Saturday, June 21, 2008

Horsing Around Son-Kol

Son Kol is a lake in Central Kyrgyszstan. It sits at 3000m above sea level and is surrounded by mountains. In the summer dozens of nomadic families pack up their yurts and leave their villages to bring their livestock to the summer pastures.

Lara and I arranged a 3 day horse trek to the lake. We joined a swiss couple and a few guides and mounted the rather uncomfortable beasts. Our instruction consisted of "Get on the horse". "OK, now follow". There was no attempt to adjust the saddles or stirrups to us, and backpacks were simply tied on with random bits of rope.

The horses were very well behaved, but not very excited to go hiking. We learned eventually that the way to get them to move was to "teach them harder" with the little whips we were given. Nonetheless, one horse resisted to the point that only our guides had the heart to "teach him" hard enough.

We spent about 5 hours on horseback, riding through some lovely pastures, and then arrived at a yurt where we were given a great meal and some fermented horse milk. The next day we continued 5 hours more to reach the lake. It was incredibly impressive- vast flat grasslands surrounded by mountains. A number of yurts had been set aside for tourists and we were again fed a nice meal although the experience wasn't as "homey" as it had been the previous night. Clearly these shephards were more used to tourists.

It was an incredible feeling to stand in a field surrounded by horses, cows, and sheep. When night fell, the only light was from the stars. Central Asia is still a huge black expanse at night. It reminded us of another place we love: the Black Rock Desert. The world seemed to stretch forever, and all around us there was activity. People chased horses, dogs barked, children played, and fishermen cast their nets. It was magic.

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