Lost and Alone in the heart of the Tien Shan
When I was a young boy, when I was helpless, when my dreams were wild and infinite, I used to dream a lot. I had a dream that Im moving slowly with my horses through trees in the high mountains, surrounded by beautiful endless grassland with rivers flowing in between coming from the high snowcapped mountain in the far distance. I kept on picturing it in my mind. I remember sitting alone in the living room of my grandma’s house in Segamat, Johor State, southern part of Malaysia watching a picture frame, a painting of a beautiful landscape almost similar to the one that I always imagine. I kept on watching that painting for hours, letting my wild imagination to lead me inside the painting, where I was running happily through the grassland, climbing and descending the hills. And now, I was amazed that picture inside my imagination was actually real. Im actually experience it, in the realm of “right here and right now”, not in the past nor the future, not inside the world of my imagination but the world that we call as real and exist that are connected with our 5 senses.
As I kept riding west through the Tien Shan range, I saw beautiful changes of landscape from dry tundra of the lower Tien Shan, to the high mountain pass and finally towards the vast endless grassland… all lit under the light of summer. I rode slowly, probably between 40-50km when I rode through grassland where I can gallop once in a while, or just about 25km a day when I had to cross mountainpass above 4000m. Once every few hours, I will usually pass by sherperds… taking their herds towards the higher ground to let them feast the fresh good grass. They are all over the mountains now, as the mountains provide them good grass and fresh water. And once in a while, I pulled the rope that is attached to the head of my horse gently, to stop the horse from moving… so that I can stand still to enjoy the breathtaking view… to really appreciating it to the fullest before it pass by to become nothing more than a memory.
Travelling on horses through the Tien Shan is not as easy as I would imagine. I still remember pulling my skis in the same mountains during the winter time was much more difficult compared to travelling on bicycle. Travelling on horses however, is not as tiring but as Im filming my journey into a travel documentary, I could say that this is far worst compared to cycling or skiing. I had to untie my bag from the horse to get my camera and tripod out, tie the horses legs, set the camera, untie the horses, get back to the horse and start riding, come back to get the camera, tie the horses legs again, repack the camera bag, untie the horses legs and finally… I can keep going. My horses are strong and communicate well with me but theyre just not good actors. Its difficult to get them to walk on a specific path so that it will always stay inside the frame of my camera. And I can only do it on flat ground, there is no way I can film myself ascending or descending steep mountainside… except from my gopro camera that I attach on my head.
Packing my horses in the morning is the part I hate the most. I usually wake up just before sunrise to be able to watch the rising sun while slurping my coffee and feasting the bread, jam and butter. I usually take about 2 hours since the moment I get up in the morning until the part that I finished packing everything on both my horses. The hardest part of all is to put my entire heavy luggage on top of my horse. It requires a lot of strength to carry about 50kg of luggage above my head to the horseback all by myself. And there was once, my brown horse, which is a crazy stallion, ran away right after I untie the rope from his leg. I had to chase him for nearly 3km before I managed to pull the rope that is tied to his head. To make it worst, I managed to grab the rope while he was galloping, my whole body was pulled away and I was flying before I fell hard to the ground. The brown stallion finally stopped after he realized that.
A naughty stallion but with a good heart… very obedient. Those moments were adventurous, experiences that I will never get if I stick only to my bicycle all the time in all my travels. Travelling on horses is also something very special to me. Bicycle and skis don’t have emotion… but horses do. I have travelled over a month now with my horses covering more than 400km and we went through adventurous moments everyday. We fell inside a deep river not far from Tosor pass over a week ago and saw a small snake passed by just next to my boot once we climbed to the river bank together. The brown stallion used to get stucked in a deep mud and I had to use all my strength to pull the horse from it all by myself. Slowly, we built a strong relation between us, between horses and a man. Now theyre so used to me, I will caress their head and hair every morning and evening and make sure that they will get good grass at the end of the day. I have no idea what I will do to them once I need to get back on my bicycle soon to leave this country. My horses are like family to me now.
At the time of writing Im sitting at the edge of the Tien Shan mountain range, in a village called Kochkor, far west of the Tien Shan. Soon I plan to cross into one of the highest mountain lake in the Tien Shan range, Kol-Ukok before making my way into the Pamir if time permits. As usual I have no solid plan when travelling. I just love making plans but never enjoy following them. I just go with the flow and get surprises everyday. The most important thing is to collect all the experiences that I see them as priceless.