The day I left Barskoon was a tricky one. It was challenging, dangerous but adventurous. I couldn’t find a clear path on the big rocky hills around Barskoon towards the west and I had to climb high on one of the big hill. It was nothing more than a trap. The slope down was steep. I had no other choice but to descend the steep rocky hill on the other side to get to a river. In the middle of the descend, I then realized that it was a mistake. My black horse was too afraid to descend the rocky hill… got panic and fell down. I fell down in front of my horse and I fell hard on big rocks. Luckily I was okay. I should have turn back and find a safer path towards the river. My luggage turned upside down on my other horse which means I have to repack everything all over again…. and I was in the middle of the descend on the steep hill.
My tripod fell down from my bag to the ground making a sound that made my horses nervous. Once the tripod hit the ground, it rolls and my horses were running away from it and they fell down even more. It was a really dangerous moment for all of us. I was tired and my whole body was painful from the fall but there were no one there to come to an aid. I have been in many difficult situation and managed to solve all problems before. But sometimes, I just feel exhausted, sometimes I need help from someone. But being a solo travelling nomad, I have learned to be patience, relax my mind and work out on the solution in both world, the seen and the unseen. On the seen world which is the physical world, I do my best to solve the problem. I strive hard no matter how tired and painful my body is. On the unseen world which is the world of my soul, I pray to god, leaving everything for Him to decide after I’ve done my best… it is tawakkal… in Arabic. I took my tripod and climbed back to get to my horses, slowly. I had to work out on the solution to get my horses down. Whether I can descend to the river safely or not is not my concern, that’s up to god to decide. My task is to do the best I could…
I went to my horses to calm them down. Horses are like dogs, they’re clever and they can somehow read our mind. I have learned to communicate with horses from my horsemaster, Almaz from Jolkolot village in Karakol. I then realized his words, my horses will get panic if I’m panic. He taught me if I cross a big river or steep mountainside, I have to be brave. If I’m panic, they will sense it and they will get panic too. I guess now I have learned the hard way. It took me ½ hour to repack everything again on the steep hill before I finally got back on my horse and completed the descend. I didn’t go far on that day. Once I hit the river I called it a day. I pitched my tent near the river and put my horses on good grass for the night.
I continued my journey early the next day once the sun showed up. It was extremely hot and windy. Once in a while I looked up in the sky, looking for clouds to cover the direct sun… but I saw none. I then kept my head down and kept going. I turned south away from the lake of Issykkul, towards the snow mountains… towards the Tosor pass, which is almost 4000m high. Towards the snow mountains, the grass is good. Travelling on horses is totally different than travelling on a bicycle or a ski. I cant think only about myself, but I have to think about the horses as well. By the end of the day I have to make sure that I end up somewhere with good source of water and green grass. My horses need to eat and rest well before a long day of walking, climbing and descending.
While I was going slowly towards the Tosor pass, my horses got nervous. I then realized there was a Kyrgyz horseman gallopping towards me. He was wearing a highcut boot, thick pants and leather jacket… showing that he came from a cold place, probably from the mountainside. He was wearing a white hat to cover his head, suggesting me that hes probably a devout Muslim. He greeted me in Kyrgyz… and since my Kyrgyz is so poor I had to greet him in Russian. He told me that he lives very near the Tosor pass and invited me to pitch my tent near his home, where the good grass are. Once again I tasted the hospitality of the Kyrgyz people from the countryside. He helped me taking care of my horses and invited me to his home to serve me the only food he has, butter, bread, tea and jam. He has no job and it looks like he doesn’t need one. He lives with his animal in a small house but the land area is big… enough to house his cows and horses. He lives without electricity… only candle to lit the house at night. After he fed me and let my horses to eat the fresh grass in his area, he helped me repack the next morning and showed me
I kept riding west and began to cross the dry tundra areas in the lower Tien Shan mountain range. It was way too hot and very windy… reminds me of my crossing of the Gobi Desert in Mongolia a year ago. For almost the whole day I was crossing into red earth and sand. Both my horses and me were exhausted. No rivers or stream for me to get water for drinking and no grass for my horses to eat while Im taking a rest. It was difficult riding through big canyons and rocky hills. Sometimes I had to turn back and find other ways as it was really steep to descend from one hill to another. This kind of terrain is foreign for my horses. There were no sign of human anywhere. I was completely alone and it was very quiet. I had to calm my horses down a few times since they were always nervous crossing big rocks. I only felt relieved once I saw green grass from afar… where I knew where I will pitch my tent by the end of the day and put my horses to eat. Right after I reached the grassland, the rain started pouring in. Looking at the sky estimating the weather forecast, its good to know that it gonna be cloudy for the next few days…
The calendar finally turned into a new page, marks the month of June. Less clouds dominating the sky, giving its way to the sun to shine proudly, sharing the heat and encouraging the world of flora to flourish. The snow has melted here, turned into water and the earth filled with fresh green grass and colourful wild flowers. Water from rivers and streams started flowing. From the ground where my feet were stepping… my eyes were drawn all the way to where the earth and the sky meet in the far horizon… watching countless souls living a new life. The wolves have left to the higher mountain peaks to hide… giving ways for sherperds to fill the land with their sheep in search for fresh good grass. The summer season is finally here in the land where 2 great mountain ranges meet… the Pamir and the Tien Shan. Everything happens exactly when and where it should be… exactly as it was written. I see all these as how the nature communicates with me, sending me a sign that I should be on the road again, to keep moving like nomads… not in search for better grass for my herds… but in search for more experiences, to learn about both the universe and myself… to find more ideas for me to keep writing, to fill more pages of my grand journal, where I will share it with my son one day when he is able to understand things, and for him to share it with his son when Im no more walking in this realm of space and time….
Everything were prepared, my feet were already inside my boots, my stove are ready for hardwork again, food stock for weeks were already packed but both my bicycle and my skis are still in my home in Bishkek… abandoned and covered with dusts. This time Im not travelling with my bicycle or my skis anymore, but instead Im trying something new here. I will travel with my 2 horses. I started having relation with horses and riding them since Im in Central Asia but never travel with them. This is going to be something totally new for me. The memory when I first started travelling on my bicycle 5 years ago in Chengdu, China was so fresh inside my mind. I had exactly the same feeling now, dont know and have no idea what Im doing. Im never prepared to travel with my horses alone, but I will just go. There are some fear inside me but that makes me focus and becoming aware of my actions. People in Karakol particularly in Jolkolot village were so kind for helping me to prepare. I get many tips from Almaz, the horsemaster, the man who taught me everything I need to know about horse. I started my journey from his home where I put my horses, in Jolkolot village. Right before I started my long journey, Almaz invited me for a tea and bread. Then came another friend named Khairat, who decided to accompany me for 3 days until Ak Terek. After we finished our quick meal, Almaz bid farewell to both Khairat and me following the Kyrgyz tradition and we finally left his place towards the mountains.
We travelled for about 6 hours daily, covering less than 40km a day since the road we were taking was difficult, crossing high mountains. The view is magical under the light of summer, it is so colourful unlike the wintertime where everything is covered with thick snow. After hours of hardwork, it was a relief to see the birdeye view of the Issykkul Lake from the mountainpass. It looks so grand, the vast high altitude lake seems endless from afar, when the blue lake connects with the blue sky when seen from the far distance. I took the advantage travelling by horses to go to places that I can never reach with my bicycle, almost the same road I took when I was travelling with my skis last winter… but the view is totally different now, almost like in totally a different place. Khairat and me just kept riding until when the shadow was twice as long, when the sun is about six fingers away from the western horizon, we stopped and found a place to pitch our tent, a place where we found good grass for our horses. Our stomach were making strange sound from the inside, giving a signal that we should cook and feed ourself while our horses were already enjoying the fresh grass in the mountains. We spent the rest of the daylight watching the beautiful view of the surroundings, enjoying every moment, the fresh air in our every breath.
Many local people are worried about me travelling alone with my horses here crossing the mountains. They said that travelling on a bicycle or even on a ski through the wild mountains is okay. But on horses, I will attract wolves to come right towards my campsite. My argument is different. Travelling on horses is safer, since if wolves ever come, they will go after the horses instead of me. Wolves… like dogs, are brainy. They will choose the weaker target. They know humans carry weapons with them. So if I ever cross under a wolf attack, I will have the advantage to sneak and attack the wolves since they will be busy concentrating on the horses instead of me. But I always put their warnings into weight. The mountains are filled with sherperds now during summer time, so I feel safer camping near their territorries. And of course, if there are wolves nearby, they will surely go for the sheep instead. There is a man from Jolkolot village in Karakol even offered me to take his fierce taigan with me, to protect me from wolves at night. I refused, the offer is too much for me to embrace. Taigan is a type of dog found in Kyrgyzstan who doesnt fear the wolves. Kyrgyz hunters often used them to hunt wolves in the mountains, usually pair them together with their golden eagle. During the hunt, hunters will release their taigans first to chase the wolf. The wolf gets panic and will start to run away. Only then, the hunter will finally release his deadly eagle to finish the job. The Kyrgyz embrace the taigan so highly, the Kyrgyz delegation used to present a taigan dog to Norwegian delegation as a gift during their visit in Norway many years ago.
I learned so many things from Khairat during the 3 days ride towards Ak Terek together. He was a great travelling buddy. We didnt talk much during the ride since it was usually very harsh ride towards the wild road in the wild mountains. But when we stopped to camp, we exchange so many interesting stories. We learned from each other. He taught me so many important things I need to know about horses, and I taught him how to do namaz (prayer) the Muslim way since he was so interested to learn it. Hes not really a morning person, he usually wakes up when the sun is about 8-9 fingers away from the horizon. So I usually use my time alone early morning working on my film, cooking breakfast etc.
Having Khairat is also a great advantage for me. He speaks Kyrgyz and able to communicate with all the sherperds along the way to ask about the road ahead of us. After 3 days of ride, we reached Ak Terek and it was time to say good bye to him. He then returned back to Jolkolot to his family, and I proceed further west towards the sunset. From now on, my companion is my two horses, a black and brown horse. Kyrgyz horses are just like the Mongols, theyre smaller in size compared to European breed but much tougher. They probably cant gallop as fast as European horses but theyre very agile, they can climb high mountains yet they eat less food… making it perfect for long distance travel. Theyre also not choosy, they eat any grass and no extra supplements needed. I kept pressing further with my horses, climbing up and down the mountainside, getting myself lost deep inside the Tien Shan range. I passed by hills after hills, sherperds after sherperds. Theyre mountain people and very generous. They still keep their tradition strong… and maintain the law of hospitality. Whenever I stop by their bozuis, they will provide me bread, tea and airan, and will take care of my horses during my visit. After a short visit to their bozuis, they will accompany me until we reach high pass where the view is clear. After showing me the way, telling me which mountain I should cross, then I proceed alone… heading towards the horizon, going further trying to find out what is beyond the horizon…
I would like to share a short video I shot and edited during my stay in a yurt in HappyNomads in Karakol. It was a great stay and the Kyrgyz family here treated me not like a stranger but like I’m one of their own. Big thanks to these kind people for their hospitality. Do visit their website, www.happynomads.info
Kyrgyz people in the ancient times lived closely by the four elements of nature… earth, water, fire and wind. For them, being close to these four elements will give them happiness. They still hold the tradition to this day, living in a bozui (Kyrgyz yurts) to keep them close to the mother nature. Visiting the Kyrgyz bozui is a must when coming to Kyrgyzstan to experience their nomadic way of life and the Kyrgyz hospitality
Filmed & edited entirely by me
Music by Ordo Sahna – Omur
After my short visit in Bosnia Herzegovina refreshing my mind from my long journey in Central Asia, I was ready to continue my journey exploring the remote areas of Tien Shan in Kyrgyzstan. I then received an important message from TV AlHijrah, the Malaysian TV Station that has been airing my travelogue documentary, right after I arrived Manas Airport in Bishkek. They needed me to be back in the country for a few days, to attend an important event in Kuala Lumpur. With the short notice, I then made a quick decision and brought my family back to Kuala Lumpur. The important event was only a day but since I had so many things to settle back home, we ended up staying for a few weeks. It was a good visit… spending quality time with family and friends back home, speaking my native language everyday. I almost missed the spring season in Kyrgyzstan. When I flew back to Kyrgyzstan, it was still spring… but it was at the end of it. The sky was still covered with thick clouds, raining a few times a week but local people started to wear short pants and tshirt. It was already warm in this mountainous country.
I then went back to Issykkul Province to start planning my new adventure in the summer season. The weather is lovely now, the sun gives enough heat for me to wear only a tshirt and feel comfortable. I stayed in a new place in Karakol, in a yurt at the end of the town which is owned by a friend that I know through another friend from Bishkek. His sister graduated from New York Film Academy and is a film director together with her husband who owns a production company in Bishkek. They were doing a project filming a trailer for their upcoming feature film, a story about Kyrgyz people during the old Soviet times and I decided to help out and get involved in the project acting as a cinematographer.
A few days later I got lucky when the owner of the yurt, Tynch told me that theres a Sal-Burun festival going on in the north shore of Issykkul Lake. Its a hunting festival where hunters from all over Kyrgyzstan come to show off their skills hunting with their eagles, taigan dogs and falcons. This festival also holds other traditional nomad games such as archery and horse riding. It is basically an Olympic games for the nomads. I then went to the place called Kirchin to capture the festival on film. It was impressive to see their skills and I was also surprised to see the taigan dog which is not so big but being used to hunt wolves.
After a few days staying in Issykkul region, I took a marshrutka back to Bishkek since there was a Malaysian couple coming to Kyrgyzstan to visit this country for about 10 days and wanted me to guide them around here. So I met them in the Manas Airport here not so far from Bishkek and took them exploring the southern shores of Issykkul Lake. It was a good experience taking them exploring the valleys and the mountains in the Tien Shan here. They are both doctors, doing one of the toughest job… responsible with people’s lives. Listening to their stories gives me a new perspective, I learned so many things from them. They have seen many death from diseases and sickness that cannot be cured… and dealing with the family members requires a strong mind. After 15 years of experiences living their lives as doctors, they surely posses such a strong mind and I could see it in them here. Its their first time coming to a cold weather place and travelling to remote areas in Kyrgyzstan can be quite harsh but they never throw a single complain here and always smiling in any situation. The weather was quite grumpy in the mountains but they seem to manage it well.
I guess Im quite lucky since this is my first time guiding someone from Malaysia and it was already a great experience. They are so friendly and I feel like theyre my own brother and sister instead of strangers. Most importantly, they are great chef so they cook very good Malaysian food for me. This is a good start and I think I will be guiding more groups from Malaysia/Singapore soon. I took them to live in a yurt in Karakol and also to the beach of Issykkul and the valley of Aksu. I also took them to the Arashan Mountains with horses with the help of my horsemaster, Almaz who took one of his guide to come with us to explore the surrounding mountains. It is their first time on horses but they seem to be fast learners. They managed to climb steep mountains and cross rivers with the horses. Most importantly, they really enjoy the view and experience. I suggest them to come again next time at the end of summer so that I can bring them to other places, to higher mountains because now it is too early to take them to higher altitude places since its still covered with thick snow. After all, they already feel like home here… perhaps the hospitality shown by the Kyrgyz people here in the countryside. I welcomed them in the airport as a stranger but when I send them off in the same airport theyre like my own family…
It was at the end of May but it was still snowing up there in the mountains. The mountains has its own climate. It can be summer at noon and turned into autumn 2 hours later before change again to winter at sunset. But the grass is fully grown now, it is green everywhere, the valleys and the steppes are already filled with nomads… pitching their yurts all over the place. Sherperds already took their animals to the high mountains in search of good quality grass. The nomadic life has flourish once again… the light of summer already starts shining… my horses are ready for the adventure and my summer journey will soon begin…
A short video postcard showcasing the beautiful landscape of Bosnia & Herzegovina under the magical light during my 2 weeks visit in the country on March 2015. Never expected there are such beautiful landscapes in the country
Without any proper plan, I arrived Sarajevo, rented a car and drove around the country. The video was shot under the magical light in Sarajevo, Mostar, Jajce, Bihac, Cazin and many more.
Filmed on raw mode with Canon 5D Mark3.
Filmed & Edited by me.
Music: Braveness by Styve Bolduc (courtesy of premiumbeat.com)