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Kyrgyzstan (pt 2) : Land of Horsemen

Shanghai - Urumqi (Xinjiang) - Almaty (Kazakhstan) - Bishkek (capital of Kyrgyzstan) - Karakol - Jyrgalan - Karakol - Jeti Oguz - Skazka - Bokonbaev - Son Kul - Kochor - Bishkek - Almaty - Urumqi - Shanghai

The video below, showing the first day of my hike to Boz Uchuk lakes, was compiled from iPhone 7 clips : haha - enjoy !

Part 1 : Shanghai to Almaty to Karakol

Part 2 : Jyrgalan & the Boz Uchuk Trek (80kms hike + porter for the pack)

Part 3 : Kyrgyzstan : Horses, horses and more horses ! Part 4 : Karakol & the Ala Kol Trek (ca. 50 kms)

Part 5 : Jeti Oguz - Skazka - Bokonbaev

Part 6 : Son Kul Trek (on horseback)

Part 7 : Kochur - Bishkek - Almaty - Shanghai

Jyrgalan : A lovely lady allowed me to photograph her with her daughter.

Sony A7rii and Sony 100-400mm.

Sony A7rii and Sony 100-400mm.

After traveling by marshrutka from Karakol to the small village of Jyrgalan I checked into a lovely B&B which entertained a number of guests from as far away as Kazakhstan and Russia who believe that fresh mare's milk is a health tonic and every morning they would go down to the paddock where the owners would milk a mare or two and provide the ultimate in fresh horse milk for their clients.

Everyone here is an expert rider - they start riding from 2 years old and even babies are carried on horseback!

Sony A7r and Sony 100-400mm

I took my time and over the first couple of days explored the quite stunning area around Jyrgalan, hiking out each day to test my pack weight (28 kgs - it absolutely killed me carting that up some high degree inclined local mountains!) and to photograph the fauna and amazing flora of the valleys. During this time I quickly made the decision that I couldn't carry that 28 kgs pack for the 80 kms or so of the Boz Uchuk Trail (not so much of a trail as a general direction - the physical trails soon disappeared) ! It's one thing carrying around town or on a flat track and entirely another climbing up and down these high mountains and valleys. I managed the same pack weight on my Wild Great Wall hike (click the underlined text to open the link in a new tab) however it's getting beyond me now ! Sigh.

The only option was to hire a horse & porter to take the pack for me and we'd meet up each night at a pre-arranged location (horses have to take a far more circular route going around some mountains, since some of the trails are too steep or narrow for them). So that's what I did, and as it was for a very reasonable price indeed it was well worth saving my back the strain and made the whole trek more enjoyable ! Note that the horse was not for me to ride except in extreme circumstances (e.g. a couple of times crossing rivers that on foot proved to be impassable without a major detour around them, or going up to the Top Lake at Boz Uchuk, which really saved a lot of time).

Sony A7r and Sony 28mm

The scenery leaving Jyrgalan was simply stunning. Early on the trail there were numerous horses, cows, goats, sheep and shepherds/herders but these petered out towards the middle of the first day only to reappear in a valley/river crossing further on and late on the second day.

Sony A7r and Sony 28mm

Day 1 : 25 kms

The porter, myself and two horses set off after breakfast at the B&B. The porter had asked if he could bring along his apprentice to train and show him the route to the Boz Uchuk lakes, no problem there at all, and they were out of sight within minutes, after having marked our campsite on my paper map. There was so much of interest in the first few hours hiking, aside from the spectacular vistas in every direction ; large herds of horses roamed the valleys, yurts, horsemen, cattle, goats and sheep and of course the herders.

The forested valleys, herds of horses and isolated yurts soon gave way to rather more challenging conditions entailing some mountainous terrain and rushing streams that were very problematic to cross due to the speed of the water and depth, usually over 1m and even up to 2-3m deep, a recipe for disaster for the unwary.

Sony A7rii and Sony 100-400mm. Just a few kms from the start of the trek : I stood well back on the left of this photo to avoid getting trampled on !

There was so much of interest in the first few hours hiking, aside from the spectacular vistas in every direction ; large herds of horses roamed the valleys, yurts, horsemen, cattle, goats and sheep and of course the herders.

Sony A7r & Sony-Zeiss 55mm : 5 shot panorama : A long way to go to those mountains, my destination!

Sony A7r and Sony 55mm.

Gorgeous flowers adorned almost every valley and mountain side. The porter had waited here to check that I hadn't wandered off in another direction ha ha ! Actually I err had done exactly that , missing my 'turn' by about an hour whilst wandering alone enamoured by the sensational surroundings and the promise of distant mountains ... but luckily I checked the map and returned to the trek route. Oops !

Sony A7rii and Sony 100-400mm.

All the while the mountains and valleys mesmerised and I could hardly keep my camera in my backpack for long before stopping every few minutes to set up yet another shot. No wonder it took me all day to get to the campsite (we won't mention the two times I went 'off-piste' and had to backtrack my steps) !

Sony A7r and Zeiss Loxia 21mm

Sunset at Boz Uchuk's lower lakes

Day 2

After a restful night I awoke early though not early enough (though overslept and missed sunrise - for a photographer that's punishable by being hung drawn and quartered) ! I'm not a big breakfast eater so after boiling up a couple of cups of coffee and munching down a chocolate bar and some cheese and nuts I was ready and raring to go. If I was hiking this trek again I'd stay a couple of nights, one by this lake and one by the top lake, hoping for great sunsets and sunrises. However it was time to move and a hike to the top lake would take at least 60-90 min's uphill hiking therefore being able to ride a horse up there, before they went off on their roundabout route carrying my tent etc. onto the next night's proposed campsite, was a very welcome relief after the previous days' 25 kms plus hike !

The video above, showing the first day of my hike to Boz Uchuk lakes, was compiled from iPhone 7 clips

The upper lake at Boz Uchuk is magnificent, located in surroundings dominated by the lakeside mountains overlooking the pure, cold, water.

Sony A7rii & Sony-Zeiss 55mm : 5 shot panorama

The top lake is sensational; aquamarine, perfectly translucent ice-cold & pure glacier water ringed by black mountains, some still with snow on their slopes, despite this being high Summer.

I really regretted not allowing more time to stay and photograph this lake but just being there, astride a horse and able to move freely around the location, which also allowing a panoramic view of the lower lake, listening to the calls of the local ground squirrel, the Pika, reverberating off the mountain sides, was amazing.

The lower lake (or two if you prefer) at Boz Uchuk. I camped on the small spit stretching out into the lakes at the centre below.

Sony A7r and Zeiss Loxia 21mm

Camping was a 20 mins horse ride (1 hour hike) below the gorgeous Boz Uchuk top lake, the ultimate destination of the trek.

Sony A7r and Zeiss Loxia 21mm

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