My Song Kul gift horse

Sometimes you don’t look the gift horse in its mouth.

I’d just rolled into Kochkor, a supply town for the herders living up at Song Kul lake during the summer and the tourists wanting to have a look. It was meagre, and suspiciously over-populated with taxis.

I hefted my pack and walked around the corner to the local Community Based Tourism (CBT) office. What I wanted was to either horse in or walk in from a town called Kyzart, from where I’d been told a hard day’s tramp would get me to the lake.

Two young women cornered me in the office and gave a quote for a horse trek. Being an awkward solo the horse option was well out of my budget and the girls were deliberately unhelpful about non-CBT transport to Kyzart, so I went across the road for the second best option: an ice cream.

As I was loitering on the roadside, disappointed and wondering what to do now my pony ride idea had been nixed, a man in a white 4WD drove up and called from his window: “Song Kul?”

I hesitated. Not because I’d learned my lesson about accepting rides, or anything else, from strange men but because I had no idea about what I was doing. Did I need a tent if I planned on walking out? How much food would I need? What, exactly, did I want to do?

I loitered a bit more and decided that it wouldn’t hurt to ask him how much he wanted for the ride (traditional hitch hiking doesn’t exist in Kyrgyzstan; anyone will pick you up for some petrol money).

Churgit was taking supplies and two untalkative children up to a yurt at Song Kul. Not only did he have a car that wasn’t stuffed, but he was a good driver too – a rare gem in Kyrgyzstan – and he effectively just wanted some cigarette money.

He wrote 400 som in the dirt. CBT had quoted a round trip of 2800 som. Decision made and a new plan created in a matter of seconds: stay at a yurt for a couple of nights, do some walking, maybe a pony ride, and hitch hike back out. Jackpot.

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