Band of Horses

May 20, 2013

Like the morning after a fight with your girlfriend, the next morning was embarrassingly awkward with the hostess. I had paid for both nights in advance and wasn’t going to move accommodation out of principle, so it was time to smile and get over it.  Having aired my grievance, I slept quite well, so I was ready for a day of hiking.

The 250ft high waterfalls.

The 250ft high waterfalls.

Arslanbob is a beautiful town nestled at the end of a lush valley, which has been famous for it’s hunting and farming bounty since the days when Alexander the Great’s army occupied these lands. On his way back from his failed campaign in Afghanistan, he made sure to take the Kyrgyz walnut back to Greece to cultivate it. I have never known the walnut to be called the Greek nut, but this is why. The truth is that the walnut originated in Malaysia. Today, the town is still famous for it’s walnut grove, which is the largest in the world and part of a larger walnut forest.

Sjoerd had spoken with a Dutch couple the day before and was interested in meeting them at the CBT office for a horse trek. He seemed rather excited to speak Dutch for the day, so I simply went along to the CBT office see what hiking options were available. In the end, neither of us achieved our objectives. The couple had left with the CBT guide, so he didn’t have the chance to speak Dutch and I didn’t have any idea of where to hike.

Yup. I stopped to take a picture of this leaf.

Yup. I stopped to take a picture of this leaf.

Sjoerd had already seen the smaller of two waterfalls yesterday, so we agreed to walk upstream to the taller of the two. The deep overcast hadn’t lifted and we would be sprayed with short showers until mid-afternoon. Even so, the view of the falls was worth going up the steep trail. With rain on the horizon, I decided that I would scramble up a wet, rocky chimney for the view from the top of the 250ft falls. Sjoerd didn’t seem much interested in following me, so I planned on making the trip quick. The vertigo inducing view of Arslanbob and the valley was spectacular as rays of sunlight did their best to burn through the cloud cover. Just as I finished taking photos, Sjoerd emerged from the grassy horizon to my left.

Vertigo inducing look down the edge of the falls.

Vertigo inducing look down the edge of the falls.

This was a huge relief because the climb down would have been treacherous, so we surveyed the land and decided that we could make a loop through the walnut forest back to town. That’s the upside to a part of the world that has few trails- you can walk wherever you want. The downside is that you’re not sure if double-backing will be necessary to clear an obstacle. We still had several hundred feet of elevation gain left to the ridge and all of it was hard earned. It was so steep that, with 10+lbs of camera equipment on my back, I had to be careful not to fall backwards. In terms of footing, where there was vegetation, it was wet and slippery, and where there wasn’t, it was loose and unpredictable. I hate to admit that I welcomed a chance to stop and take photos of a textured leaf as much for the break as to capture the image, but I did. In the meantime, Sjoerd scouted a great route that kept us on the ridge and out of the ravine. Just below the clouds we found a lush jailoo, or summer pasture. Like giant mushrooms breaking ground, only large stones and boulders penetrated the thick carpet of grass, giving it the feel of being in the British Isles at roughly 7000ft.

Dude! We have the place to ourselves!

Dude! We have the place to ourselves!

We continued on until we could see down into another pasture. This one teemed with goats, sheep and horses moving about under the instructions of their owners. The picturesque setting, complete with a grassy-banked stream, beckoned a stop for lunch. On the way down, I told Sjoerd about the time I hiked alone in Montenegro and was harassed by feral horses looking for food. Like every person that’s ever heard it, he was unconvinced that a group of horses could be intimidating- that was until a group of horses suddenly became interested in us. Somehow, I was given the loaf of bread that they wanted. I quickly stuffed the loaf in my backpack before they got too close, but still found myself in the oddly familiar position of being semi-circled by horses begging for food. While these horses weren’t feral or as aggressive as those in Montenegro, it was still intimidating to be so close to such large animals. Oh, I see! You don’t believe me either!

Looks like I have company.

Looks like I have company.

Nevertheless, they went back to grazing and we found a spot far enough away that they weren’t likely to bother us as we ate and watched the cloud ceiling lower. The darkening backdrop was stunning, but it was time to move on and avoid the approaching rain shadow. Using landmarks and instincts to direct us to the walnut forest meant that we climbed numerous fences and trespassed through many people’s property. The important thing here is that we were never caught. We did, however, cake our boots in mud from several encounters with steep and loose hillsides. It was worth it because a walnut forest is something to behold. There’s no significant undergrowth due to the uninterrupted canopy, making this natural phenomenon look utterly manicured and contrived.

Walnut trees as far as the eyes could see.

Walnut trees as far as the eyes could see.

It was well past 4PM at this time, and I was running out of food and energy. I just didn’t expect the hike to last much past lunch. Likely due to dehydration, it seemed that all of the synovial fluid in my knees had dried up, making the final descent into town a rather painful experience. Aging is a bitch! After 9 hours of hiking, we were back at the house. Dinner had already been started, so I grabbed the first bucket of hot water to ladle myself clean, cutting the hot water with cold so there would be enough to rinse properly.

Sjoerd and the kids of Arslanbob.

Sjoerd and the kids of Arslanbob.

Click on the gallery to enlarge the rest. Enjoy!

DIMLAMA! If you ever see this on the menu at an Uzbek restaurant, you must order it. It never disappoints, and this dimlama was the most memorable. Dimlama is basically stewed lamb and potatoes, but there are spices in there, too. We used all the bread available to soak up every bit of liquid left on the plate. Such a heavy meal was perfect replenishment for the hike and fuel for another cool rainy night. It wasn’t even 10PM, but once that heavy comforter warmed, I was out.

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One thought on “Band of Horses

  1. Pingback: Just the usual Bishkek | marcusallanadventures

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