top of page

2012 Kyrgyzstan Tien Shan Mountains 

Monday, 23.07. Zurich - Bishkek

The four of us, Olivia, Zsolt, Peter and Pat, meet at Zurich airport in the late morning to fly to Bishkek, the capital of Kyrgyzstan.  


Tuesday, 24.07. Bishkek - Toktokul

We arrive in Bishkek at 5:30 in the morning after a flight of several hours via Moscow. Our luggage is there, but some of it has been opened and Peter and Zsolt's is also missing. We go outside and wait for our husband to pick us up. A cab driver wanted to take us to Toktokul with an extra charge of €100 for the beautiful view. We declined with thanks. Finally we find our husband, who has been waiting somewhere inside, and we find him outside and we can drive to Bishkek. The car is very overcrowded with our luggage and it's getting cramped. Securing the load is a foreign concept.

We arrive at Murnabek from Trek Asia, our organizer. We change cars and drivers and meet our guide Baktiar, who is supposed to translate for us. He has just finished his studies and is 20 years young. Peter pays Murnabek for our horses and in Bishekek we change our Euros into the local currency, the Som.10 € equals 570 Som . We struggle with the conversion and with all the paper money we now have in our pockets. Our new driver drives very briskly through the streets; no overtaking and speed limits are foreign words. We stop off at a restaurant and get our "late" meal. To my delight, we are served mante, stuffed dumplings and the obligatory tea. It is hot down here in the valley and we are happy when we reach the mountains and it gets much cooler. However, it also starts to rain up here. We drive through a long valley, to the left and right we see many herds of horses that are used to make kumys, the national drink made from fermented mare's milk, which is not at all to our taste buds. After a 4-hour drive, we arrive at the guesthouse of Murnabek's brother in Toktokul. Now there is the first surprise and a bit of language confusion with 4 different languages, such as English, French, German and of course Kyrgyz. The horses are not at the house and there are still a few missing, which Bopon, the wrangler who is also supposed to accompany us, will bring. In the meantime, we go shopping in the supermarket and try to get lambskins for emergencies, but no chance, just like in Mongolia. They no longer tan the skins themselves. We are served tea and bread and wait for the horses, which should be here at 17:00. As 18:00 approaches, Peter, Olivia and I walk to the farm and take a look at the first 4 horses. Unfortunately, we are in for a nasty surprise as the horses are very clumsy and 2 of them are not at all suitable for our purposes as they already have open pressure sores. What now? We don't need to set off like this? Murnabek's brother, who speaks good French but almost no English, shows us his Arabian stallion, who looks really bad and with whom he wanted to have his mares covered. Olivia diagnoses herpes infection from the photos he has taken and that puts an end to the idea of breeding with the stallion. He wants to learn how to inseminate artificially but under the hygienic conditions and with the stallion this is not possible. We go back to Zsolt and explain the situation to him. Meanwhile, Bopon has finally arrived with 3 new horses. They are standing on a flatbed trailer, tied three abreast and would certainly not get a permit in Germany. They jump down a bit stiffly, but look much better than the other 4. At dinner there is a heated discussion about what to do next. Murnabek arrives after all and we decide to ride 2 of the 4 horses and the 3 new ones from Bopon to the camp the next day, where there are a few other tourists and Murnabek wants to swap 2 horses for us. As it is supposed to be hot, we want to get up at 4:00 am and be with the horses by 6 am at the latest.


Wednesday, 25.07. Toktokul - Camp 51 km; 2800 hm We were supposed to get up at 4 a.m., but it turns into 5 a.m. and so we pack up our stuff in a hurry, wolf down our breakfast, pick up Bopon at home and then drive to our horses, which are already tied up in the stable waiting for us. Peter gets the biggest one and everyone else walks to a horse. I have the little bay, who came in a bit stiff from the hanger the night before but otherwise looks OK. Everyone could do with a bit more on the ribs.

We only pack our food for the day and the rain tarpaulins, despite the fact that it's hot and sunny, who knows? Unfortunately, Baktiar can't come with us because we have one horse too few. He and our luggage are brought to the camp from Murnabek in the evening. We set off quite quickly. Bopon rides far ahead and we follow behind. To our surprise, the horses are fast and fun to ride. They track even better when Bopon whistles. Compared to our Mongolian horses, these horses are much easier to ride.

The landscape is Mediterranean in character and it smells of many different herbs. My horse always tries to scratch a high bush and regularly grazes the parts and the seed sticks to me. We look back at the bright blue Toktokul reservoir. Framed by brown mountains. It's hot and we've already climbed around 900 m in the morning. At the first stream, the horses plunge into the water. The only question was whether they had had any water at all since last night? The higher we get, the cooler it gets and the vegetation changes to more familiar mountain vegetation. We stop for lunch and it gets cloudy. Rain is coming. We tackle the next pass in the rain and the path winds along the mountain slopes. It drags on and as we can't really communicate with Bopon, we wonder why he always rides so far ahead and we have trouble following him. It gets nicer again and we can take down our tarpaulins, which have protected us from the fields of giant dock and hogweed. These grow well over my head here.

We slowly realize that the route is much longer than we thought. At a ridge, Bopon goes in a different direction than Peter's GPS leads us and we can't really find the right way. Olivia's horse is overtired and falls down the slope. Fortunately, nothing happened to either of them. We make our way to the pass and try to make it clear to Bopon that he should show us the way, but without Kyrgyz it's difficult.

We meet the group of tourists on foot and speak to their translator, who explains to Bopon what has happened and that he should stay with us longer. Bopon has tea with his sister, but we are not invited. We now realize that we still have another 5 hours to go. It's already 4 o'clock and we still have one more pass ahead of us. At least the sun is in the sky again. It's getting dark and Olivia isn't ready to go any faster after her horse falls a second time. We arrive at camp at 10 p.m. and Baktiar and Murnabek are already waiting for us.

We have a quick dinner with a trekking meal, as we still have hot water and tea. Peter has a long conversation with Murnabek about the length of the route and what has happened. Murnabek apologizes and it turns out that Bopon knew how long the trail is. Murnabak said that his brother had told him, but the 4 different languages we had been communicating in meant that this was unfortunately lost. He drives home, but has to come back the next day as he has forgotten the saddlebags for Baktiar. We all sleep together in the yurt, so at least we don't have to put up our tent again.

Our camp is at an altitude of 2585 m and we have done 3 passes with 2800 m elevation gain and 51 km that day, which is a 3-day tour for normal tourists.

Thursday, 26.07. Camp - mountain meadow 5km; 100 hm

We can sleep in, all together in the yurt it gets cramped, but it works despite all our luggage and our spread-out wet clothes. We hope that everything will be a little drier again. It doesn't rain in the morning, but the sun can't really break through either. The 2 new horses look pretty good and need to be re-shod. The shoes are again fitted with very high studs, so you have to be careful not to get the horses' feet on yours.

Peter also has to change the length of his stirrups and so the morning is spent adjusting our luggage. It keeps raining, so our shoes don't really get dry and the yurt isn't watertight either. As the shepherds live in a new tent, the maintenance of the yurt has unfortunately been somewhat neglected. We watch the nomads making cheese, try the yoghurt balls and, apart from Zsolt, none of us can make friends with them because they taste harsh. Unfortunately, there is no fresh ayran. We have fried potatoes for lunch and Murnabek comes with the rest of the luggage for Baktiar and brings a large melon, which we quickly devour.

We decide to ride a few more kilometers into the mountain today so that our horses can get better grass. A French family comes down the mountain soaking wet and quickly changes their clothes. They got caught in a hailstorm.

Murnabek shows me his Appalousa. This breed of horse originally came to Europe with Marco Polo and from there to America, where they became famous through the Nez Perce.

By 3 p.m. everything is packed and we are ready to go. Olivia has handed in her passanger, which she finds uncomfortable. Later, Baktiar explains to me that in Kyrgyzstan these horses are bred especially for pass races and that he likes to ride them.

Zsolt has swapped his horse for the new black one called Terminator. Let's see if that goes well. We ride into a narrow gorge and the sun comes out and shines on the wet mountain pastures. We come to a meadow with knee-high grass, which our horses pounce on. We decide to stay here, otherwise we would have to continue for another 5 hours over the next pass.

Peter heats water and we have our first trekking meal. Dark clouds are gathering and we crawl into the men's tent for dessert. There we discuss the previous day again with Bopon. It starts to rain.

Friday, 27.07. Mountain meadow - yurt in the valley Suu samyr 25km, 1000 hm    

It rains, pours, snows and clears up. That's what awaits us in the morning. No one feels like getting up. Peter is busy bringing us breakfast to the tent and discussing the situation. Back to camp and wait in the yurt for better weather? Not comfortable there, as it's not airtight either. Wait and hope that the weather improves? So we wait, doze off, wait for a break in the rain to visit the local toilet. Baktiar gets a pair of dry socks from me as he only has a few with him and, like ours, they are soaking wet. Around midday it stops again and I clarify with our 2 guides what chances we have of getting over the pass with its 3500 m? Conclusion: we start without lunch, quickly pack our horses and head towards the pass. There is about 10-20 cm of snow up there. The sun is shining and so we can enjoy the beautiful mountain scenery, just like in winter. The horses climb up the slope like chamois, even with the studs in their shoes, but they are very sure-footed and manage to carry us up there almost effortlessly. On the way we see old rock paintings on a stone. After just under 1.5 hours, we reach the Jaisan Pass at 3506 m. It's getting cloudy again and the descent looks much worse than the ascent. We climb down the other side and it's like April, sunshine alternating with rain. We get fantastic views of the mountains with rainbows in the distant valley. Even Bopon descends on this route. We reach the Suu Samyr valley and ask at a yurt if we can stay. We pitch our tents and are treated to excellent food in the yurt, including chai (tea), bread, jam and cream. The man, Kojokan, invites us to dinner. We are served grechka, similar to plov but with buckwheat. We have a nice evening with the family. We 2 women are invited to sleep in the yurt, but as there were a lot of people here, we prefer to sleep in the tent again.

Saturday, 28.07. Sue Samyr 25 km; 200 hm

We were too optimistic, it rained all night again and Peter's self-made tents are waterproof, but the ventilation isn't enough to keep out the high humidity. Now everything was damp again, but at least it wasn't raining any more. We have breakfast in the yurt and the whole family helps to get our horses ready. Olivia swaps horses with Zsolt, as he's not really happy with Terminator. The white mountain peaks glisten in the background and we walk along the valley, passing herds of horses and sheep again and again. We stop off at a yurt for lunch and the sun has finally come out, so life is looking rosy again and our shoes are slowly drying out. We can get rid of the plastic bags we put over our socks. In the evening, we reach another idyllic stream, but the grass for the horses looks poor. Peter goes with Baktiar to check the situation down below and possibly fetch water if we can't stay down there. But we are invited to stay by a former teacher couple. The horses are looked after and then comes the first nasty surprise: Baktiar's horse's back is open. Peter puts his bile ointment on it and we let the horse go for the time being. We take a dip in the stream, who knows when we'll get to do it again in this beautiful weather. Mrs. Gulzat speaks fluent English and her husband Marat also understands a lot. His father Hassam Toktogonov is an interpreter for German and is well known for the books he translates. The woman was virtually kidnapped from university by her current husband and now lives in the mountains with her husband and looks after the animals. She has a talent for teaching and it is a shame that she is no longer allowed to do this, but she has to give in to her husband. We have traditional Bish Bermek for dinner at 10 pm, a 5-finger meal consisting of mutton with noodles. It's almost like dinner times in Spain.

Sunday, 29.07. Break day

We all sleep in the yurt and in the morning the weather has changed. The sun shines from a deep blue sky. We wait for breakfast and have the option of watching a horse riding game, which is scheduled for noon. Peter prefers to carry on in the beautiful weather, but the prospect of watching the buzkashi, or keukbeurü in Kyrgyz, live is something special. As Baktiar's horse has the open pressure, we decide to stay, give the horses a break and treat them. Rivanol and honey do the rest, but the open pressure actually takes far too long to heal. Peter rides up the mountain with Bopon to phone Murnabek and see if we can get another horse. No chance, he doesn't have any more and we can't get one locally either. So we laze around, play UNO and rest after lunch. When everyone is still dozing off in the yurt at half past three, I put the pressure on, as the game is due to start at 4.30pm and we still have to get the horses ready and ride there. It's half past four when we set off. Without luggage, our horses are much quicker and shortly after 5 we are at the racecourse. It's wild and we don't understand how the game works. Baktiar follows with Marat and so we don't have a translator.

We watch as the men try to pick up the dead lamb carcass and get it onto their scoring area. There are always two teams playing against each other with lots of noise and whipping. The horses get really hot and chase across the wide plains at a crazy pace. Every now and then there are bloody lips on horse and rider. When a point was scored, i.e. the animal's body was placed in the right place, there was another break, during which plenty of vodka flowed. As the only women on the pitch, Olivia and I were spared the vodka.

We had to keep dodging the frenzied crowd. I decided to get back on the horse so that I could quickly avoid the commotion if necessary. We also saw some yearlings and 2-year-olds who were already being ridden in this wild game. It's not a nice sight to see the poor little ones being burned like this. Olivia, with her blonde hair, was always in demand for photo shoots with the men. We ride back home at dusk and let our horses gallop off at a brisk pace. However, dinner is not served until the man of the house is back. Zsolt gets a bad cold and wants another vodka, but Olivia thinks he's had enough on the pitch anyway. We have another national dish, kurdak, which consists of meat, offal and potatoes and is unfortunately very greasy.

Monday, 30.07. Suu Samyr - plateau 28 km; 1000 m ascent

Breakfast is served at 7:30 and our horses are soon saddled up. Peter packs the packhorse with Bopon and Zsolt and they are already practiced at it. Baktiar has to ride on without a saddle. Certainly no relief on the thin horse. We say goodbye to our hosts very warmly with a Jong Rachmat, thank you very much. We now follow another stream into a narrow valley, which leads us away from the large valley and the road. There are fewer and fewer shepherds to be seen back here. The sun burns down from the sky and we walk for hours through the high plateau. The flowers are magnificent and the meadows keep changing color depending on what is in bloom at the time. Every now and then we come across a shepherd and a few horses standing by the stream. Otherwise we have the company of lots of mosquitoes and biting insects.

Bopon starts catching fish in the stream, but has no luck. We watch the spectacle with rapt attention. We cross the colorful meadows, in the background we see snow-covered mountain peaks behind which our destination, Son Kul, lies somewhere. After 28 km, we come to a beautiful stream with lots of grass and decide to stay here. Bopon catches 2 fish here after all. How did he eat them? He certainly didn't cook them and he couldn't make a fire either. We can go swimming again, almost too much at once, enjoy the sunshine and play UNO with warm chai while Peter heats the water for dinner. We would have liked to have done without the many stinging gnats, but they were smelling good prey and fresh blood on us and our horses. The night promises to be cold.


Tuesday 31.07. Plateau - Tonok 38 km

Peter wants to set off early. There is frost on the ground, making it our coldest night so far. But when the sun comes out from behind the mountain, it warms up quickly and we set off at 8am. My horse has been badly affected by the snails and he looks like he has nettle fever. I give him a few globules in the hope of relieving the itching. We follow a path that leads us over the hills and is marked on the 200,000-meter map. Peter's GPS also shows us the way and after a few hours we reach the descent, which takes us 1000 m down into the valley. Peter gets into a heated argument with Bopon, who doesn't see the point of leading his horse downhill, even though the horses absolutely needed it as they were already borderline exhausted. The mood changes. We take a break at a place where Bopon beats me to it and sits down among the dozing horses. We continue downhill and when we finally reach the valley, it takes forever because we can't trot due to Baktiar's horse. His backside seems to be hurting too, but he doesn't want to swap. We reach the river just before the town of Tonok. We stay in the bushes and wait for Peter and Baktiar to check the situation at the guesthouse to see if we can stay there with the horses.

Spending the night close to the shore is almost impossible as we won't be able to find our horses in the bushes the next day and tying them up isn't an option here either. Bopon is also worried that they might be stolen. After more than an hour, Peter and Baktiar arrive with the good news that we can stay in the guesthouse with the horses, dinner and hay for the horses. What more could you want? There's just one catch: we still have to ford the Cape Kul - Black Hand river and it's probably really deep. So the luggage is repacked and the packhorse has to go through the water twice. Our 2 guides do a great job and we don't get our feet wet again. We even have coke and beer waiting for us at the guesthouse and we have 3 rooms to ourselves and the horses have enough hay to eat. We get mante and a pasta dish for dinner. We discuss the situation and how we could continue, because it makes no sense for us to take the horse with the open pressure as far as Son Kul, as Baktiar no longer wants to ride it either. We also don't see the point of paying €25 per day for this. It doesn't really work well with Bopon either, who doesn't want to accept that his horses need to be looked after and fed properly. He lets Baktiar do most of the work and we can't do without him as an interpreter.

We have now been out in the Kyrgyz mountains with our horses for a week and have made even more progress than we originally feared, given the way they looked. Apart from one horse, which we knew from the start didn't look good, the others have recovered properly and we can continue our tour.


Wednesday, 01.08. Tonok - Kara Kul Valley 30 km

Peter has a long phone call with Murnabek after we have clarified with Bopon whether it would be OK for him to stay behind with the sick horse. The question now is, who is responsible for the horses? Baktiar doesn't want to take it on. He is paid as an interpreter and now has a lot more to do. Peter agrees with Murnabek that he will bear the risk for his 2 horses and the risk for the remaining 3 will be halved if something should happen. Bopon shows us how to harness the horses and then we go to the river together to water the horses and go shopping in the various stores. In one there is only mayonnaise, in the next sausage and petrol and in the next but one bread and vodka. There isn't much to be had, so it takes us a while to get everything together and finally say goodbye to Bopon and follow the Kapkul River into the valley of the same name. Unfortunately, the sun is once again replaced by clouds, but at least it stays dry. In this fertile valley, we pass grain fields again and again and hay is also made here, which is still lying in bales on the meadow.

The horses have recovered well and now that Baktiar doesn't have to worry about another sore backside, we can trot along the long valley and make good progress. We finally reach more hilly terrain and have covered 30 km before we find a nice camp at 2400 m and enough grass for the horses. The sun comes out again and we enjoy a wonderful view of the colorful mountain meadows over dinner. The horses are hobbled on 3 legs as they ran off too quickly and 2 are also tied to stones that have been dragged here. We play UNO for a while to watch the horses. Zsolt has retreated into the tent because of the gnats and goes gnat hunting in the tent, which looks funny from the outside and he just thinks he's cleaning the living room. Peter often gets up in the night and looks after the horses.

It's different when we're responsible for the horses ourselves. We want to bring them all back safe and sound.

Thursday, 02.08. Kara Kul - Black Hand Valley

I get up at 5am and check on the horses. I find the 2 tethered ones, another one is standing nearby and 2 are lying next to it, hidden in the deep grass and the last one is sure to be nearby. It starts to drizzle and so I lie down again, completely ignoring Peter's wake-up call. My stomach is rumbling a little and so I only have a small muesli. I repack my luggage because my horse now has sore withers and I want to take the pressure off the front. The lumps all over his body are still not really getting any better and I make a third attempt, which finally has an effect and the lumps finally subside. The landscape becomes more exciting again. White glacier mountains can be seen behind the green hills and so we head along the right side of the river to the bridge. It looks like a heavy thunderstorm and Olivia doesn't want to stop at first, but when Zsolt's horse loses an iron, we have to stop and Peter nails another iron on it. The thunderstorm moves in the other direction and we reach the bridge, but it's impossible to get across, unless you can tightrope walk, but how are we supposed to teach the horses to do that so quickly? So we continue on the right side of the valley and can see the yurts on the other side of the valley again and again. At some point, Baktiar talks to a fisherman who says the next bridge is a long way off. Then we let ourselves be surprised. Two hours later, we reach the other bridge and cross the river. We are invited to tea by a shepherd, but thankfully decline as we don't know how far we have to go to get grass for our horses. There are lots of animals here, especially herds of horses, which we have to avoid because of our stallions. However, that's not a big problem here, the stallions are really peaceful and you occasionally hear a grumble if they particularly like a mare, but otherwise you don't notice anything. The horses themselves are undemanding, can cope with the grass and even ours are slowly recovering and getting some weight back on their ribs despite our tour. The mares, which are used for milking, stand guard next to their foals, which are tied to a rope in the row and wait to be allowed to walk with their mothers in the evening. There is rarely a whinny to be heard. They are used to it from an early age, but for our understanding we feel sorry for the little ones. The shepherds live off the kumys and mare's milk. We rarely see herds of cows. This is the land of horses. The horses are between 1.40 and almost 1.50 cm tall and are more noble than the Mongolian ponies and much easier to ride. The walk is ground covering and the trot also has momentum, so we make good progress with our horses.

We have to pass several herds because Baktiar fears that we might have a problem. Finally we find a piece of land where there are no horses, but two hours later there is a whole herd of mares on the other side of the river, curiously eyeing our stallions. Baktiar gets 2 pegs from the shepherd so that we can tie up 2 horses and later the shepherd lets his stallion run to ours, there is a squealing noise, he comes after him and shoos the stallion through the water to his mares, there is a splash and he has to swim to the other side. He shakes off the water and that's that. The night passes quietly, but it gets much colder again.


Friday, 03.08. Kara Kol 35 km; 460 m elevation gain

Peter gets us out of bed at 6° as usual. But it's fresh, so nobody wants to sit down, because everything is covered in frost. As soon as the sun shines on the snow-covered mountains, it becomes pleasant again. My stomach is finally OK again, which I notice from my hunger. Peter's bowels are also OK again, but now Zsolt is starting to complain of a queasy stomach. Baktiar has to swap his passer for the packhorse because of a girth pressure, but he's not really happy about it. At 8:30 we head towards the Kochkor Pass. We marvel at the many glacier mountains and are fascinated by the magnificent landscape. A wrecked car lies in a hollow and a young shepherd accompanies us part of the way and tells us how he grew up as a poor boy and how they now have many animals and are so much better off today. He lives with his brother in a cheap tent, which can be seen a lot here. The yurts cost four times as much, around 1000-3000 dollars. He has 11 siblings, but most of them no longer live in the countryside. Our horses have had a good rest on the lush grass and are walking briskly towards the Kochkor. Somewhere behind the glacier lies Son Kul, our destination. We hike leisurely down the other side of the mountain on the road and pass many yurts. On the way we meet 2 Germans from Stuttgart who are on their way to Son Kul by bike. An American passes us in his off-road vehicle, who is on his way to Mongolia. Minutes later, we all meet a group of French people who wanted to go to the Pamir, which is closed because of rebels who are said to have shot a senior official. It's a good thing we opted for Kyrgyzstan instead of Tajikistan, because we would have been out of luck. We have to see if we can get grass for the horses and we find it in a hollow on the other bank of the river. We have found a nice spot. The horses have plenty of grass and we enjoy our dinner. Olivia squabbles with Zsolt over a blanket and a place to sit on a stone. Clouds are gathering again, Peter and Zsolt hide away in their tent and as it's only 7 p.m., we play cards with Baktiar and talk to him about his plans for the future.

Saturday, 04.08. 42 km, 221 m elevation gain

We are now in the Kochkor valley. It stretches out and as it widens, we find farming and winter quarters in the plain again. We let the horses run at a brisk trot until we reach a yurt at lunchtime, where we are warmly invited to have some kumys. After asking for tea, we accept. The kumys is drinkable and the people are very proud of it. Three families live together here and the three men went to school together. We take a few photos and they all want to have their picture taken with the only stallion here. We finally get hold of another sheepskin and head towards the town to replenish our supplies. In the 1st village of Daun-alysh, Zsolt gets his vodka, which he had to buy again as I had broken the last bottle when I threw it to him. We find petrol and a larger supermarket in village 2 Keuk-moinok. There's even a really good selection here and a beer, which we immediately finish off cold. We continue on and have to make another stop to nail another shoe on Peter's horse. We pass a mosque and a cemetery and on the road we meet a car with an adventurous trailer on which a horse is trying to keep its balance. The landscape becomes barren and dry and we have to go on for another 2 hours before we find 10 square meters of grass where we can let the horses graze. It doesn't look like much more, but when we ask at a house where we can stay, the woman sends us 2 km further on. But before we leave, we have to try some kumys. We arrive at an idyllic spot in the middle of the dry steppe landscape. It has a green strip surrounded by a stream and a canal.

As it is warm, I go for a swim and get rid of my trousers, which are chafing my legs. What a relief after the heat. Peter starts to heat the water and soon dinner is ready. We start playing Uno, Peter has cooked himself back into the tent and then calls Baktiar to him for tomorrow's route briefing. He just calls us to get up at 6 a.m., which we don't quite understand, why so early again? As we understood it, there were still 2 day stages to Son Kul. Peter now wanted to do it in one and over 2 passes. We would still have had time and don't understand why the rush? Olivia discusses this with Peter. Under normal circumstances, the route wouldn't be a problem, but we have a few horses with damaged backs and pressure sores. We retire to the tent under the full moon.

Sunday, 05.08. 23 km; 824 m elevation gain

My horse throws a spanner in the works for Peter. He finds a group of young stallions more interesting than anything else and chases after them despite the hobbles. Baktiar has trouble catching him, especially as he is good at lunging when something doesn't suit him. Peter had no chance of catching up on foot. Peter came back quite annoyed and Baktiar grinned a little breathlessly and just said to me that my horse was probably more interested in boys than girls. In the meantime, we had made breakfast and hot water for the other two so that they could have something to eat. The sun came out just as Zsolt had ordered and it looked like we were going to have a really warm day. We saddle our horses so that we can get out of the valley to higher altitudes before the heat sets in. My horse puts me to the test and I have to push hard, but he and Peter's horse suddenly run up the slope quite briskly. Several clouds of dust keep announcing the vehicles on the road. We follow hoof-wide paths along the overgrazed slopes and pass a dead, tethered eagle... I wonder if it was forgotten?

The climb gets really steep, Peter dismounts and lets his horse pull him up by the tail, I try it too for a short time, but give up after a few minutes because I don't want to pull my horse up the mountain as well. We reach the pass at 3150 m and let the horses catch their breath and enjoy the view. From up here, we keep seeing yurts or caravans scattered around the surrounding valleys, which serve as homes for the shepherds, with sheep or horses around them. This region is heavily overgrazed. As soon as we have good access to a road, we meet many more people who live there. We continue along the ridges towards Son Kul. Zsolt has ordered the fan from time to time and there is a little breeze, but the air is getting warmer and warmer. Suddenly, a young cow comes galloping down the mountain and is able to slow down just in front of our horses. Another good day. A little later we stop for lunch at a beautiful lush clover field. Now it's downhill again and we thought we were about to reach the second pass, but a shepherd comes up behind us and explains the way. We follow him for a while and then stand in a hollow again, looking at the next mountain range and Baktiar just says that this is the 2nd pass he was talking about. As we are standing in the middle of a fat meadow and have a beautiful stream in front of us, we decide to stay here despite the early hour. We make extensive use of the stream for a swim and, as this is the main road, we can see lots of men coming back from making hay with adventurous carts and the truck with hay is also clearly overloaded. Peter takes a hike down into the valley from the direction we actually wanted to come from and has to watch a yurt grilling kebabs and doesn't even get a bite. A group of 13 tourists crosses the river at the other end and we wonder where else they want to go, as it's already 4pm and they haven't brought any luggage. We set up our tents, there's no shortage of space here and it's exceptionally flat. While we are drinking tea, Baktiar's horse suddenly takes a liking to a young stallion on the other side and hops off. Baktiar only sees a brown horse running away and thinks it's mine. After a successful hunt, it was his after all. He fetches a few stakes from the farm and 4 of our horses are tied up. They are starting to get a bit mischievous and become overconfident. We eat our dinner in the light of the setting sun and have a great view of the surrounding mountains. It soon gets cool and we retire to our tents. Throughout the night, we hear the clattering of hooves and the neighing of horses as they fight.

Monday, 06.08. 20 km; 812 m elevation gain

Peter wakes us up as usual, the horses are all there, oh wonder, and shortly after 8 a.m. we are ready to go. There are slightly different views on how to get to Son Kul, but there are many ways to get there. We meet a 14-strong Italian hiking group, who greet us with a big hello and lots of questions. We are back at Edelweiss and Schnittlauchhöhe. It is unbelievable how many edelweiss there are here and chives in abundance, you could almost go through with a scythe and dry them. We reach the Tuz- ashu pass at 3150 m around midday and finally see Son Kul. Unfortunately, clouds are gathering again and the view is not so great. The view back still extends to the colorful sunlit mountains, which invites us to take photos. We walk down the slope and I get chatting to Baktiar at the end of the group and we only meet the others again at a yurt near the lake. A thunderstorm is brewing, but it's heading in the other direction and we keep getting wonderful views of the lake. Olivia is not enthusiastic about my wish to eat fish at Son Kul, as her horse is heading in the opposite direction to where Baktiar is leading us. She is overruled and so we ride along the shore to the guesthouse, where we pay around 750 Som, 12 €/person for an overnight stay with 3 meals. We can't complain about the food. We get 3 fried fish with tomato and cucumber salad for lunch. I ask for ayran and get it, but it tastes a bit bitter and I don't ask for seconds. We are also allowed to try the kumys and a kind of kumys made from cow's milk, which I don't like at all. I prefer the original kumys. We have the rest of the day to stroll around. Baktiar meets a fellow student who is traveling with 2 Belgian women and horses. They have a 14-year-old boy with them who is responsible for the horses. The Italians also join them, but wait for the bus to pick them up. Peter goes for a swim in the lake and I hike up the hill and try to find my way back to where we were last time I was here 9 years ago. I take a detour back to the yurt, but have to fight my way through the swamp and the grassy slope.

Zsolt teaches the little girl in the yurt "My hat has 3 corners". She has a talent for languages. It's not difficult for her to repeat the words and she learns the song in no time. Unbelievable. We can just say ooba - yes; jok - no, jong rachmat - thank you very much and learn the numbers 1-5 bir-eki-ütsch.dirt- bish-, Köl - lake which causes confusion as all lakes end in Kul which is Russian and Kol is the hand. The others have watered and tethered the horses and at 7 pm we have dinner together with the Belgians, fish cakes. The two guides can or have to play host and serve tea. For dessert we have a large melon.


Tuesday, 07.08. Son Kul - Kyz-art 27 km, 399 m elevation gain

I get up at 5:30 in the hope of capturing the morning atmosphere, but unfortunately there were clouds before sunrise. I visit the toilet and have to laugh, because the little house is wired with barbed wire, but who is it supposed to protect? Will it be the 2 tame domestic sheep or the dogs? Peter sleeps through the 6 o'clock, but by half past 6 everyone is up, which I can see from where I'm sitting. I go back to pack up my things because breakfast is due at 7°. We wait and Peter gets impatient as it's approaching half past seven. We are suddenly told to have breakfast separately from the other group, for whatever reason? The boy has already finished saddling the horses of the other group. We retire to our yurt and wait for tea. Baktiar comes in with 2 large bowls. We are served porridge, which is the same as our semolina porridge. It tastes delicious and then the tea comes in the pot as usual. A small pot is for the black tea and a larger one for the hot water, which the host always mixes in the small drinking bowls. After the meal, you wish the host well and make a hand gesture and "Omi" as a thank you for the meal. We say goodbye to Grandma. Peter calls for us to set off and we saddle our horses for the last time. The sky turns gray and it starts to drizzle. I soon put on my rain trousers because it doesn't seem to be getting any better. Baktiar rides silently behind us and can't be motivated to talk. We reach the Kara-Kuia pass (3366 m) in the rain and meet a shepherd at the top who even speaks English. He explains the way down, which is quite shrouded in mist, so that after 50 m we can no longer see the others. The rain gets heavier and heavier and we hurry down into the valley. We quickly grab a muesli bar for lunch and make sure we get to the village, where we can leave the horses at the guesthouse until Murnabek comes to collect them. It stops raining but the ground is soaked. We are surprised that the grass is still being cut for hay, it can't dry like this. Baktiar remembers the way and so we deviate from Peter's GPS and head across the fields to the other end of Kyz-art. The sun comes out again and we arrive reasonably dry. We take a few last photos of ourselves and our horses, unsaddle and the packhorse is quickly taken somewhere else. Ours are stabled behind the house in a meadow or weed garden. We put our stuff away and are served a hot Kurütsch sorpo soup for lunch. That revives our spirits.

We are allowed to sleep in the other house on the other side of the road! Olivia and I want to take Baktiar to the supermarket and buy a Coke, but Peter won't let us go off on our own. Whether he is afraid for Baktiar or for us women remains to be seen. We buy 2 mini vodka plastic cups that won't break on the rocks when we throw them. We find a new delivery of ice cream in the other store and can hardly believe it. We take a chance and everyone gets an ice cream. A group of French people arrive who are traveling in Murnabek's car. We could have it, but only for one day and then how do we get it back here, because we want to go to Ak Sai on the Issyk Kul and can't get back. So we have to organize a cab driver to take us to Lake Issyk Kul and Bishkek for 17 som/km. Before dinner, we water the horses and try to organize hay for them, but an alfalfa field is mowed for them and our 4-legged friends are happy about the rich alfalfa. They have earned it. For dinner we get borch - a Russian specialty, soup with cabbage, onions and meat. Olivia and I play UNO again with Baktiar and decide to buy a deck of cards the next day so we can play something else. We eat my last bag of Haribo and go to bed late by our standards. 

Wednesday, 08.08. Kyz-art - Ak sai - Issyk Kul

Peter feeds the horses at 6 am and our driver is ready at 8 am. 1 hour earlier than agreed, so we have to hurry. We quickly water the horses and say goodbye, take a few photos with our hosts and then we're off. In Koshkor, we buy a melon, cucumbers and tomatoes at the market. The landscape becomes drier and when we get close to Issyk Kul, we have to pay a fee. We pass through Kara tala, where my last end point was, and after a 4-hour drive we reach Ak sai, where I started my trip last time. Peter really wants to barbecue a lamb and buys a leg.

Baktiar says there is wood at the lake! We have to take water with us from the village stream as there is no fresh water at the lake. So we buy beer, Coke and Sprite. We are back in civilization. A cloud front is approaching from the mountains. Hopefully the weather will hold. The view of the huge Issyk Kul almost makes you think you're at sea, and the gentle swell does the rest. It smells of Mediterranean herbs again. We just can't quite put our finger on it.

We collect wood for the fire, or rather undergrowth. I am horrified when I see how much garbage is lying around here, even the melon rinds and greenery are so much that the animals no longer eat it. It didn't look like this 9 years ago. We make lunch and Peter saves a few cucumbers and tomatoes to go with the leg of lamb for the salad in the evening. Olivia and I are amazed: Peter and salad - that can't be right? The storm clears, but only after a strong wind has blown the men's tent over. We go swimming and decide that Zsolt gets the women's tent, Peter, Olivia and I sleep on the beach and Baktiar and the driver sleep in the car. I sit down on the shore and realize that the bottle of beer and the 2 bottles of Coke we put in the water to cool off have floated away. Too bad about the beer. The leg of lamb is actually cooked on the small fire and the meat tastes very good. Peter misses the salad that we made especially for him, but it was gone far too quickly and he was busy eating meat first. For once, he was far too slow. The campfire gets really big with the undergrowth supplied by the driver and we start a rubbish-burning campaign, unfortunately just a drop in the ocean. It gets dark and Peter and Zsolt go to bed. We women are still sitting by the fire with Baktiar and the driver when suddenly a car arrives and a bunch of young men get out, roaring loudly. What is that? Baktiar doesn't seem to be feeling too well either. I see Peter appear on the horizon. The boys bring a guitar and sing a few songs for us and finally they can sing "Karindash", a Kyrgyz love song that I learned on my last tour. After a few tobleroni bars and some small change, they leave to continue the party. We arrange to meet Baktiar at 6:30 a.m. for a morning swim.


Thursday, 09.08. Issyk Kul - Bishkek

The sunrise is great, you don't even need to get out of your sleeping bag to take photos. Baktiar is not so convinced about swimming, but then jumps in with us. We want to leave at 8 a.m. and the departure is delayed by an hour because the car gets stuck in the sand. The driver takes it in his stride and before we finally set off, we have a 9 o'clock melon breakfast. We drive through the red canyon back to the main road. After a 5-hour drive and a lunch break on the main road, we arrive at the Hotel Kazakhstan in Bishkek. There are now billing problems with the driver, as he wants to be paid for the journey home. Peter has asked several times whether we have to pay for this and has always been told NO. He negotiates for the driver to take us to the Osh bazaar. Suddenly the situation changes and he offers to take us to the airport the next morning. Apparently he has done a good deal with us after all. So we stroll through the bazaar and spend our private soms. Peter still has enough in his travel fund to pay for the hotel and dinner for all of us.

Baktiar takes us to a restaurant where he likes to go himself. We see the Manas statue. Manas is the folk hero of the Kyrgyz. At the restaurant there is another statue of a rider carrying his horse. You can place your own hand in the shape of the rider's hand. The hand is huge. As the walk to the restaurant was quite long, we take a cab back and are soon at our hotel. Baktiar accompanies us with the driver to the airport at 4°° in the morning. We bid him a fond farewell. He did a great job as translator and guide. We had a lot of fun together.

Over the 14 days, we covered a total of 422 km and 8376 m of altitude with our horses. Peter always found the route with his GPS, even if the route on the 200,000-metre map wasn't quite accurate and we covered more kilometres from Toktokul to Son Kul than originally planned.

The weather was as varied as the country and the people. We saw and experienced a lot in a completely different culture and had a lot of fun.  

0 views0 comments


bottom of page