While we slept the skies cleared and we awoke to a hard frost. The tent flysheets were rigid and icicles chattered, hanging like stalactites from the guy ropes. Marat and Shuhrat came round with steaming tea and big smiles. We had spent the night on a bluff a hundred feet above a bend of the Jiluu Suu River. The sky was cloudless blue and the views magnificent. Snow-covered mountains surrounded us including, in the far distance, the 24,406ft Pobeda Peak. The snow caught the rising sun. Below us a small herd of horses was released from a yurt’s muddy corral on the valley floor. They ambled to ford a shallow, wide serpentine in the river, to reach better pasture. As the sun moved over to our bluff, the air warmed and the icicles started to drip. The tents steamed. By the time we had finished breakfast they were dry enough to roll up and pack.
Today’s pass, Teshik-Kol, named after the lake, would be a mere 11,500 ft. We left Zamir, Syrgak and Shuhrat to do the final packing and we pushed on with Marat and Jonny. Despite their heavy packs they always travelled faster than us. The warm sun on our backs, an ever increasing number of snow-covered peaks coming into view against the sky and the good, if steep, grassy going made for an idyllic morning. The Ton Pirival Experience faded into the mists of memory.
After a while I became aware that the water that had been crashing down the gulley beside us, had stopped. Other than the distant caws of corvids, the gorge was so silent that I could hear my stallion’s steady breathing. Marat pointed out where water was gushing from the rocks, no longer cascading from above. Soon afterwards we went over a ridge and found ourselves beside a round turquoise lake. Although water was flowing into it none appeared to be flowing out. It is naturally drained from a fault in the substrata. The water travels underground for a few hundred feet to appear where we had seen it gushing from the mountain’s side.
Lake Teshik-Kol, is a glacial lake that drains into the smaller one via a keen stream. To its east and north the grassy banks rise quite steeply to rocks, snow and peaks. To its west the rise is more gradual. On the south there is a bayou fed by snowmelt from the Teshik-Kol Pass, which is within sight a few miles but away but only a few hundred feet higher. The still water reflecting the cloudless sky was the deepest turquoise. We rested the horses and while they enjoyed cropping the alpine grass we delighted in the place, the silence only broken by the murmuring of water fowl at the lake’s far end. Shurat, never one to waste time, led Zamir, Syrgak and the three packhorses up to us. Once they too had enjoyed some of the rough grass and a breather, we forded the stream rather than risk the rotten looking bridge, and followed the track along the southern bank.
Wading birds and ducks flew from the reeds to the safety of the lake’s middle. Bar Headed Geese took off and circled before landing near them. Soon the geese, with their young that had survived being laid in marmot holes, would be migrating south to overwinter in India. We left the lake and criss-crossed the shallow shingle-bedded rivulets that trickled down from the snow. Reeds replaced the rough grasses and in turn gave way to shale. High on the left bank a large herd of horses were managing to find something to nibble between the rocks. The pass was a dip between two shoulders and having given the horses a break, we meandered down into the next valley and lunch. We snoozed in a sheltered dip among wild flowers in the warm sun.
That night we camped by the fast flowing and very cold waters of Dead Goat Valley. Having pitched camp we spread out discreetly along the riverbank and added the grime that we had accumulated since Karakol to the flow – the pristine new shower block in Turasu had remained water-free owing to the power cut.
After a year of hot water I had forgotten how welcome rushing snowmelt can be if one feels skanky enough. Sparklingly freshened we sat round in the setting sun with hair drying, doing our best to lighten the horses’ vodka burden. As we did so an inquisitive herd of horses arrived and stood majestically on the bank above us and watched. To date I had stacked up about five weeks of riding in various parts of Kyrgyzstan but at no time had any of the wild horses tried to mingle with ours. Sometimes possessive stallions in wild herds had rounded up their mares but they had never come down to pick a fight with our stallions. Even the equine life in the jailoo seemed to be one of sharing and live and let live.