Lake Song-Kul is in a perfect setting laying at 3000-meters in the Tien Shan mountain range. It is surrounded by high mountain pastures called jailoo, where Kyrgyz nomads would take their herds to graze in the summer (June to August), living a semi-nomadic life in yurts. It is not just the scenery that is spectacular, but also the people you meet, and the traditional way of life.
One of the many things we wanted to do on this trip through Central Asia was to go on a multi-day horse trek. We had trekked to high altitudes and over passes by foot and now we going to mount a horse and let him do all the work.
Getting to Kochkor
From Karakol, we took a marshrutka to Bokonbaevo for 120 KGS (US$1.60) per seat. The journey took 1.5-hours bringing us to the main city along the Southern shore of lake Issyk kul. We stayed a night in the city where we were luck get to hitchhiked out of town to explore. If we were to do it again, we would ask to stop at Tong where it is near a beach, the fairy canyon and great to watch sunset.
The next moring, we took a shared taxi from Bokonbaevo to Balychy for 150 KGS (US$2) per person and then changed to another shared taxi to Kochkor for 200 KGS (US$2.70). This short trip easily took us half a day as we insisted on waiting the shared taxi to be filled up.
Choosing CBT or Shepherd’s Life?
CBT is a Kyrgyz Community Based Tourism Association who works very hard at building a sustainable bridge between foreign visitors and local culture. CBT offers authentic home stays with locals, yurt stays with nomads and village treks ensure travellers experience the wonders of Kyrgyzstan without barriers from the indigenous communities. If you’re travelling in Kyrgyzstan, you are likely find a CBT’s office in almost every town. Though it is the most popular community based project in Kyrgyzstan but they are not necessary the best one.
Shepherd’s Life is another community-based company who also arrange many of the same treks, home stays and folk shows as CBT. Although many travellers and the Lonely Planet speak better opinions of CBT, we think that Shepherd’s Life gives travellers better options and a better breakdown of costs. They also offer their tours, treks and home stays at a much lower cost with slightly better service.
We arrived in the small town of Kochkor and spoke with the friendly staff from both agencies. I would also recommend you spending some time speaking to both rather than jump into one straight purely based on reviews. Here’s a 2 days 1 night rough itinerary and cost we got from both companies:
- CBT – A 4WD to take us from Kochkor to Lake Song-Kul and stay for a night, horseback riding on next morning along the lake and back to Kochkor by vehicle. We were been quoted 8,500 KGS (US$115.30) for 2 persons, but the price does not include food and accommodation.
- Shepherd’s Life – A car will send us from Kochkor to Jumgal to meet our horses and guide. From there, we would start riding towards Lake Song-Kul for an overnight. The next mid-morning we would leave the lake and ride the horses back to Jumgal and have a car back to Kochkor. Ainura quoted us 13,000 KGS (US$175) for 2 persons which includes food and accommodation on top of horses, guide and transport. It might be cheaper if you take marshrutka #514 to Jumgal by yourself.
Needless to say, we chose Shepherd’s Life to help arrange our house-trekking with our young guide, Bak-Sultan!
Horse-trekking experience to Lake Song-Kul
Horses are like humans, each of them has its own character! If they eat too much, they get lazy and won’t move; if they don’t eat enough, they tend stop every few steps to graze. As much as we loved being on our horses, it took a bit of getting used to with the saddle, the reigns and how to control the horse. Luckily for us, both horses were pretty tame and listened well. We rode along through dry brush, over small creeks and towards the towering, snow-capped mountains in the distance.
It took us about 4-hours to reach the highest pass at an altitude of 3,400-meters. We took a break over here while taking in the panoramic 360-degrees view around us.
From the top was another 20-minutes riding down-slope before reaching our yurt for the night! We really had a great time with the nomad family who hosted us and the view of Lake Song-Kul was just magnificent. Horse-trekking is definitely a must-do in Kyrgyzstan to truly experience its culture and nature.
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