“If you have only 1 day of life of this earth, spend half of it in a saddle.” – Kyrgyz proverb
What does it mean to be a Kyrgyz nomad? Of course formal definitions will talk about the seasonal movements, living off the land, and sleeping in yurts, and yes, those are all integral to nomadic life. However, the relationship between a nomad and his horses is one of the most intriguing pillars of nomadic life in the unforgiving, life-giving Tien Shan and Pamir-Alai Mountains of Kyrgyzstan.
The threads and colors of life in Kyrgyzstan are woven and held together by a nomadic culture that revolves around horses. The untamed, unpredictable mountains have strengthened the bond between horse and man in Kyrgyzstan so much so that nomads don’t just use horses as a means of transportation as one might think. No, horses are also used as income, a source of food, milk, and leather, as pack animals, for entertainment, as dowries, and even in religious ceremonies in olden days. Every part of life is somehow intertwined with horses.
So if you’re planning a trip to Kyrgy top of all the information about Kyrgyzstan you’ve already found, prepare yourself for a country filled with horses. You may see herds of horses running across the mountainsides, young pre-teen boys on horseback herding sheep, ladies milking horses to make the national drink, kymyz, men wrestling on horseback for sport, or people just riding on horseback to get to the next village.
HOW TO TRAVEL IN KYRGYZSTAN
Since horses are so integral to nomadic life and its rich nomadic culture is what sets Kyrgyzstan apart from the rest of the world, one of the best ways to truly experience this unique country is by taking a horseback riding tour of Kyrgyzstan.
My Trip to Kyrgyzstan: Horse Intensive
Horseback riding tours in Kyrgyzstan are a fantastic way to get a taste of nomadic life. What could be better than sitting atop a sure-footed Kyrgyz horse exploring wilderness unreachable by car and untarnished with signs of civilization? There are several routes you can go with horseback riding tours in Kyrgyzstan. First of all, you could take a scenic tour mainly focused on exploring the country’s stunning mountains. (The Tien Shan has been labeled one of the top ten most beautiful mountain ranges in the world.) Secondly, you could go on one of the many hunting tours in Kyrgyzstan that are available. The Tien Shan Mountains are home to both the coveted Marco Polo Sheep and the Siberian Ibex. Horses are the best way to reach the high-altitude areas where these elusive animals are found. Thirdly, you could book a cultural tour revolving around horses. Local Kyrgyz nomads have recently started offering “classes” to travelers that would like to learn everyday nomadic skills such as horseback riding, herding on horseback, how to milk horses, etc. This is a great way to learn directly from nomads in the mountains to get a one-of-a-kind, authentic taste of life in Kyrgyzstan.
My Trip to Kyrgyzstan: A Quick Ride
If you don’t want to spend your whole trip on a scenic horseback tour, cultural, or hunting tour in Kyrgyzstan, it’s possible to book a tour that arranges for you to go on a short, 1-4 hour horseback ride in the midst of your other activities. Horses are readily available in Kyrgyzstan. You’ll see them almost everywhere you go, so short horseback riding excursions can be easily arranged no matter where you are touring the country.
EMBRACING THE SPIRIT OF THE NOMAD
All the information about Kyrgyzstan you find online that just focuses on the scenery, while it is extremely beautiful, isn’t giving you the full picture of what Kyrgyzstan is like. The land and culture of the Kyrgyz people is inseparable, so make sure you explore nomadic culture to at least some degree while in the country. The hospitality of the people, their communion with both nature and beast, and their traditions will leave an impression on you that you’ll never be able to forget. So swing yourself into a saddle again, embrace the spirit of the country, and see Kyrgyzstan from a nomad’s perspective.
Pictures by Daniel Korzhonov