A Day With The Mountain Horses

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

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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.

the wild mountain horse has now become a friend

the wild mountain horse has now become a friend

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.

local kids along the way

local kids along the way

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.

my lonely home under the heaven

my lonely home under the heaven

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.

A Kyrgyz mountain man, lord of the taigans

A Kyrgyz mountain man, lord of the taigans

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…

the road into Songkol lake

the road into Songkol lake

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.

finally, I managed to put my horses in good grass and managed to enjoy the beautiful view of Songkol

finally, I managed to put my horses in good grass and managed to enjoy the beautiful view of Songkol

natural mirror of Songkol

natural mirror of Songkol

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.

I recently got my new drone Phantom 3 Professional. Its an awesome drone, so easy to operate and very smooth and stable. No additional stabilization done in post. I was amazed with such a small camera (smaller than gopro) but it takes amazing 4k video. Really hope that they will record on ProRes instead of h.264 on their upcoming version. And no Im not tied/sponsored by any specific brand, Im a free man and I use the right tool for the job. Here is the sample footage that I shot with the drone (already graded). Watch in 2160p (4K) if you have fast connection.

Filmed & edited by me
Music by Philip Curran
location: Kochkor & Kol Ukok, Kyrgyzstan

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Staying a while and taking a good rest in Kochkor was great. Strangers became friends… and friends finally became closer like a family. People in Ormon Han village greeted me and fed me well with their traditional Kyrgyz food. They knew that I was tired after travelling for many days with two horses all the way from Karakol. They filled my stomach with kymyz. Drinking horse milk makes me stronger… and I need the strength to lift all my 50kg luggage on my horse and to pull my horses if they’re stuck on mud. Local kids in Kara Saz village were cheering on my cameras and when I flew my drone to get aerial footages of the village. Some say that I look a lot like a Kyrgyz man from the countryside… probably my burnt skin and my appearance. I look a lot like those horsemen who just descended from the mountains. Its just that when I start talking, I speak a language that is foreign to them… a language that is spoken by the brown people of the far south… people of the Pacifist…

the gangs of Kochkor... having meals together after a long day of fasting

the gangs of Kochkor… having meals together after a long day of fasting

After I gained back my strength… my horses too were ready for more adventures together. People of Ormon Han were waving at me while I was passing the street heading towards the fields… a graveyard and finally towards the wild mountains. The mountains are big and high, they look very near but trying to get to the foot of the mountains takes forever. Its mid summer now in Kyrgyzstan which means that I’m now battling against the heat every single day. Clouds seem afraid to appear to protect me against the fierce sun. The blue sky is naked without any clouds and the sun is attacking me directly with its heat. The mountains are steep so I chose my way carefully. I saw a big river and go through its valley which I thought was a good decision. After less than 10km riding through the valley, it became too steep and rocky and filled with trees… which makes it impossible to pass with my horses. So I had to turned back and find some other way towards the high mountains.

beautiful lighting in farming areas near Kochkor

beautiful lighting in farming areas near Kochkor

My horses were getting nervous and refused to cross the rivers. The rivers are big and deep and filled with big rocks. My horses are afraid of rocks… which makes it difficult to pass by the rocky mountains. Sometimes, I had to get down and pulled my horses through the big river and rocky areas. When they keep refusing, I had to calm them down and pulled them slowly. Travelling on horses really gave me another level of experience that I never get after many years travelling on a bicycle. I started to see things differently and I appreciate the nature even more. I have to think like a horse. I started to see the grass as my food… so that I know which grass is delicious for my horses. And I also have to be afraid of rocks just like my horses, so I will dodge them whenever I see them. I used my instinct to see if my horses are tired and hungry, so I know when to take a break and lead them to good grass. I learned how to smell the grass and see the quality of them by their colours. I began to think that taking care of horses is just like taking care of our own kids. Sometimes you have to be strict but gentle at the same time. And the horses need to love you. I learned to establish a good relation with my horses.

my bedroom

my bedroom

view from my balcony

view from my balcony

I couldnt find any other valley except for the river to get through the mountains. So I decided to climb one of the hills to get a better view from the top. Once on the hill, I started to see a way to get higher… so I kept going higher and higher until finally I saw a path towards the top of the mountain, probably a path used by sherperds. As I kept going higher through the mountains, I could see the peak of the mountains that are all covered with snow. And when I looked back, I could see Kochkor town far away from the valley… it was stunning. I kept going all the way until the shadow was about twice as long, which means the sun will set within 2-3 hours. I crossed a few small rivers and passed by a few sherperds living with their families up in the mountainside. Until the last part of the climb before I reached my destination, which is a beautiful high altitude mountain lake… my horses refused to keep going. I tried to force my horses to keep going but they kept refusing. I then went on foot and tried to pull them but they walked only a few meters forward then stopped again. I brought them to the lower land and let them feast the grass for a few minutes, where I thought they were both tired and hungry. Then I pulled them again to climb the last part, which is steep and rocky. But they kept refusing… fear were shown on their faces. I then gave up, sat alone on a rock… thinking what to do next.

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All out of a sudden, in the middle of the silence, came a thundering white horse with a young horseman coming down from the steep mountain. I was shocked to see the young horseman galloping fast from the steep rocky mountain with his white horse. The white horse was galloping as in it was a flat grassland… filled with confidence. I then asked him for help, as my horses refused to climb the last part of the mountain. He then smiled at me, telling me that my horses are stallion, they are Issykkul horses. They’re too big to climb steep mountains. What I need is a Narynski horse, smaller and even more agile than Issykkul horse… a true mountain horse. He then helped me by leading me and my horses to climb the steep rocky area but still my horses refused. So we changed horse, I rode his white horse and he rode my horses… and finally we managed to climb the last steep rocky part. Once on top, I could see the stunning view of Kol-Ukok, a small mountain lake sitting over 3000m above the sea level, surrounded by beautiful snow peak mountains. I was amazed with his horse. It was much smaller, skinny horse but very agile. The horse confidently chose his way down from the steep rocky part running down towards the mountain lake… very impressive.

having dinner near the lake after a hard day of ride

having dinner near the lake after a hard day of ride

majestic view of Kol-Ukok mountain lake

majestic view of Kol-Ukok mountain lake

The young horseman then helped me to pitch my tent and went galloping away with his horse back towards one of the mountain. A few minutes later, he came back with his father and brothers, taking a few mountain horses with them, all galloping towards me. They told me that the lake contains delicious fish and they planned to catch some. The father told me that I will have problem riding my horses in Naryn mountains since the mountains here are very steep and rocky, much higher than the mountains in Issykkul Province. Issykkul horses are good for eating, they’re big with a lot of meat but poor for riding in high mountains. So he offered me to change one of my horse with his horse. I agreed as I was impressed to see Narynski horses in action. So he let me try all his horses for me to choose. I took his horses towards the steep mountains. I was so impressed, I almost fell down from one of the horses as I didnt expect that the horse would gallop while climbing and descending the steep rocky mountain. It was so impressive. They are small horses but they seem not to fear anything. So I finally changed my black horse with one of his horse. A yellow horse, 3 years old… small and skinny but very impressive mountain horse. It has no horse shoe but I can put it in Kochkor anytime if I want. A good trade…

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beautiful evening in my campsite at the shore of Kol-Ukok

trying to catch some fish after trading horses with me

trying to catch some fish after trading horses with me

After done trading horses with me, I sit near my tent enjoying my hot tea watching them trying to catch some fish on the lake. They’re nomads, living in the mountains near the lake… catching fish and taking care of their sheep and horses all summer. After an hour, they disappear.. back to the mountains. I spent my time alone through the night. It is a very desolated place. So quiet here… so peaceful. If Im a musician I could create a beautiful music just by sitting alone here watching the beautiful view. But since Im not a musician, I took my pen and diary and started writing, putting everything that came to my mind on paper, so that I will remember them. Once in a while, I looked up, watching the sky changed colours… from day to night. The night is short at this time of the year. Its only about 6 hours before the sun rises again. But the night here is bright… filled with stars and the shooting stars are all over. The nightscape in Kol-Ukok is something really special. I kept on watching them… never get bored.

the nomads

the nomads

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beautiful nightscape of Kol-Ukok

beautiful nightscape of Kol-Ukok lit by the celestial lights

Early in the morning, the nomads came again to the same place where they put the net to get the fishes. They helped me to pack and wish me all the best on my journey as I descended from the mountains. I was so happy riding my new Narynski horse, I had the same feeling as when I got a new toy when I was a child. I had no problem crossing big rivers and descending steep mountains. My mountain horse was so confident and my other stallion who carried all my luggage was also confident following the mountain horse. Only problem is it is difficult to control as Im still not used to riding a mountain horse. Sometimes it went too fast towards every direction and I had to really guide the horse to the right path. Only after less than 4 hours, I descended the big mountain areas and reached the farming area near Kok Jar. I then saw an area with good green grass which is near someone’s farm, so I went to the farmer to ask his permission to pitch my tent near his field. The farmer and his family were so kind to me. They came to my tent on sunset to give me some horse milk and meat. It seems that people here really value travellers, especially those who came on horses.

view from my balcony early morning

view from my balcony early morning

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my new mountain horse, small, skinny but extremely fast

my new mountain horse, small, skinny but extremely fast

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