
“Might we picnic in a more sheltered place a bit further back down the trail?”
“No. We are at the waterfall. This is our picnic place.”
We eat as quickly as possible but Nazgul and the horse men are in no rush so we stand around while they devour meat and bread. “Why you no eat meat?” They want to know.
It’s a continuous refrain here. Later we are told that local people have two main questions about tourists. Why are they so dirty? (Mostly referring to cyclists, we are assured.) and Why don’t they eat meat?
Our ride back down out of the snowstorm and into the warmth and sun is a little quicker.
Kelly’s horse has a wonderful fast walk that not all horses have – it covers distance quickly and smoothly. Eddy and I have one-speed slow walking horses so we trot along behind Kelly. Eddy hasn’t mastered not bouncing with every step so the poor man jars along in a certain amount of agony all the way back to the van.
That night we stay in a guesthouse. A warm building, en-suite warm bathrooms, hot showers, bliss. We love the adventures but our creature comforts are important too. The next day we drive back to Bishkek. A fabulous tour over.
Bishkek is a crumbling city. Some parks and buildings that were developed and maintained during the Soviet times are now overgrown and neglected. Our guesthouse there offers a pleasant garden and is in a quiet neighbourhood with shops and restaurants. We chill for two days then climb on the night bus bound for Shymkent in Kazakhstan.