Friday June 17 Trek to upper Khotan Nur
I like the people who come on adventures like this. Living outside, sleeping in a tent, climbing a mountain, riding a horse, mushing dogs, paddling a raft, shaking off the trappings of city and profession – all these serve as equalizers. Often I never find out what my fellow adventurers do for a living. Who we were before, what life we will return to matter less in the context of a group outing than how we relate to the group and further its objectives.
On this trip we have more than the usual amount of time to talk and get to know each other, but I think of my fellow participants not as doctors, engineers, nurses, or whatever. We are hikers and riders, older and younger, stronger and weaker, quiet or boisterous. The younger set includes Leslie, Suzie and their son Noa, who are completing a round-the-world trip, and Patrick, who did this same trek a couple of years ago. The more “mature” group includes Jay, his wife Patty and their friend John; Adeline, Phyllis, who always has a large Canon SLR attached to her, and me, the oldest participant. Not a sour apple in the lot.
Today we begin the trek in earnest. Breakfast at 0700, and bring your packed duffle with you. Tent takedown after breakfast and get ready to ride or walk (only a few of us plan to ride all the way).
Loading up take some time, however, so there is an opportunity to enjoy this beautiful site.
Wildflowers always deserve a close look.
The wranglers have already rounded up and saddled the horses and are busy loading the two-hump camels that will carry all of our gear. Other wranglers help those of us who need a hand to mount safely.
We all set off together, but the fast crowd is soon galloping away, running back, playing games. I manage to get Pun’kin going at a fast trot a few times, but mostly we walk. I’m trying to use the crop effectively, but end up dropping it all too frequently, forcing one of the wranglers to dismount and retrieve it.
Our pace is leisurely and we travel rather independently – certainly not in a line, but side by side or on our own, close to the front or lagging behind. Eddie, Dosjan and 2 wranglers, who are leading saddled horses for the walkers, keep an eye on us, but for the first time I experience freedom on a horse. The country is open, and we can choose to ride the rough track or make our own path. The wind on my face, the steady movement of Pun’kin beneath me, the broad blue dome of sky and the flat terrain stretching toward distant, snow-capped mountains transport me to an almost trance-like state.
After a nice lunch by a stream in the trees, we don rain gear under dark clouds. A cold wind accompanies us to the next campsite on a broad plain above the lake. We manage to get the tents up ahead of a downpour that justifies taking a quick nap before dinner. We enjoy a rainbow with our meal.
A clear stream runs along one side of the camp, lined by willows where unseen birds sing an evening chorus. In the distance, a cuckoo repeats his monotonous 2-note call.
John, Jay and I walk toward a large boulder to take sunset photos.
On the way back we notice that the crew have a horse hogtied on the ground. It’s the Kazakh version of shoeing. Only the front feet get shoes, which are one size fits all. The “nails” are crude metal spikes which are hammered to a point (4 nails per shoe). The nail is driven part way in, pulled out with pliers, pounded some more, driven in again, pulled out, etc, until at last the wrangler is satisfied. The horse seems resigned and accustomed to this treatment. Indeed, all of the horses submit readily to people, even though they run wild for most of the year.