Sasha and I should have known. The signs were all there, even if we didn’t want to believe it of Danielle.
“When are we going horseback riding?” Danielle had repeatedly asked us.
“A horse trek is the only thing I really want to do in Kyrgyzstan.”
“Do you want to do a two or three day horse trek?” “Two days?” “What about doing a three day trek?”
The truth came out as Sasha and I awkwardly mounted our horses, unsure of how to hold the reigns, while Danielle briskly trotted ahead to ask the guide if these horses were able to jump: Danielle is a horse girl.
You know, those girls from middle school with names like Allie and Samantha (and Danielle) who sported long brunette ponytails and were constantly talking about their horse Mindy. Totally Danielle! I bet if we dug up her sixth grade notebooks they would be covered in horse stickers. Of course.
Actually, despite her brown hair and clear equestrian skills, Danielle maintains that she is not a horse girl; she just went to horse camp for two weeks when she was twelve.
Now, for any real horse girls reading this, don’t think we’re at all hating–really I’m just jealous that you got to spend all your free time galloping through green fields and brushing Mindy’s mane while I was stuck in a dance studio learning various ways to make my toes bleed. In fact, after our two day (sorry, Danielle) trek, I think Sasha and I also want to be horse girls. It was fun! Plus, it was an excellent way for us to see more of Kyrgyzstan’s beautiful nature without actually having to do any real hiking.
We started just outside of Kochkor, where we stayed with the sweetest host family, who taught us how to make Kyrygyz dumplings and entertained us with music and dancing at night.
The next day we rode up to two glacial lakes and spent the night with a shepherding family in a yurt in the mountains.
After a long day on our horses (7 hours!) we settled down for the evening to stretch our knees and chat with our hosts at the yurt. Altenbek and his wife spend their summers shepherding around six hundred animals by the glacial lakes in the mountains, a pretty enviable work space.
We asked them about life in the mountains and they asked us what we had studied.
“Philosophy? Oh so you’re a philosopher,” they said to me, thoroughly unimpressed. But they were very excited to hear that Danielle had studied journalism.
“A journalist!” From that moment on, Danielle (and I as her translator) had to be called out meet any visitors and learn all about shepherding life. When it was time to set up a second yurt for a group of tourists do to arrive the next day, they made sure to have Danielle document the process. They also let me help a little. And by help I mean that Altenbek called me into the yurt and without warning hugged my knees and lifted me up so that I could pull down some ropes for him. I mean, who needs ladders when you have tall Scandinavians on hand?
Nighttime in the mountains was so peaceful and quiet. Until, that is, Altenbek popped his head in our yurt and asked if we wanted to come to the disco. The what? Of course we agreed, and he brought us to his cottage, where his fifteen year old son was manning a boom box playing Kyrgyz rap. With Altenbek’s wife laughing and their son, probably mortified, crouching away from us in a corner, we danced the night away.
We booked our horse trek through Jailoo Tourism in Kochkor and paid about $50, including our stay in the yurt and dinner.
In Kochkor we did a home stay with Aynora, who was amazing. We found her by going to the Shydrak craft cooperative, which is behind Jailoo Tourism’s Office on the main road.
Taking an organized tour of Kyrgyzstan and surrounding countries in Central Asia
Travel through Kyrgyzstan (and all of Central Asia) can be difficult, especially if you don’t know any Russian, but I assure you it’s worth it! However if you’re worried about your trip you can always leave the organizing and planning to someone else and take a tour.
I haven’t done this myself, but I’ve heard back from several blog readers who chose to do Central Asia tours with G Adventures and they loved them. The tours organized everything for them, but I think the best part was seeing the region with a group of likeminded travelers.
The two best options for seeing Central Asia would be:
The Best of Kazakhstan & Kyrgyzstan // this is a 9-day trip that actually covers more of the two countries than I managed to. I would love to go back and do this very trip someday! Check current tour prices and the full itinerary here
Central Asia Adventure – Almaty to Tashkent // this is the ultimate Central Asia tour, taking you through Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan in 14 days. I love that this one covers so much ground while still spending time in each place, and one reader wrote back to me after doing this tour saying it changed her life, so it must be good! Check current tour prices and the full itinerary here
Guys, please, please do not forget to get travel insurance for your trip to Kyrgyzstan! I always get travel insurance wherever I’m going, but it’s particularly important when going through more remote regions like this.
It costs so little, but will save you SO much in the long run – I’ve had to use my World Nomads travel insurance twice over the course of my travels (once when I got sick and once when my bag was stolen), each time saving me over a thousand dollars. They helped get me to the nearest hospital and all I had to do was send them my receipts and I had a check from them in the mail within a couple of weeks. So easy!
You can get a quick quote for your insurance here: