Anyone who visits Kyrgyzstan should definitely try a horseback riding trip. After all, the horse – “at” in Kyrgyz – is a part of the family for the locals. The little boys control the reins even before they learn to read and write, most of them as adults then canter after their herds of cattle in the middle of amazing Kyrgyz nature.
We decided to try this experience in the valley Jeti-Ögüz – Seven oxen. This impressive formation of seven hills – seven ox-backs – wrinkled like a turtle’s body, on the west side of the valley, made of red sandstone, cannot be overlooked. Due to wind and water erosion, they gradually took on a shape that truly resembles a group of giant animals with bowed heads.
The village of the same name at the foot of the hills has long been a popular place for its healing springs containing sulfur, radon, sodium and calcium chloride. It was very easy to find decent accommodation here – “gastevoj dom” Kok-Žajyk, which is managed by Anara, with whom you can also speak English! She also offered us a yurt for the night, but after those few days, we were quite happy that we could indulge in a little more comfortable accommodation (rooms for 2 people, toilets and showers shared on the floor). However, heavy, very warm blankets and a plastic-covered table in the dining room were not missing here either. And of course, we had to take our shoes off at the entrance. 🙂
We met a little boy here, too! Anara offered us internet, but her son, seven-year-old Amir, didn’t like having to give up his router. However, as soon as we exchanged the modern (albeit very slow) technology for chocolate and candies, Amir proudly took away the sweets with the remark that he would not share them with anyone. His router, his candies… His mother is a lawyer, she used to work as one, but when she got married, duties and responsibilities with children increased, they had to be taken to school, to different clubs… They spend winter in Bishkek and summer here in the mountain.
In the morning, our breakfast was served in the yurt. Anara’s parents had collected wool and other materials all their lives, her mother made also felt rugs. Up to 95 poles converged to the middle of this yurt (we already know that it is called tündük), but our host said that there are yurts with up to 105 poles. In Kyrgyzstan, there are also competitions held in the construction of this typical dwelling, the record is said to be 12 minutes. Anara sighed with a roguish smile that her men needed all day…
In the guides and on the websites that we looked up before our trip, the Valley of Flowers is mentioned in this area. After our previous experiences with Kyrgyz nature and amazing meadows with beautiful flowers, we were very much looking forward to this place. But Anara calmed us down when she mentioned that the flowers had long since been grazed away by cattle! That’s not possible, we didn’t believe it, and even though it started to rain, we decided to see for ourselves.
The rain coloured the stone oxen’s backs dark red, the village looked deserted, and the voice of a muezzin calling for prayer came from the amp on the mosque (a new, modern, and stereotypical one like all the other mosques we saw on our way). We realized that this was actually the first time during our stay that we remembered that we were in a Muslim country.
The road continued along the wild river, which rushed through the valley at an unbridled crazy pace. Sometimes it was necessary to cross a bridge, which itself was a challenge…
After less than an hour, we found ourselves in a small clearing with one yurt, wrapped in plastic against rain. In the meantime, it had stopped, raindrops were glistening on the bright yellow buttercups and white dead-nettles. We were greeted by a small child in a jacket with a knitted hat on his head and a typical Kyrgyz distrustful look, which brightened a little when we gave him a lollipop. At that moment, a girl with braids also appeared, who also longed for a sweet gift. The small child turned and stuck his bare tushie at us. His pants were drying on a beam near the kitchen. A modest furnace was modelled from clay, a large cauldron and a wooden hatch were laying on it and pieces of wood were tossed around. Only in such places, we can realize how little is enough to create a warm heart of a home, as the kitchen undoubtedly is.
There was also a simple “shower” on the meadow, clothes were swinging on a washing line and a black dog with a fixed surprised expression was tied to a tree. The adults didn’t talk to us much, suddenly several children of different ages appeared here, some of them were already leading horses. The unequivocal commander of this semi-nomad youth was a girl with red plastic shoes, I called her Jamila – according to a quirky, fearless heroine from a novel by Kyrgyz writer Chingiz Aitmatov. One older young man in a white (probably) waterproof suit joined the group, looking like an astronaut in a spacesuit (today I would say like a member of the anti-infection team). There was a haggling – in Russian, English, by hands and feet, we wanted the meadow with flowers, they offered a waterfall. And horses!
Here, it must be noted that in our small group, there was only one experienced rider, I had sat on a horse only once in my life and walked on it for about 15 minutes on a straight road, while the other two companions did not even have as much experience as I… Jamila divided us into pairs, actually in triads, if I include also the horses. She jumped up behind my friend’s back, popping a lollipop into her mouth like Detective Kojak, and boldly pushed the horse with her red shoes.
I got a boy with an unpredictable look, I couldn’t even imagine what he was thinking. His name was Bekzad, he often drew snots in like a little boy, but he spat like an old man even more often.
My horse was Apachi and looked a bit like an enchanted cow. He had large brown spots on his white body, white legs, a black tail, a white mane, and a black, shaggy fringe between his ears. I scrambled up on his back with the help of a bench next to the yurt. That’s when someone said that we would have to walk the last section of the road to the waterfall…
From the horse’s back, the ground swayed in a regular rhythm from one side to the other. The terrain was softer after the rain, and often Apachi’s foot sank into the mud or slipped on a wet rock. The horses occasionally shot a green charge from their innards or took a pee-break – they stopped, released a proper waterfall, snorted aloud with their nostrils and walked on — across the grass, hollowed trenches and collapsed slopes. The hillsides were wooded, I don’t think we saw so many trees anywhere else in Kyrgyzstan, the fog rolled over their crowns and continued higher into the mountains. In the distance, on the green mountain meadows washed by the morning rain, the yurts whitened like tiny white round candies scattered on a green carpet, and the river rippled like a white ribbon.
We took a break at some briars. I tried to enjoy the beautiful views, but in my mind, the question still struck me: if I get off my horse and walk to the waterfall, how do I get back into the saddle? There will definitely be no bench! I am neither the youngest nor the lightest, I never liked upswings and hated jumping over the pommel horse. I tried to chase away my thoughts with the determination that if I didn’t get on that horse, I would just walk the whole way back, even if it took me until Christmas.
We approached a settlement at a large trampled meadow – without flowers. There were several yurts, some of them adorned with red ornaments, as well as the constructions of two unfinished yurts. It was clear that they were not being built by any record holders. Some cows raised their heads curiously, and I just hoped that none of them would charge at us and scare my horse.
Our ride continued through the forest. The roots of the trees intertwined on the ground in strange formations, one even looked like a huge brown octopus. As the muddy path became even narrower and the entanglements of tree roots were rolling thicker and thicker, it was time to get off the horse and continue on foot. After about 15 minutes we arrived at the waterfall. I must say that I was a little disappointed. After the amazing scenery that the Kyrgyz nature has already served us during our journey, I was waiting for something more, for something more wow! But it was actually such a fairly ordinary waterfall. The water rushed from the rock and shattered into wider and narrower trickles.
We walked back to our horses, Apachi was waiting calmly under the tree. A gentle slope in the grove helped me to get on the horse. Surprisingly, I managed it even easier than before. Maybe it’s because I was so scared of this “fitness test” that it ended up not being that bad at all. You just never have to give up in advance.
Now it was much easier for me to sit on the back of my Apachi, I was no longer annoyed by Bekzad’s unreadable face, I no longer held the reins so convulsively, I took pictures with one hand, even when a steep slope was opening on one side of the forest path. I already knew that chu! here means gee-wo! and wo! is drr! However, I did not stop Apachi even when he – following the example of his horse colleagues – headed into a narrow gap between two tree trunks.
We also managed to bypass another group of riders, which we met – of course – in one of the narrowest places. All that was left to reach the yurt with a small child with his naked tushie again was to cross a mountain creek. I don’t know what flew through Apachi’s head at that moment, but right in the middle of that brook, he stopped and refused to go any further. Bekzad first spoke to him, then threatened him, he drew snots and spat into the water. The boy pulled the lead with all his might, but the animal did not move. I watched the tragicomic theater from my loge on the horse saddle, first in silence, then I also tried to shout gee-wo! both in Kyrgyz and my mother language, but nothing helped. Apachi stood and enjoyed the natural mountain whirlpool. Should I jump into the water too? I was almost decided to do so when Jamila came up to us, shouted something and slapped Apachi hard on his butt. The horse jumped out of the water, I almost lost my balance. And then – as if nothing had happened – he walked on with dignity and obedience…
The sky brightened and the surrounding greenery was even greener, hovering over the road like a huge curtain, and more riders appeared on the scene. We didn’t see the Valley of flowers, the waterfall was just a waterfall, but it doesn’t matter, because sometimes the journey is better than the destination itself. And horseback riding was definitely an unforgettable experience.
We returned to the village to explore the area around the seven ox-backs. Only now we noticed the miniature figures of people, only now we realized the gigantic dimensions of these rock formations. Up close, they were even more orange and even more wrinkled.
In the windows of cozy village houses, geraniums bloomed, satellites hung on the walls and Russian Lada-cars parked in front of the doors. Oversized dead-nettles grew on the meadow, berberis branches bent heavy with red berries (the locals make strong liqueur and tasty jam from them) and we also admired spruces with black cones.
We walked to the beginning of the village to get a better look at another formation, a pilgrimage site for couples in love. The large red rock overgrown with slender spruces is split in the middle and truly resembles a broken heart. According to local legend, two suitors fought for the favour of one beautiful Kyrgyz girl. However, both rivals killed each other, the girl was so devastated that her heart broke.
To take a picture of the interesting rock was not so easy because of electric wires (as is often the case in Kyrgyzstan). Two eagles that suddenly flew up from behind the split rock must have had certainly a better view. They soared gracefully in the sky, circling over the broken heart. I’m sure it was definitely an eagle couple in love…
More articles about this amazing country: CATEGORY KYRGYZSTAN
Text: © Copyright Ingrid, Travelpotpourri
Fotos: © Copyright Ingrid and Katka, Travelpotpourri