Horse Riding through the Tien-Shan mountains
Arriving in Karakol by the shores of the world’s second largest mountain lake, Issyk-kul, was like something from a National Geographic Magazine cover – truly spectacular and completely unique. On clear days it’s possible to see to Kazakhstan, with the water of Issyk-kul acting like one giant natural mirror.
Karakol is one of the biggest towns in Kyrgyzstan, however it has much more of a homely village vibe. A small market, schools, wonderful potential homestays, and nice cafés make up an atmosphere that is unrivalled in the country, and one where it is impossible to not feel welcome. The local tourism office can arrange almost everything for you – bike tours, horse treks, hotel reservations. For me - a horse trek was the must-do item on my schedule, and I was excited.
This is a special place to go horse trekking, as you start your journey at the foot of the majestic Tien Shan mountains - which means Mountains of Heaven or the Heavenly Mountain. And if you really want to experience the true reality of remoteness, there is no other way than getting on a horse and riding into the wide steppes surrounded by mountains of which some rise over an incredible 7000 m!
A day’s ride and you will be away from roads, telephone signal, and people. What you will find instead are sheep, horses, bison, and the occasional shepherd and nomad family living in their yurt – it’s a world away from the hustle and bustle of everyday life. The horses we rode – sturdy Russian mountains horses – were not big, but they were incredibly strong. Even with a person and two filled saddlebags on top, they could overcome all challenges and master the tough but beautiful terrain. They would climb paths that many would struggle on foot – including myself – and within the first couple of hours I could already trust my horse and realised that he would take me safely through this trip.
As we rode above Karakol and the lake, the views were simply stunning. Issyk-kul stretched out before us and the hills we were riding in were shaped softly and coated in perfect shades of green. Having rode to such heights, by the first morning we woke up to a light layer of snow, even though it was late August - but the sun quickly warmed us up. That morning, the true beauty and majesty revealed itself. For five days we rode in valleys, over mountain passes, through the snow and glacier-melted rivers. We bathed in hot springs and set up camp on a riverbank every evening, but it was in the dark of night that the true magic revealed itself.
Because the result of being 4000 meters above sea level with the next artificial light source being miles and miles away is something incredible. The universe reveals itself before you, creating a light show of stars that I have never seen before and have not seen since. Even though the nights were cold I couldn't help but spend hours gazing up into the cosmos and feeling smaller than I have ever felt before. After knowing what the night sky can look like from my time on that trek, I’ve never looked at it in the same way as before – those nights and that horse trek will stay with me for the rest of my life.