Tell us more… I spent a quick five days exploring the Tien Shan Mountains in Kyrgyzstan on a horse trek. Kyrgyzstan is an extremely mountainous country, and has just completed an initiative to mark and map a network of trekking trails. And as I am a bit of a horse nut, and Kyrgyzstan is one of the most horse-crazy countries on the planet, it seemed right to do my exploring from the back of a hardy steed.
In a nutshell… This was a completely off-the-grid adventure involving a five-and-a-half-hour four-wheel-drive ride into the mountains along the Chinese border, mostly on unpaved old Soviet roads and dirt tracks, with the odd horse/sheep/goat traffic jam. I stayed at a yurt camp and took horse treks during the day, visiting the otherworldly Köl-Suu lake, watching September snowfall while staying warm over a fire and drinking Kyrgyz tea sweetened with wild-blackcurrant jam.
Defining moment? Standing under the starriest sky I have ever seen, shivering under two coats and sipping Kyrgyz cognac from the bottle to keep warm. With the nearest light pollution at least five hours away in any direction (if not much, much more), the Milky Way goes from horizon to horizon here. I am pretty knowledgeable about the night sky, but there were so many stars that I completely lost all sense of where familiar constellations and ‘bright stars’ even were. It was just a giant, glimmering mass, so bright you could find your way to the outhouse without a head torch by starlight alone.
Good grub? Kyrgyz nomad food is hearty and designed to help you withstand frigid, long winters and very high altitudes. There’s a lot of bread, jam, black tea, soups and noodles. I was suffering from a little bit of altitude sickness and the tea, jam and bread was the perfect comfort food.
You’d be a muppet to miss… Köl-Suu. It is the sort of lake that only exists in your dreams, or in some bygone adventurer’s travelogue. After a two-hour horse ride to get there, it started snowing, which only made the shards of grey peaks rising up out of milky turquoise water that much more otherworldly.
Fridge magnet or better? My nomad hostess gifted me with a giant jar of her homemade jam, made from blackcurrants she harvested in the mountains. It was a risky game putting it into my luggage but luckily it arrived home in tact (and my clothes unscathed from jam residue).
Fave activity? Just being on horseback out in the wild, so far from anywhere. It is a magical experience that is tough to describe. You become very aware of things like the sound of the wind and the feeling of letting your horse take his own sure-footed strides over sometimes rocky and sometimes marshy landscapes and through frigid rivers. We also took a boat ride out into the middle of Köl-Suu, but the motor was broken so we had to row. That definitely made it more memorable.
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Want more behind-the-scenes adventures? Find out what Destination Editor Trisha Ping got up to on her recent journey on the Trans-Mongolian Railway.