Do any research on Kyrgyzstan and Central Asia, and results will definitely prompt you to visit one of the beautiful, clear, breath-taking turquoise lakes in the region. One of the most raved about gem is located in western Kyrgyzstan, within the Sary-Chelek Nature Reserve in the Jalal-Abad Region, which is also a designated UNESCO World Biosphere reserve. There are 6 lakes in this area, Kylaa-Kel, Aram-Kel, Cheychek-Kol, Bakaly-Kel, Chacha-Kel and the most spectacular of all is the Lake Sary-Chelek. To spice things up a little, we are going to explore this lake in the traditional nomadic way, on a horse! This is really exciting, because it is my first time doing a horseback trek!
So we started our journey towards Arkyt village, driving by a massive turquoise lake that has a yurt built by the bank of the water. How clear is the reflection of the mountain ranges on the water! What a view!
After meeting our local guide at the village, we were brought to what he calls his “humble home”, and like how all Kyrgyzs always treat their guests with immense hospitality, we were offered some tea and coffee, with home-made Lepeshki bread, or round loaves that have been baked in a traditional tandyr oven. We did have our breakfast already, but it was so hard to resist the kindness of the host (actually, the kitchen area redolent with the aroma of the Lepeshki bread was the real reason why we could not resist), so we dug in for our second breakfast of the day.
Time to get on the horse! With guidance and help from our guide, we are off to our journey to the renowned Lake Sary-Chelek! We rode around the village, and were greeted with big smiles from the villagers and inquisitive kids who were definitely curious about these new foreign faces they see in their village.
After around 20 minutes, the guide stopped by a house in the village and prompted us to join him in there. We were greeted by the family members of the house (I counted at least 10 of them), and we stepped into the dining area. To our surprise, in front of us, was a brightly coloured traditional floor carpet (known as shyrdak or syrmak carpet) with a big spread laid on top of it.
“Come join me!”, the guide says. In such dining setting, the guests are usually seated at a spot furthest away from the door, and the hosts and hostesses will sit closer to the door and pour tea and pass food to the guests first.
Guests will never leave a table hungry. As soon as we finish a plate of food, another dish was offered to us. In this case, it was the plate of fragrant and delectable lamb plov, or pilaf rice, laid in front of us.
Some of the table talks revolved around where we are from, what life was like in our country, about our family, and whether we are going to start our family soon!
After our repeated refusals for the food that was still being served to us since we were so stuffed, we were toasting with vodka shots next. After a few toasts, and the hosts are satisfied that we are 100% full (or maybe 150% full) and ready for the rest of our horse riding adventure, the head of the family said a little prayer by cupping his palms in front of him, and then raise his palms to his cheeks and then lower them again, before bidding us farewell.
So back to our horses! The rest of the journey involved riding through lush green forests, up and down hills, crossing little water streams (where the horses would always stop to get their little water break), and riding right beside the smaller beautiful lakes.
Here we are, Lake Sary-Chelek!
Despite using padded saddles, the body still ache after riding for a couple of hours. A break to stretch out the body is definitely very much needed! The guide took out some snacks (more food again!), and we had a little picnic in the shelter. The kids (aged between 8 to 12) we met at the shelter were initially very shy, but I guess some sharing of snacks and chocolates that we brought along with us made them more comfortable chatting with us eventually!
Despite the weather being a little overcast and cloudy, Lake Sary-Chelek is still a beautiful sight to behold. Time to head back towards the village!
Had so much fun today! Spending time with the locals, experiencing the typical Kyrgyz hospitality, chatting with them, eating traditional home-cooked Kyrgyz food, and finally checking an item off my bucket list (i.e. attempting horseback riding). It was hard to say goodbye to our wonderful guide!