Three day horse-riding trip to Song Kul

Three day horse-riding trip to Song Kul

The horse stood outside the house ready for me. I was a bit unsure if I was ready for him, it had after all been 10 years since last time I sat on a horse. I was happy though to see that my saddle was patched with a pillow, to ease the pain a bit.

I must admit that I struggled a bit getting myself up in the saddle at the first try. My guide Kalybek just smiled and made me try again, this time with greater success. Starting slow, the village houses were replaced by lush green fields, and I could see why Kyrgyzstan has a reputation of having beautiful nature. Crossing a river and resting in the shade, with Kalybek’s dog loyally followed our every move.

Crossing a river by horse. Three day horse-riding trip to Song Kul, Kyrgyzstan. Lush green landscape. Three day horse-riding trip to Song Kul, Kyrgyzstan.

I rode through the fields on a horse with no name. At least Kalybek did not know it at that time. Maybe that is why it decided not to obey me, since we were not acquainted. And yes, I got that song stuck in my head, even though I rode through green plains rather than a desert.

Starting slowly uphill in the valley, the nature reigns. The sun was shining from the clear blue sky, and the only thing I heard was the rhythmic sound of hooves against the ground, and insects singing. Getting further, the sound of the stream took over.

As you probably figured, my horse was not too keen on moving fast, but at least it was slowly, but steadily moving towards the goal.

We rounded the ridge and a small yurt camp appeared on the green plain, bathing in sunlight. After 3.5 hours, both my horse and my butt were happy to get a break… As an attempt to reduce the risk of stiffness, I stretched a little before walking around the camp. The lighting was beautiful, and it all looked like an idyllic postcard from the time I was crazy about horses as a little girl. The herd of horses grazed with the beautiful mountains as backdrop, in harmony with the cows.

My first yurt camp. What a picture perfect place to spend the night! Three day horse-riding trip to Song Kul, Kyrgyzstan.

My first yurt camp. What a picture perfect place to spend the night!

The two ladies living in my small yurt camp started making dinner. While the food was boiling, they grabbed two buckets and walked towards the horses. I sensed what was in store, and followed them. The horses with foals were milked one by one, and within no time, the bucket was full of mare’s milk. Back in the dining yurt, the milk was mixed in a barrel with mare’s milk that was already fermented.

Dinner was served, starting with bread and many kinds of jam on the table, followed by a stew of potatoes, cabbage, carrots and some sheep meat. And tea. Lots of it. And eventually the kumis – fermented mare’s milk. Wondering what it tasted? My first thought was smoked cheese.

A full tea bowl with kumis. Three day horse-riding trip to Song Kul, Kyrgyzstan.

A tea bowl filled with kumis.

Rise and shine
The night on the thin mattress was surprisingly comfortable. I will not lie, I did not sleep like a princess, but it could have been worse. My biggest worry was that I thought I would be cold, but I actually woke up sweating! The good thing about waking up several times, was that I could enjoy the simulated stars by the light coming through the tiny holes in the yurt roof. First by the bright light of the almost full moon, then by the sunlight.

After breakfast, it was time to get back in the saddle. Though in a different one. Since the-horse-with-no-name and I never became best friends, Kalybek asked me to ride his horse, Buurul, instead. It worked like a charm, and we headed up the mountain with the dog as a loyal companion.

Heading towards WiFi Mountain. Three day horse-riding trip to Song Kul, Kyrgyzstan.

Along the way we met a man with two extra saddled-up horses, and tagged along with him for a while. When we at a later stage met some hikers and he offered them to rent the horses, I understood why. It was a match made in heaven for them after a steep hike in the hot sun.

An eagle flying over the mountains. Three day horse-riding trip to Song Kul, Kyrgyzstan.

Digital detox
Arriving at the top of the mountain, we could see the blue lake Song-Kul ahead of us, completely still, reflecting the mountains at the far end. Then I heard the beeps. Kalybek’s phone receiving messages, meaning mobile reception. My phone had been in flight mode since we left the village, and I was originally planning to leave it like that until we were back in the civilization. But I cracked. So much for digital detox… The mountain top was later named Wifi-Mountain…

View of Song Kul from the top of the mountain. Three day horse-riding trip to Song Kul, Kyrgyzstan.

View of Song Kul from the top of the mountain.

Our horses resting before heading down to Song Kul. Three day horse-riding trip to Song Kul, Kyrgyzstan.

Kalybek had told me we would meet up with a friend of him, and it turned out that he was the guide of a nice Dutch couple, Tess and Julian, that I had met earlier in Bishkek! Teaming up with them, my horse found a new best friend, and followed Julian’s horse’s every move.

Heading towards Song Kul. Three day horse-riding trip to Song Kul, Kyrgyzstan. The beautiful Song Kul lake reflecting the mountains. Three day horse-riding trip to Song Kul, Kyrgyzstan.

Arriving at our yurt camp close by Song-Kul, we had lunch, before the water of the lake was luring us to go swim. Being up at 3000 m, the water was refreshing. While laying on the pebbles drying in the intense sun, a flock of horses came to drink along the shore.

Our yurt camp by Song Kul. Three day horse-riding trip to Song Kul, Kyrgyzstan.

Refreshing bath in Song Kul lake. Three day horse-riding trip to Song Kul, Kyrgyzstan. Horses coming to drink. Three day horse-riding trip to Song Kul, Kyrgyzstan.

The beach and our yurt camp. Three day horse-riding trip to Song Kul, Kyrgyzstan.

The beach and our yurt camp.

Amazing clear and calm water of Song Kul. Three day horse-riding trip to Song Kul, Kyrgyzstan.

Second round of kumis
Kalybek’s family stayed in another camp nearby, so we got back on the horses to go visit them. We found them at the beach enjoying the sun. And kumis. The fermented mare’s milk is to be found everywhere in the yurt camps, and is very popular. I of course had to have a few sips of the sun-heated milk while looking out on the beautiful scenery by the cold lake.

Horse and Song Kul. Three day horse-riding trip to Song Kul, Kyrgyzstan.

Afternoon ride along the shore oof Song Kul. Three day horse-riding trip to Song Kul, Kyrgyzstan.

Following them back to their yurt camp, I also tagged along to witness the milking process again. And to help mixing the milk with the bishkek afterwards.

More mare's milking in beautiful surroundings. Three day horse-riding trip to Song Kul, Kyrgyzstan.

Mare's milk. Three day horse-riding trip to Song Kul, Kyrgyzstan.

Mares milk.

The girl with the binoculars. Three day horse-riding trip to Song Kul, Kyrgyzstan. Idyllic life by the lake. Three day horse-riding trip to Song Kul, Kyrgyzstan.

Back at our camp, we walked up the hill to watch the sunset after dinner. When the darkness came, most of the others went to bed, while I sat outside for a long time, just enjoying the silence, watching the full moon reflecting in the water, listening to the flag blazing in the wind, with the head of the dog laying on my lap demanding to be petted.

A beautiful day is coming to an end. Three day horse-riding trip to Song Kul, Kyrgyzstan. Sunset and full moon by Song Kul. Three day horse-riding trip to Song Kul, Kyrgyzstan. Horse in sunset with the full moon. Three day horse-riding trip to Song Kul, Kyrgyzstan. Full moon reflecting in Song Kul. Three day horse-riding trip to Song Kul, Kyrgyzstan.

Waking up in paradise 

Morning mood by Song Kul lake. Three day horse-riding trip to Song Kul, Kyrgyzstan.

Morning mood by Song Kul lake.

My new friend. Three day horse-riding trip to Song Kul, Kyrgyzstan.

Kalybek with his horse. And loyal dog. Three day horse-riding trip to Song Kul, Kyrgyzstan.

Kalybek and his horse. And the loyal dog Laika.

Horses enjoying the summer in the mountains. Three day horse-riding trip to Song Kul, Kyrgyzstan.

What goes up, must go down... It does not look steep, but I can promise you it was... Three day horse-riding trip to Song Kul, Kyrgyzstan.

What goes up, must go down… It does not look steep, but I can promise you it was…

I went through different stages of enthusiasm during the trip. About an hour in on the ride the first day, I was wondering how I would be able to make it through the rest. The second day I believed I could do anything, and that a few extra days would be a piece of cake, even riding an extra leg to visit Kalybek’s family. The last day started good, even galloping a bit through the plains and up the mountain. Then it was only downhill from there. Literally. I must admit going steep downhill was not my favorite, but luckily, I got used to it quickly, and Kalybek and his friend made sure we got down all right. Riding through the village, I was looking forward to having my feet back on solid ground again. Don’t get me wrong, it was just the perfect amount of time to enjoy myself, but not feeling that I should have gone on for an extra day.

And even if you do not have any skills with horses, I absolutely recommend this experience, fully enjoying the beautiful nature in Kyrgyzstan.

Booking:
I booked the horse trip one day in advance, through Apple Hostel. As I was alone, I paid 11.600 som for the three days. This included the horse, guide, 2 nights’ accommodation in yurt, 3x lunch, 2x dinner and 2x breakfast. If you are two or more people, the price goes down per person.

How to get there:
Apple Hostel is conveniently right next to the West bus station. Take bus number 514 to Kyzart from the far end of the bus station, on the side of the station building. Buy the ticket from the ticket office, price per person is 300 som. The first bus start to fill up at 7 in the morning, and leaves when it is full. When the bus leaves, you ask the driver to call the guide that will pick you up before you reach Kyzart, both to let him know approximate arrival time, and what intersection to drop you off. As I had bought a local sim-card (it is super cheap!), I used my own phone to call.

What to bring:
This of course depends on the season and weather. If it is sunny, the days are quite warm, so I wore shorts and t-shirt. I did however put on pants after the first day, as my leg got sore after rubbing against the straps for the stirrups. Evenings and nights get cold as it is quite high altitude. Based on my experience, here is my suggestion what to bring:
– Fully changed camera and phone for taking lots of pictures
– Extra power bank to charge your phone to take more pictures
– Headlight for the dark nights
– Wet wipes
– Sunscreen
– Full water bottle(s)
– Thermal underwear
– Woolen sweater
– Warm light down jacket
– Trousers with zip on/off legs so it can also be used as shorts
– One extra t-shirt
– Swimwear for the refreshing lake Song Kul and a sarong as towel
– Flip-flops
– Woolen hat and woolen gloves
– Waterproof poncho (you never know…)
– Underwear
– Toiletries
– And last but not least; a medium size backpack to pack the things above.

You can leave the rest of your luggage at the guesthouse where you start your trip.
I did not need to use the rain poncho or the hat and gloves, but I would absolutely bring them just in case. In the night I was sleeping in my thermal underwear, but it ended up being too hot, so I took my blanket away for a while to cool down.
Again, this is only based on my experience. Check with the guide about the current conditions for your trip, and pack accordingly.

Food tour in Bishkek

Food tour in Bishkek

Local food is an important aspect of my travels, so whenever I find a food tour, I am in! Apple Hostel in Bishkek had just put together a food tour for their guests, and I was the first to sign up.

The main part of the tour took place at Osh Bazaar. The market is one of the largest in Bishkek, and you can find everything you need, from food to clothing, or maybe an extra key to your house.

Main entrance at Osh Bazaar. Food tour in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan

Main entrance at Osh Bazaar.

Lepeshka is the traditional round bread, and a natural first stop on our tour, as bread is a very important part of a Kyrgyz meal. It is actually seen as sacred, and it is considered impolite to leave bread behind after a meal. Either you finish it, or you take it with you. Two other good things to know regarding the bread, is that it should not be left upside down, and if a local see a piece of bread on the ground outside, they pick it up and put it somewhere higher, so that birds or other animals easier can spot it.

Lepeshka - traditional bread. Osh Bazaar. Food tour in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan

Lepeshka – traditional bread.

Walking through Osh Bazaar. Food tour in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan

Another very important part of the Kyrgyz culture, is the Kumis – fermented mare’s milk. It is widely found, especially in the yurts in the mountains, and of course also at the Osh Bazaar. It is actually so important, that the capital is named after the wooden stick used to mix the milk – the bishkek.

Our guide Aigul took us determined past the stalls selling cheese and honey, and ended up in front of a woman selling different kinds of homemade fermented drinks out of buckets. We started easy, with one made of corn, continuing with the wheat-based, and last, the fermented mare’s milk was presented. The first sip was interesting. The second went better, but I do not think it will ever be my favorite drink…

Bozo - fermented corn. Osh Bazaar. Food tour in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan

Bozo – drink made from fermented corn.

Kumis - fermented mare's milk. Osh Bazaar. Food tour in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan

Kumis – fermented mare’s milk.

Byshtak - similar to cottage cheese. Osh Bazaar. Food tour in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan

Byshtak – similar to cottage cheese.

Moving on to the large hall with food, we had lots of interesting things to try.

Small balls were lined up in large bags, with slightly different colours. The base for all of them were the same; yogurt and salt. Some were added spices for different taste, while others were smoked. Mutual for all of them was that they were left outside to dry in the sun. The longer they dried, the harder they got. Most of them were quite salty, and are often enjoyed as a beer snack. The fried and salted beans felt more like a suitable beer snack to me than the dried yogurt balls though.

Kurut. Osh Bazaar. Food tour in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan

Kurut - yoghurt with salt. Dried on the roof. They get harder the longer dried. Food tour in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan

Kurut – dried balls of yogurt with salt.

Too burchak - fried beans. Osh Bazaar. Food tour in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan

Too burchak – fried beans.

Another stall had a pile of what looked like rocks. And it turned out it was just that. Dried clay is an important source for minerals, so it is quite common to suck on them, especially for pregnant women.

Gulboton - when you crave minerals. Osh Bazaar. Food tour in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan

Gulboton – when you crave minerals.

Next up was trying the local tobacco. It was not for smoking, but tiny black balls to put under the lower lip. Kind of like the Scandinavian “snus” for those familiar to that concept. I have never been a smoker, but as I try to taste the local things when travelling, I decided to give it a go.

Nasvai - Kyrgyz tobacco. Osh Bazaar. Food tour in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan

Nasvai – Kyrgyz tobacco.

The locals usually have it in for two minutes, but we were advised to take it out after one. I believe it took me about 10 seconds to feel the effect. 5 seconds later, I felt really drunk! I kept it in for a little longer, but it did not last the full minute. Luckily, the sensation did not last very long.

The taste was not the best either, but small strawberries soon filled my mouth with its sweet taste, bringing back childhood memories from picking tiny wild strawberries in the woods.

Fresh and tasty berries at Osh Bazaar. Food tour in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan

Continuing on the sweet note, the colourful and super sweet “hvorost” was our last dessert at the market. I think it is safe to say that you can find something for every taste at the Osh Bazaar.

Hvorost - sweets. Osh Bazaar. Food tour in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan

Hvorost.

Dried fruites and nuts at Osh Bazaar. Food tour in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan

The restaurant for our sit-down lunch was about 10 min walk away from the market. Aigul ordered three different dishes to share. With the food, we also got tea. According to Aigul, there are dissimilar traditions in the different regions how to pour the tea. She is from the north-west, where they pour just enough for a few mouthfuls. It is considered lazy if you pour more, meaning you think it is too much a hassle to pour several times. Especially the elderly can get offended. However, they are aware that there are different traditions all over the country, so I guess you will be off the hook as a visitor not knowing better.

Ganfan. Food tour in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan

Ganfan.

Lazdzhi. Food tour in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan

Lazdzhi.

Balyk sai. Food tour in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan

Balyk sai.

The food tour in Bishkek left me with a little more knowledge about the food traditions in Kyrgyzstan, and many new tastes, and I am very glad I did this as an introduction at the beginning of my visit.

 

The food tour is mainly accessible for the guests staying at Apple Hostel, but if you stay somewhere else, it is possible to contact them for an offer; applehostelkg@gmail.com.