Tes Tor, Kol Ukok and Kol Tor - a breathtaking 2 day hike and horse ride

Kol Ukok Travel Blog

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People i met here who contributed to and improved my trip: Julia (Russia)

The following morning i was feeling much better, which came as a big surprise. We ate breakfast at the families house, before walking around to Jailoo's office, to begin our two day trip. When we arrived the owner immediately said that we had a problem with our itinerary, which we had gone over and over the previous day. The plan was to walk for the first day, stay in a yurt, take a horse trip the following day to two nearby lakes, leave the horses at the yurt and walk back down to town. I asked what the problem could possibly be and she said that we couldn't ride the horses all the way back to Kochkor, which we knew and didn't want anyway.

I felt slightly relieved that it wasn't a real problem, but just another way for her to tell us that hiring horses for two days was much wiser than one, oh and of course far more expensive.

Our guide Ulan was already in her office, but she didn't even bother introducing us, she just muttered something in Russian to Julia and then walked us out to the taxi stand. Julia relayed what she had just said, which was that the guide was incredibly unhappy that we weren't taking horses for the two days. I was starting to get really pissed off, we'd agreed the route, paid a lot of money by Kyrgyzstan standards and she was still trying to bully us into taking a more expensive trip, right until we finally left.

Originally we had been told that we had to pay 600 Som ($16.
70) for transport to and from the trail head, but the other two companies had quoted less than half that. After digging a little deeper, we found that we could actually pay just 60 Som ($1.65) each way, if we were dropped off in the village of Bolshevik. a couple of kilometres before where she said we should begin. Finally she agreed that this was possible, but said that it would take at least two hours to walk this distance and she strongly advised against it. Big surprise.

Getting out of the car in Bolshevik, we began to try and spark up some conversation with our guide and he responded with some short answers. Walking the first section along the road to the trail head actually took 30 minutes, but even then, Ulan was telling us that we should flag down a taxi, as he didn't want to walk! We were paying the guide 1250 Som ($35) to be with us for two days, which is more than some people here earn in a month and the service he was giving us was pathetic.

Once we started on the trail and there was no hope of taking any more taxis, what little interest he had shown in us died out, as he stormed off ahead of us. Maybe i am daft, but i expected he might try to talk to us, give us some general information and basically not be such an arsehole.

Julia and I decided that we couldn't walk at such a fast speed, so tried to pace ourselves. The scenery was good, the sun was out, and we weren't sure what all the rush was about. Having said that, Jailoo's owner had told us that the walk on the first day would be a minimum of six hours and that was why we needed horses. This had really worried Julia, which it was meant to do, but having looked at the map and heard the other nonsense she had been sprouting, I'd made an informed guess that this had been another one of her ploys to get us to take horses for an extra day.

The journey along the valley was pleasant enough and it actually only took three hours at a steady pace to make it up to the Jailoo where we would be staying. One Kyrgyz farmer stopped to chat with Ulan along the way, then the first thing he said to us was “Why haven't you ridden horses up?” I wonder what Ulan had been saying to him! What a dick. The path the entire way had been clear, as it was actually a jeep track for the best part, so i was left wondering why we had been told that a guide was necessary in the first place. Supposedly it was impossible to find the trail and the yurts, but I'm guessing that a two year old wouldn't have had any real hassles. Actually, i do really know why we were told of this necessity, because it meant we had to pay a lot more.

It was only 13.00 when we were greeted by our host family, which consisted of Grandad, Dad, Mum, two sons and one daughter. There was a small stone house where they lived and a yurt that was where we would be sleeping. On the pasture outside, there was a large flock of sheep, grazing cows, about a dozen horses and several dogs. The last time we stayed in a yurt was in Mongolia, but this was far more basic. There were a few rugs inside and that was it, whereas before there had always been a simple bed to lay on. It was cosy enough though, and i can certainly think of worse places that i have spent the night.

Ulan disappeared into the house with the family soon after we arrived and we were left wondering what the hell we were supposed to do for the rest of the day.
We sat around in the yurt for a bit before going outside to sit on the grass. Although it was sunny, there was a cold wind, so we were pleased when the family exited their house and the wife said we could go into their house for a drink of tea.

We sat in their house for twenty minutes and made small talk. The lady gave us some warm milk, some home made naan bread and something that resembled a runny cheese. It was all very good, and i was grateful that she was making the effort with us. However, i always had the feeling like we were imposing, or maybe Ulan had been telling her horror stories of how we had made him walk so far when he so desperately wanted to be on his horse!

Ulan wasn't to be seen for the rest of the day, he opted to stay in the families house and sleep.
After wrapping up in some warm clothes, we sat outside and enjoyed the wonderful surrounds and played some yahtzee, which we had thankfully remembered to bring up with us. I soon grew restless so went and joined the sheep on a mountain ridge, which gave commanding views over the surrounding valleys.

Back at the yurt, the three young kids began taking a shine to us, so we took some photos of them and went running up some hills together. Having tired ourselves out, we went and sat back in the valley with the dogs, horses and cows and waited for Dinner time. It was a shame that the family chose to eat first and when they were finished invited us in to sit and have our Dinner, with just the Mum for company. I think they did this as they thought we would prefer it this way, but I would have loved to have shared the evening with them.
At the same time it felt rude to ask to sit in on their mealtime, as maybe they wanted to spend this time together and alone. One would understand if this was the case anyway.

The Mum cooked up some excellent local dish, which resembled pancakes and we had plenty of home made naan bread, apricot jam and tea to fill up on. Once Dinner was over we went back outside to watch the milking of the cows, which was interesting. Around 20.30 they started a fire up in the yurt, so we went inside to keep warm. It became dark at 21.30, and this was therefore bedtime.

The kids joined us in the yurt for the night, whilst the adults slept in the house. With plenty of rugs and blankets, it was actually a pretty comfortable set up. There was the exception of the biting wind, which somehow seemed to eek its way through the sheep skin covering of the yurt and with Julia managing to hog most of the blankets, it did get cold at times.
.. until i managed to yank them back to my side :)

Ulan was supposed to be waking us up at 07.45 the following day, but we ended up waking ourselves at 08.45. The day ahead was planned to be a long one, so losing this hour wasn't the cleverest of things. The kids were all still sleeping, so we left them be and went over to the house to eat breakfast, which was some porridge, with naan bread and jam. Once this had been eaten, we went out to get our introductions to our horses.

None of the horses had names, so we took it upon ourselves to name them, but this was obviously going to take some time, as we needed to get to know their personalities first. By the end of the trip I had decided that my horse was called Ulan II, as it was slow, lazy and temperamental, Julia's horse was also called Julia II, as it ate, drank and slept at every given opportunity and Ulan's horse was called Deats II, as it was the most mischievous.

The horse trek headed up the valley, crossing small streams and passing burrowing gophers. Ulan II was really struggling to keep up on the rocky sections of the mountains and i put it down to old age. Ulan assured me that the horse was young and just lazy, but i later found out that it had no horseshoes, so stepping on such terrain was probably painful, if it didn't select its footing carefully.

After an hour and a quarter we reached the top of a mountain and from here received our first views of Kol Ukok Lake, which translates to 'Treasure Chest'. The Lake consisted of one large body of water and a smaller annexed section. When the sun shone down, the water had a beautiful turquoise colouration. We stopped to let the horses have a breather and get some refreshments, whilst we enjoyed the spectacular views, which included snow capped peaks In the distance.

The wind was really whipping in off the lake, so after 20 minutes it was time to move on. Ulan told us that it was probably best to head back to the Jailoo, even though it was only just after 11.00, and we had paid for the horses for the day and arranged to carry on to Kol Tor Lake. This didn't surprise me one little bit, but we insisted that we wanted to carry on, so begrudgingly he went on.

The ride took us around the perimeter of the Lake and then on up the field behind, where cows and horses were situated. There were plenty of new born fouls, which the mothers shielded as we passed. It took another hour and a quarter to reach the foot of a mountain, which Kol Tor Lake was situated behind. This was the first time that there was no clear path during our whole journey, but the thought of any walking obviously gave Ulan a fright, so he said we should go alone.
When Julia pressed him to come, as we didn't really know the way, he said after some hesitation that he had to stay to look after the horses. Normally this would seem a reasonable enough excuse, but we'd seen them tie the horses legs when they didn't want them to go too far, so there was no excuse for him to stay. It wasn't worth arguing about, so we set off walking up the rocky hill, whilst he lay down for a nap.

It took about an hour to reach Kol Tor, along some rocky slopes and past a small waterfall. The glacial Lake was sublime, with striking snowy mountains on all sides and only the two of us there to enjoy it. We wandered around what I'd like to describe as a beach, although I'm not sure who would want to sunbathe at such high altitudes and with such a biting wind.
Twenty minutes at the top were enough to enjoy the views, feel thoroughly freezing and be ready to head back down to the horses.

The ride back to Tes Tor Jailoo was nice, and we stopped to watch some local fishermen pulling out some scrawny fish from Kol Ukok. Whenever we came across any Kyrgyz shepherds, they were always keen to stop and exchange greetings and ask if we were enjoying ourselves, which we assured them we were. The only downside was that i was getting really saddle sore, as my body isn't used to the physical ordeals that horse riding offers!

Tes Tor was reached by 16.30 and the family invited us in for some warm milk and bread, before we set off back to Kochkor. The Dad of the family joined us on horseback for the journey down, as he had business in the town.
It only took two hours to reach the valley entrance and at this point Ulan dropped back from his standard 50 meters ahead, so as he could talk to us. The real meaning of his renewed interest in us, was to advise that we should get a taxi rather than walk the last 20 minutes back to Bolshevik. Even if i had wanted to pay for a taxi, i didn't have 300 Som with me, as i needed to use a bank. He seemed thoroughly distraught at this and fell into silence.

10 minutes down the road, Ulan just stopped, said that his village was somewhere to the East and he was leaving us, cheers! He pointed down the road at where we should go, which was pretty obvious and left us to fend for ourselves, with regards getting the taxi from the village back to Kochkor. It was 20.00 when we got to Bolshevik and at this time of night there was basically no traffic on the road.
Ulan could have come in useful at this point, as i am sure he would have had a taxi number, but God forbid he would have wanted to earn his money.

Having asked a couple of local people where taxi's went from, we decided it best to just set off walking and try and flag something down on the way. The 6kms were walked in an hour, in which time not one car passed us. It had been a trip of mixed emotions, but one i had enjoyed. The scenery was simply sublime, but the service we had received has to go down as amongst the worst i have ever encountered, and thats saying something!

Deats says:
All fun and games :)
Posted on: Jul 17, 2008
mybu84 says:
hahaha, loved the blog!!!
and it is all true too!
Posted on: Jul 17, 2008
Deats says:
No English and his Russian wasnt up to much either. Almost everyone in the stans speaks some Russian, so Julias translating skills are invaluable!
Posted on: Jul 14, 2008
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Kol Ukok
photo by: Deats