7th September 2016
The guys welcomed us back to Kyrgyzstan for our third ride, with bear-hugs. Skirting Bishkek we headed East towards sunrise and Karakol. Marat received a call about some ‘Hunters’ Games’ so we joined the snaking dust cloud from Lake Issy Kul towards the high Bozsalkyn Valley where hundreds had gathered to celebrate 80 years of permanence in the area.
Archers hit targets from galloping horses, golden eagles swooped on wolf pelts dragged behind horses and jockeys raced horses round the 3 mile ersatz track. Cauldrons bubbled behind yurts and smoke rose from sizzling shashlyks near car tailgates. Delicious!
In Karakol animal market we learned to value shashlyk on-the-hoof and watched alternative farriery. We saw the Przewalski foal with its parents and visited Nikolai’s museum. The timber Orthodox cathedral looked beautiful against the blue sky; as did the Dungan mosque. Shukrat bought food; we bought vodka. After spending a night with an eagle hunter’s family we headed for the 13,450 ft Ton Pirival Pass and the Tien Shan (Mountains of Heaven). Stinging hail alternated with snow that froze on our reins and waterproofs.
The sun rose hot. As we circled the turquoise Teshik-Kol glacial lake, geese flew to its middle. Soon they with their surviving young – ill-advisedly laid in marmot burrows – would head to India for winter. A marsh harrier led the way across ‘Black Marsh’.
Over the next week our stallions carried us the length of vast alpine plains, picked their way down vertiginous rock-strewn gorges, negotiated boulders dumped by snow melt in river-beds and climbed passes 11,000 – 13,000ft. For 140 miles they never put a foot wrong.
Alerted to our approach by barking dogs with wagging tails, shepherds extended invitations to share kumis, bread, cream and jam with their families. One said we were the first to pass in over a year. Their yurts were scattered miles apart along the way, always next to blackened dung-trodden sheep-folds and recycled commercial trailers, with herds of horses, sheep, yak and cattle on the horizon. We camped by waters roaring towards the great Naryn and marveled at the clear beauty of the Milky Way.
In Bishkek, celebrating 25 years freedom from Soviet rule, we joined the screaming, whistling, deafening crowd in the National Hippodrome and watched Talas beat Osh 4 -1 at Kok Boru. Having ridden across The Talas Mountains last year we screamed too.
Wonderful Kyrgyzstan – unthinkable not to return again!