A short 10 minutes video showing the experiences I had of over 400 days filming my solo adventure in the Tien Shan mountains in Kyrgyzstan. The initial idea was to continue cycling, but I had to rethink when the snow started to fall from the Kyrgyz sky covering its mountains…
I then went to Finland to learn skiing from the Finns in the Arctic for almost a month. Upon returning to Kyrgyzstan, I then started my journey crossing the mountains on my skis for almost 400km. When the snow started to melt, I then continued my journey on horseback… watching the nomadic life under the shadow of the Tien Shan…
Filmed & Edited by me
Music by Philip Curran
After I ended my solo adventure on horses crossing the Tien Shan in the middle of summer, I went back to Bishkek for a few days to welcome 2 young adventurers from Malaysia. A year living in Kyrgyzstan, I became familiar with the mountains, so sometimes I became a guide for tourists from all over the world who want to explore the Kyrgyz mountains. I then had the idea to welcome tourists from my own country, Malaysia. So I posted the idea on Facebook to lead a small group of Malaysians to travel on horses through the Tien Shan… travelling through valleys, following rivers, getting lost deep inside Tien Shan and wild camping near the river under the stars for multiple days. I then received 2 brave souls who took the challenge… Shazwan and Hanim, both young and adventurous. After I did a small research on their background, I confidently welcomed them to join me and my horses. I was there waited for them right after they entered Kyrgyzstan, Hanim through the Manas International Airport in Bishkek, and Shazwan through Korday border pass coming from Kazakhstan.
We spent a day exploring Bishkek, visiting the bazaars and get enough food supplies for 2 weeks, then we shoot straight to Songkul Lake, the starting point of our journey… early morning the next day. It was good to see Malaysian faces here in Tien Shan… conversing in our own language. It was quite rush to take them to Songkul Lake right on the next day, sitting at over 3000m altitude from Bishkek which sits only around 800m. They started to feel dizzy at first so we took it easy. We spent the first day doing nothing except enjoying the beautiful view and stayed in a yurt to enjoy the exotic Kyrgyz cuisine. Early the next morning, I let them to try all my horses and to choose which horses they would like to ride for the journey. It was good to see that theyre both a fast learner. At first, they struggled even to get on the horseback and I was afraid to let them ride freely without me holding the rope. But only after 1/2 hour, they both were shouting happily, galloping fast along the Songkul lake. Watching the smiles on their faces made me happy.
A few hours later, after we filled our stomach with Kyrgyz lunch in my friend’s yurt, our journey then began. As usual, I rode with 2 of my horses, one for me and one carrying the luggage, leading them along the lake. The excitement were seen on their faces since they were still fresh at the beginning of the adventure. Songkul lake is huge, but riding our horses around it made us to realize that the lake is much bigger than it looks. We couldnt ride close to the shore since it was swampy so we had to ride near the hills instead, which made our journey much longer. We only rode less than 20km on the first day which put us near a sherperds yurt. We pitched our tents nearby to sleep under the cloudy sky on the first night. I woke up in the middle of the night, around 1am and realized that one of my horses went missing. When i went closer, I found only the rope left. Since I was too tired and needed more sleep, I just ignored it and continued to sleep. The horses wont get too far anyway, there were many horses there so most probably my missing horse went to find some female horses. So the next morning, the sherperd who lived in the yurt came to help me to find my missing horse. After a few minutes, we spotted my missing horses far away with a group of other horses, about 3-4km away near the shore of the lake.
After I managed to catch my horse back with the help of the sherperd, both Hanim and Shazwan finally woke up so we had breakfast together and stayed a few hours doing nothing but enjoying the surroundings, watching hundreds of horses galloping freely on the vast steppe near Songkul lake, stretching from where we stood all the way towards the far horizon and connects with the snow covered mountains of the Tien Shan, which separates the steppe with the sky. Only when the sun was high enough, we got on our horses to continue the journey. We rode slowly, it took us 4 days in total riding along the Songkul lake before heading towards a mountain pass to proceed further. We once came across Kok Boruu horse game while in Songkul. Both Hanim and Shazwan started to feel bored crossing the flat plain for days in Songkul, until we crossed the wild and steep mountain pass to get to a small village of Kizart, which was where the real excitement came in. It was steep, somewhere between 60-65 degrees and it was raining, which makes it dangerous since it was slippery as well. They dont have experience riding horses through steep mountains but I was confident to take them on this road since my horses are Naryn horses, a true Kyrgyz mountain breed. The climb was easy but a slow one, since the horses were tired… but the descend was scary, since it was steep and slippery. It took us about 2 hours to descend from the mountain pass before we reached a flat space to pitch our tents for the night. Once we reached our campsite, we were all excited that we managed to go through the mountain pass safely.
I feel proud of these 2 young adventurers. Even though it was their first time to do this kind of trip, they never complain, not a single one. They both have a very good attitude, they accepted all the hardship living on the road and always positive in whatever situation we came across. After passing Kizart, we took the mountain road, riding through steep valleys and along rivers and steep mountainside slowly on our way to Kochkor, which took us a few days. On all 9 days on horseback, we went camping all the way, mostly consuming camping food but once in a while we were invited by the locals either to have tea or complete dinner or breakfast without asking a single cent in return, a true Kyrgyz hospitality. Both are excited to see each other, Hanim and Shazwan were excited to see the local Kyrgyz way of life and the Kyrgyz were excited to see us Malaysian tourists, since we were the rare type :p
Our 9 days horse riding trip ended in another mountain lake called Kol Ukok, a less known destination for tourists which sits also around 3000m altitude. We spent a night camping near the lake before heading back to Bishkek since Hanim needed to catch a flight back to Malaysia and I spent another few more days with Shazwan doing some light trekking in southern Issykkul area. It was a good 2 weeks journey, I think I will organize more similar trips like this in the future. Kyrgyzstan has so much things to offer but there are not so many tourists here… this country is really a road less travelled.
Here are a short video about the trip. Sorry that I dont include the English subtitles for this one, I was just lazy. Maybe you just guess what theyre saying hehe… but you can still enjoy the scenery captured here!
A short video of a normal yet beautiful day spent with my horses somewhere in the mountains of Naryn, Central Kyrgyzstan.
Filmed & Edited by me
Music composed by Philip Curran
I have no problem crossing big rivers, rocky mountains and steep valleys with my new mountain horses that I exchanged with the sherperds a few days ago. My horses now seem confident taking each of their steps in the wild path through the harsh condition in the Naryn mountains. The wild mountains here in Naryn is just like their playground.. just like us walking in a shopping mall. The mountain horse I’m riding is wearing no horse shoes, it seems that he doesnt need one. It was difficult to ride the mountain horse at first, difficult to control as it is wild but after a day I started to build a healthy relationship with my new mountain horse. The horse tried to runaway from me while I was drinking the water from the river on the first day of ride. But after a while, the horse is used to me… used to my smell, used to my voice and my emotion. Us strangers have become friends… a travel companion… we are now in a same team.
But the road is filled with lessons, lessons that need to be learned. Once a problem is solved, another one appears… that is life. Once I descended from the mountains, I rode through graveyards, farming areas and finally a paved road. I was heading south and after asking some local farmers, it seems that I have no other choice but to ride along the paved roads for some 40km. There is no other way, the lonely paved road is surrounded by steep… almost 90 degrees huge rocky mountains, impossible for my horses to pass. So I have to ride along the road for a few hours to cover the 40km distance and my horses were so nervous whenever lorries and trailers were passing by fast. The road is actually connecting China and Kyrgyzstan, it runs from Bishkek to the north all the way to Torugart Pass to the south, connecting into Urumqi of China. So the traffic is filled with trucks and trailers sending goods between China and Kyrgyzstan. My horses however, are wild mountain horses, they’re used to mountainous condition but not used to see trucks and trailers, which probably look like angel of death to them. Whenever trucks or trailers passing by, my mountain horse will run aimlessly… afraid. It was dangerous and challenging. Whenever I see incoming trucks or trailers, I have to hold their hair tight and stop them from running away since it was very dangerous. Sometimes I saw a path in the mountains along the road but when I rode through the path, it gets me nowhere, so I had to turn back to the paved road. At this point of my ride, I started to miss my bicycle. At least with my bicycle I can just cruise fast along the road. But with horses, I feel sorry for them, I kept on whispering to my horses telling them everything is going to be fine.
After hours of battling against the heat on the paved road, I finally reached a grassland, green grass which looks delicious to my horses. I let my horses to take a break and feast on the fresh grass before continuing further, looking for a river since Im out of water. After about an hour letting my horses to rest, I continued further through a narrow valley, then an open grassland, then a beautiful mountain areas with river flowing beneath it. The sun was about 3 fingers away from the horizon, roughly another 45 minutes before sunset so I decided to pitch my tent and put my horses to rest. As usual I did my routine, washing cooking etc before the sky slowly turns dark, before the sun slowly dim its light, giving ways to the distant stars to glow and reveal their beauty in the dark mysterious sky. I slept early, it was calm… the only sound I heard was the flowing river and my horses chewing the grass just outside my tent.
I woke up in the middle of the night by the sound of my horses. It was a normal thing so I tried to get back to sleep. But then my horses kept whining in a strange way, suggesting me that something is not right. I tried to concentrate, letting my soul to attach firmly to my physical body slowly, trying to get my mind back to this realm of space and time from the realm of my dream. I put on the headlight on my forehead and went out from my tent to check if everything is okay with my horses. They stopped whining and became calm once they saw me. I looked around to check the surroundings. When my headlight is aimed across the river, I saw a few pair of eyes, glowing and mysterious in the dark, moving randomly… telling me that something is out there in the wild trying to cross the river. The flowing water from the river produced too much noise, I couldnt hear any howling to confirm whether those mysterious eyes were wolves or female horses. My horses can become nervous from 2 things, wolves and female horses. They can become crazy and start running wildly when they came across these 2 creatures. But by judging on where I was at that time, I was pretty sure they might be wolves, since Im far in the wild. I then quickly cut some tree branches, gathered some tree bark, dead leaves and dry grass to make a quick fire right near my horses to scare away the wolves. I then sit inside my tent, letting a small opening to my tent so that only one wolf can enter at a time so that I can kill them in case they would go for me instead of my horses.
After a few minutes of waiting, nothing happened. My heart started to beat fast since waiting is usually far worst than the real event itself. My mind is telling me that the wolves are planning their strategy for an ambush, so the silence made me even more nervous. Suddenly my horses were screaming again. I held my knife firmly on my left hand and my right hand is holding the horse saddle as a shield. I crouched lower, getting into position to pounce, which is the best position for both attack and defense in a fight. But I didnt hear any sound of wolves, instead, I heard a sound of horseman riding towards the river and I felt so relieved when I heard the sound of barking dogs. The sound is familiar, it is not normal dog, but it was the sound of Taigans, a type of dog found in Kyrgyz mountain who doesnt fear the wolves. Instead, Taigans are used by Kyrgyz hunters to kill wolves…. very brave dogs. I quickly went out from my tent, I saw a man on a mountain horse together with his few Taigans guarding him, riding slowly towards me under the dim moonlight and the milky way. He then greeted me by saying Salam Aleikum, which means peace be upon you in Arabic. He said that he live in a yurt nearby, he saw me in the evening pitching my tent but never want to bother me. He was watching me if Im ever in danger sleeping near his territorry and realized that I was in danger from the fire I made. Wolves attack is a normal thing, he said to me. They dont go for humans, they usually come after the sheep, so dont be so nervous. He then let the Taigans to roam around my camping area to guard me and my horses for the rest of the night. I looked up at the stars, giving thanks to the Creator for sending this man and his taigans to guard me. Looking at the sky, I saw the stars, the planet and all the universe… it was a beautiful night. The man then came to visit me again after the sunrise with his donkey, taking his son with him, feeding me with bread and kymyz. A saviour sent by the Almighty…
I continued my journey climbing into higher altitude, crossing a mountain pass… then another. After the second mountain pass, I saw a beautiful view, a wide world… filled with mountains and a lake from afar. I smiled, I finally saw my destination from afar after weeks and weeks of tough ride. Its Songkol lake, a beautiful mountain lake sitting above 3000m altitude. I kept riding, the lake seems bigger and bigger when I rode towards it. The mountains surrounding it seems higher and higher. I finally reached the shore of the lake, there were many yurts, owned by local people here who live here all summer hosting tourists, both local and foreign. They greeted me with smiles on their faces, wondering where I came from. My dark burnt skin made them think that Im a local Kyrgyz man from the countryside but the shape of my face looks foreign to them. Telling them that Im from Malaysia made them excited, as they dont really meet Malaysian people so often. One of them told me that there was a Malaysian a year ago came to this place. I just smiled, they forgot my face. It was me, as I came to this place not by horses but with my friend a year ago. They were amazed that I came all the way from Karakol pulling 2 horses alone for weeks and weeks. Theyre Kyrgyz, theyre horselords so they know well things that I have went through. They then took care of my horses, feed me with meat, bread, rice, tea and kymyz until I cant eat anymore. They took care of me like Im one of their own, like Im a Kyrgyz man myself.
One of the thing that I hate the most about travelling with my horses is packing the horse in the morning. took me more than 1/2 hour to uninstall all the ropes, tie the saddles, check the horse shoes, carry the heavy luggage to the horse etc. much harder than packing my stuffs on my bicycle. at least bicycle doesnt move… but horses are living creatures… they move a lot. but now my horses are like my own family… my brothers. we understand each other… a good experience.