After another big feed at Fatima’s guest house, we shifted all our warm clothes into the one bag, and left everything else behind, because today we are starting a three day horse trek deep (not really) into the Kyrgyzstan mountains to visit beautiful Song-Kul (Song Lake).
Our first surprise of the day was stepping outside of the guesthouse and seeing how much fresh snow was on the mountains around Kochkor. It is officially the second day of summer (June 2nd), but it is still snowing in the mountains… We were told by some people that it’s not yet possible to visit Song-Kul due to all the snow, but the tour agency, CBT in Kochkor, said that it is possible and not to worry. My biggest worry was being warm enough at night. Yesterday I asked if we needed to bring sleeping bags. The reply was that we should bring them if we have them, but since we don’t have any, we should be alright anyway – reassuring.
It was about an hour and a half transfer in a private taxi from Kochkor to Tygart, where we started the tour. We’ve recently been fascinated by the cemeteries here – they look like miniature cities. I’m sure the local drivers and guides find it odd that we’re taking photographs of cemeteries.
We crossed Tygart Pass, which is 2700m above sea level, and there was snow on the ground. Our camp tonight is at 2800m, and tomorrow we are to cross a pass on horseback at 3400m… I’m mildly concerned and thinking that maybe we should have skipped this and gone to Turkey early and spent more time relaxing on a beach and eating kebabs…
We arrived in Tygart and the clearish skies of Kochkor were well and truly behind us. It was cold and miserable, and the first drops of rain were starting to fall. The town was just that – a town. Apart from a few signs pointing to CBT guesthouses, there wasn’t much here for tourists. As they prepared the horses (which look like real horses, not the little pony-like ones we rode in Mongolia) we started getting ourselves prepared for wet weather, putting on raincoats and covers on our packs. It’s right about now that I regret putting off buying waterproof pants when I had the chance. I’d even be happy with a $2 poncho – at least that might give my legs some rain protection.
We saddled up and took off down the backstreets of Tygart. We were immediately amazed at the comfort of the saddles. There was padding, and not once did either of us grimace in pain like we did in Mongolia. The horses might have been bigger and more comfortable, but they were much slower and lazier. It took a fair kick to get mine to pick up his pace. They were pretty easy to ride though – happy to just follow the horse in front without much guidance or intervention from us.
With the weather being the way it was, and with visibility being so poor, I didn’t bother with my camera – I kept it tucked away safely in my backpack. Today will have to rely on words, rather than images. Sorry.
It didn’t take too long for the drizzle to turn to rain and for my jeans to get cold, wet and heavy. Sure, it wasn’t that cold (5-10C), but my fingers were numb and my legs were shaking. Now it was especially beneficial that the horses were following the trail without much input from us, allowing us to put our hands onto the warmth of the horse’s neck and getting back some feeling and movement in our fingers.
There was a sudden opening of clear weather, which gave my clothes a chance to dry out a little, and made me think that the worst of the weather was over. We had our first glimpses of the mountains either side of the valley, but we could also see the dark skies either side of us along the valley. The wind picked up, so even though the rain had stopped and we were dry, it was actually starting to feel colder.
After about three hours in the saddle, slowly making our way up the valley, we stopped to get a bite to eat. But, as soon as we stopped, the rain started again, so we ate some snacks, I put on a down jacket, and we kept moving.
We started gaining altitude ever so slowly, and as we did we noticed the drizzle was turning to sleet. At first it was just the occasional clump of slush that we could see falling, but before too long it was unmistakeably more of a wet snow than rain. Not even the warmth of the horse was giving my fingers back their feeling.
The last hour travelling to the night’s accommodation felt like an entire day. I just wanted the horses to run all the way there so we could dry off by the fire –and there had better be fire. However, the horses just wanted to continue at the same slow trot, and since they are larger than me, they won that battle of wills. When we came around the final corner and I could see the yurt camp, I wanted to jump off my horse and run the rest of the way. Yes, I was that excited.
We stepped inside, and to my utter disappointment, there was no fire. At least not yet. They were hard at work getting one started though, dipping horse/cow dung into kerosene to get the fire to light. It took a while, but eventually we were no longer cold and wet, but instead we were roasting in a dry sauna.
Tea (and jam) was brought out, and after a cup or two I was ready to sink in to bliss in a new found pocket of warmth and comfort that I didn’t think I would ever find again.
We didn’t dare venture outside, and for the next three hours we sat inside, in the dark and warm tent. It came as a massive surprise when someone opened the door of the tent and we saw that it was completely white outside and we were back in full winter mode again. I thought that it might be a fun novelty to spend a night in a yurt in the snow, but now that that reality looked likely, I was having second thoughts. The yurts were waterproof, but they didn’t look particularly well insulated, especially at the base where there 1-2cm gaps around edge of the tent. There was a felt lining, but it wasn’t complete and you could see large gaps in this insulation.
Dinner was brought to us, and it was an excellent bowl of spicy soup with dumplings (travelling the world sampling dumplings). I felt a little sorry for them, because the farm house (the herder family had a real brick house) was about a 500m walk down the valley, and the lady was walking up and back in the mini blizzard bringing up food and drinks.
The beds were laid out and the sun set which gave us little option but to go to sleep. The fire was fuelled one last time. The heat inside the tent is incredible from these simple fires, but I know that once the fuel is consumed, it’ll quickly get cold…
We’re crossing our fingers and toes, hoping for a clear day tomorrow… Or at least a dry one.