In case you didn’t know, Kyrgyzstan is the land of horses, an element which, for centuries, has been key for the survival and development of the Kyrgyz nomadic culture. Kyrgyz people learn how to ride a horse from the moment they start to walk and use them for transportation, labour and even in their cuisine.
From hundreds of horses grazing over colorful valleys to tens of local people riding them, in both towns and mountains, and even a choice on some restaurant menus; you will never see as many horses as in Kyrgyzstan.
For this reason, you can’t say you have fully experienced this Central Asian country until you do some horse trekking through some of the most beautiful mountains on Earth.
You can go horse riding practically anywhere in Kyrgyzstan. I decided to do it in Tash Rabat, a very important ancient Silk Road route and home to some of the most epic scenery in the country.
Horse riding in Kyrgyzstan – The ancient Silk Road route of Tash Rabat
Due to its remoteness and inaccessibility, very few tourists make it to Tash Rabat. For this reason, when you are wandering around the valley, it’s easy to believe that you might be one of the very few foreigners who has ever walked over those mountains.
But guess what:
You are totally wrong
For centuries, Tash Rabat was an important Silk Road route, which endless travelers passed through. From merchants to traders and religious figures, all sorts of different people and generations have walked over these mountain passes, seeking shelter in Tash Rabat caravanserai, a 15th century stone-built building, considered one of the most remarkable monuments in Central Asia, as its big dimensions and structure confirm that this must have been a very important route.
Riding a horse along those mountain trails and thinking that, hundreds of years ago, thousands of Silk Road traders did the same, is such a nice feeling and, for this reason, if you ever go horse riding in Kyrgyzstan, you should definitely do it in Tash Rabat.
But this is not all. At 3,500 meters, Tash Rabat is placed in a very an epic location, far away from any sort of civilization, surrounded by round peaks covered by a velvet green which, at sunset, gets a goldish tonality.
Climbing all those hills on your horse, admiring the striking views and doing some occasional galloping along the valley is, definitely, an experience you don’t want to miss.
There are many trekking routes around Tash Rabat but I definitely recommend going to Tash Rabat Pass and, if you have time, to Chatyr Kul.
Bordering China (near Torugart pass) and on a massive plain, Chatyr Kul is one of the largest lakes in Kyrgyzstan. A couple of kilometers before it, you find the Tash Rabat Pass, a 4,000m mountain pass from where you get a 360º view, including views of Chatyr Kul. Trekking to Chatyr Kul requires an additional day, as well as an extra permit. The Tash Rabat Pass round-trip trek can be done on a long day trip.
You will see. It’s a lot of fun, especially when people start being more confident on the horse, do some occasional galloping and overtake each other. Go slow and take long breaks at every viewpoint. From the horse, everything looks more majestic. Enjoy!
Note: Information on how to get a permit to Chatyr Kul can be found at the end of the Practical Information section
Things you need to know when horse riding in Kyrgyzstan
Do you require any previous horse riding experience?
No, you don’t. A guide will always accompany you and he will give you as much freedom as you want. It’s easier than you think and, when you feel confident, you will see that you can just continue on your own without any help.
Some precautions you need to take when horse trekking in Kyrgyzstan
After telling you how awesome this experience was for me, it may sound funny to you but, did you know that, in Tash Rabat, I had a very bad accident, when I fell off a horse, had to be taken to a hospital in Bishkek and had to stay in bed for two weeks and then took nearly three more weeks to recover?
True story. Horse riding in Kyrgyzstan (and anywhere else) is no joke and, if you don’t want to end up like me, you should be cautious and don’t try to gallop if you don’t have a lot of experience, which is what actually happened to me. While galloping, I lost control of my horse, fell off it, hit my back with the ground and got two f***ing hernias.
Luckily, I was insured by World Nomads, who took very good care of all my bills. One more reason why you must always travel with insurance.
Is horse trekking comfortable?
It’s not comfortable at all and, after a long day, your whole body will hurt. However, people say that you get used to it after a couple of days.
Tash Rabat – Practical information
How to get to Tash Rabat
Bishkek to Naryn – In order to get to Tash Rabat, you will have first to go to Naryn, the main city in the province. If you come from Bishkek, there are daily marshrutkas leaving from the eastern station of the city. Price should be 300KGS ($4.40) and it is a 5-hour journey.
Naryn to Tash Rabat – Tash Rabat is located 120km from Naryn and there’s no public transport going there. The easiest way would be to take a direct taxi, which should cost around 2,000KGS ($30). Since we were six people to split the cost, we chose this option. Don’t ask the CBT office to book a taxi for you, as it will be more expensive. Instead, go to the bus station and negotiate directly with the locals. If can’t find other travelers, a cheaper option would be to go by local shared taxi to At-Bachi (100KGS, $1.50), which is located halfway and take a taxi from there. You can also hitchhike, especially on a truck, as the road goes directly to China via Torugart pass. However, Tash Rabat is 15km from the main road, so you may have to stand there for a while before anyone picks you up.
Most likely, if you come from Bishkek, you won’t have time to get to Tash Rabat in only one day, so you may have to spend one night in Naryn. You can also stay in At-Bachi by the way, which not many tourists do.
Where to stay in Naryn
Budget – Celestial Mountains – A very simple hotel which offers budget double rooms at 1,000KGS ($16) without breakfast. It’s all right for one night but you can’t book it online.
Mid-Range – Kunduz Guest House – If you want something more comfortable, travelers I met in Tash Rabat liked this guest house, as it had very good Wi-Fi, cozy rooms, and an awesome breakfast.
Where to stay in At-Bachi
Hostel At-Bachi – Typical Kyrgyz home-stay, which offers very good value for money, with home-made meals and relatively comfortable and warm rooms.
Where to stay in Tash Rabat
If you don’t have your own camping equipment, you will have to stay in a yurt. There are plenty of yurt camps and, typically, they charge around 800-1,000KGS ($10-15) per person, including dinner and breakfast. I strongly recommend you stay with Elizat, a very nice woman and, perhaps, the only person in Tash Rabat who speaks English.
If you want to stay with her and make sure the yurt is available, you can contact her at +996707880161 or send her an email [email protected]. Please note that she has very limited internet access and coverage so if she doesn’t answer you, ask for Elizat once you arrive in Tash Rabat. Her yurt camp is very close to the caravanserai.
Hiring a horse
You can hire a horse from practically any yurt camp in Tash Rabat. I found Elizat offered the best price, which was 750KGS ($11) for a horse and 1,500KGS ($22) for the guide, which can be split among several people. Price is per day.
How to get a permit to Chatyr Kul
Since Chatyr Kul is very close to the Chinese border, you will need to get a border permit. In order to do so, you should contact the Naryn CBT Office. Send them an email at [email protected] with a copy of your passport and they will do everything for you. Try to contact them 4 or 5 days in advance, otherwise, they will charge you extra for urgent service. Note that, at least, getting the permit takes one full working day (weekends don’t count), so plan accordingly. A non-urgent permit costs 1,000KGS ($15), whereas an urgent one costs 1,700KGS ($25).
What if I want to go walking by myself without a horse?
Sure, you can. If you want to stay in Chatyr Kul, there are some shepherd shelters somewhere close to the shore. Otherwise, going to the mountain pass takes around 4 hours (one-way). The first two hours, you just need to follow the valley but, at some point, you will have to turn right and start climbing those pretty green mountains. At the bottom of the pass, the landscape turns wild and arid. It’s a pretty tough one.