WEEKLY PHOTO: Blue domes of Bukhara, Uzbekistan

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Bukhara is one of three fabled cities in Uzbekistan, Samarkand and Khiva being the other two. All are fortified cities where the skyline is dominated by blue domes and and minarets. The cities came into western concious during the 1800s when Russia and Britain were vying for influence in the region, a period known as The Great Game. The Khans who ruled the cities played the great powers off each other and many of their envoys came to a sticky end. In Bukhara the infamous ‘bug pit’, where several British Officers were incarcerated, still exists.

I travelled to Uzbekistan in 2011 and explored these ancient cities, walking the ramparts and climbing to the top of minarets. This photo sums up the cities for me, with impressive fortifications, protecting the blue tiled domes which rise out of the desert like precious gems.

WEEKLY PHOTO: Istanbul reflections

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In December 2011 I reached Istanbul after a 9 month overland trip from Kathmandu. Having followed the Silk Road through Central Asia, Istanbul was a significant milestone; the end of the Silk Road and my journey’s crossing from Asia into Europe.

Istanbul is a truly unique city, and I loved it. The blend of Asia and European and layers of history from Byzantine to Roman, Ottoman to modern Turkey. Today’s markets are still captivating, the hammams a fantastic place to relax and the food wonderful. I can’t wait to go back.

I took this photo on the Galata Bridge and it sums up Istanbul for me, the domes and minarets from old historic mosques, reflected in the new glass of modern Istanbul’s cafe culture.

 

4 travel tips for adventurers – keeping the ‘getting there’ costs down.

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So, you have seen a cheap flight, and it’s really cheap, the adventure is on. However, once you have added the cost of getting to the airport, taking your skis, and a bag, on the flight and then you need a snack and drink, it works out that it wasn’t that cheap after all. Here are 4 tips on how to keep these costs down.

1. Finding a cheap flight and then get it cheaper.

I use this website to search for flights, www.skyscanner.net. It’s easy to see when is the cheapest time to fly and what airports it is cheaper from. It is nearly always cheaper to fly midweek, there are extra taxes on Fridays and weekends. Then, I do NOT book through the site, instead I go direct to the airline’s site and find the flight again there. Doing this saves the commission cost of the search site.

Consider driving, this can be cheaper especially if there are 3 or 4 of you. Work out the cost of driving including tolls, fuel and the channel crossing. I save my Tesco points and get a free return Shuttle crossing each year.

2. Reduce baggage costs.

Booking bags onto a flight can sometimes cost more than the flight itself, so is a major consideration, and is another advantage of driving as the amount of luggage you take has little effect on cost.

To reduce baggage charges when flying, firstly of all, consider what you need to take, can you hire skis in resort? Or, on a longer trip, could you buy a bike and then sell it on afterwards?

So, you have decided what you need to take, now book the baggage when you book the flight, this is cheaper than booking it later, and much cheaper than booking when you check-in.

Booking sports equipment on a flight costs extra, but the luggage doesn’t have to contain only your skis or bike for example, you can pack anything in it as long as it is not over the specified weight. This means that I often travel with just a ski bag and hand luggage. I pack everything I need around my skis, keep it under 20kgs and stuff my hand luggage full; no need for another hold bag as well.

Make sure you read the small print. The the ‘sports bag’ option for ski equipment, for example, often allows for one ski bag and one ski boot bag, therefore actually two bags.

I have a spring scale at home to check the weight of any bags.

3. Getting to and from the airport.

Again, this can added considerably to your overall cost. Look at all the transport options, bus, train or drive and airport parking.

If travelling alone my preferred option is the train. To reduce the cost I book the journey in advance using any of the train line websites. I often find that if I search for a train by putting in the departure and arrival stations then the cost is a lot higher than if I split the journey, even if it is exactly the same journey, in the sense of train times and connections. Therefore, work out the journey, train times and connections and then calculate the cost by booking each leg of the journey separately, I bet it will be cheaper, sometimes even half the price!

Check the airport website before booking the journey. Reading the Glasgow Preswick airport website the other day, I found out that you can get a half price train ticket on the train from the airport to anywhere in Scotland when you show confirmation of your flight, and if you are flying on a new route (up to 6 months after flights begun) then your train ticket is free.

Another example is the excellent Rail and Sail deals which I’ve used to get to Dublin for the marathon.

Heathrow is the UK’s largest airport and one of the busiest in the world, however a less advertised fact is that it is also has, per mile, one of the most expensive train journeys in the the world via the Heathrow Express. It amazes me that few people know that there is an alternative train which serves Heathrow passengers, it’s called the Heathrow Connect, and is a normal train service. It stops at a few other stops along the way so takes 5 to 15 mins longer than the Express service but is half the price, or even cheaper if you have a railcard (no railcards can be used on the Heathrow Express).

If there are two or three of you travelling together then driving and using airport parking may well work out cheaper. There are airport parking comparison websites which can be found online or through the airport site itself.

4. Avoid the little extras, come prepared.

Food and drink is expensive at airports, and on a flight, if flying on a budget airline. Coming prepared with snacks can mean considerable savings.

With current airport procedures not allowing liquids through security it is not possible to take water with you. However, it is possible to take a water bottle. I carry a small water bottle which I empty before going through security and then refill it on the other side. I even do this for long-haul flights as I hate having to keep asking for water on the flight and been given a thimbles worth at a time..

Combine this with some snacks, which are generally no problem taking through security, then you’ve saved yourself loads.

 

Buff-tastic adventures

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Left foot in Italy, Right foot in France. On the Kuffner Arête. Photo Credit: Simon Verspeak

How can something so simple be so versatile? Maybe there are life lessons to be learnt from the simple Buff. But, before I start getting into a bizarre parody about how life should be more like a Buff, here’s a review on one in the new winter range.

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Using the golden fleece of the lesser New Zealand merino sheep as a fabric for outdoor clothing has been in vogue for a while now. OK, they’re not really golden, but you might think it with some of the prices involved. The material is soft, has a high insulating to weight advantage and miracle qualities when it comes to eliminating nasty sweaty smells.

I’ve been trying out Buff Wear’s reversible wool neckwarmer Buff. It’s been from Peru to the French and Swiss Alps, to the summit of Kilimanjaro and has done a great job. I’d go as far to say that I love it (obviously, in a completely British understated way).

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Trying to look the part, France. Photo Credit: Simon Verspeak

This British-ness was never employed so much as on the Kuffner Arête, a ridge in the shadow of Mont Blanc, this summer. Tweaking an old ankle injury whilst clambering onto the precarious Col du Fourche shelter it was soon apparent that I couldn’t walk as far as the hut door due to the shooting pains from my ankle up my leg. Not wanting to inconvenience my climbing partner I mumbled that something about it being fine in the morning. At the ungodly hour of 2am I donned my buff, tied my boot up especially tight and headed out onto the classic knife-edge snow ridge which denotes the French/Italian border for the 800m climb to the summit of Mont Maudit, Mont Blanc’s easterly neighbour. The weather was perfect, I’d put the ankle pain into the ‘deal with after beer’ part of my brain and the climbing was pleasantly uncomplicated. After 14 hours of ‘wake to summit to beer’, my ankle appeared cured and proved to be a great start to my 3 week trip in the Alps.

Unlike my unreliable body my Buff didn’t let me down. On the trip to the Alps I noticed was how soft the wool neckwarmer Buff is, far softer than the standard wool Buff (not sure why but it is). It was my back-up hat, hair band (where it is comfortable to wear underneath a helmet), it was used to wipe sweat out my eyes/dirt off my face/food from around my mouth and, obviously, kept my neck, snug and warm.

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100% summit success on Kilimanjaro.

The Kuffner Arete was play, a month later I was flying out to Tanzania to lead a group up Kilimanjaro for work. On any trip I am never parted with my Buff, especially on a flight. As soon as I need to sleep the Buff, handily around my neck, is pulled up over my eyes and, instant blissful sleep, or as blissful as upright economy class sleep can be. The Buff made it to the ‘roof of Africa’, along with myself and the rest of the team; a 100% summit success rate.

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Dirty buff!

On Kilimanjaro it became apparent that white clothing is to be avoided on long multi-day expeditions, especially those walking through dusty African volcanic ash. The snowy white side of my grey/white reversible wool neckwarmer Buff did not fair well and soon resembled the colour of my expedition finger nails. The Buff’s only salvation was its reversible nature and the converse colour being dark grey.

 

 

My inability to stay clean and attract dirt aside, the reversible wool neckwarmer Buff is ace. My favourite buff to date, and soon to be accompanying me back to the Alps this winter. A great stocking filler for Christmas, especially for those difficult to buy for men is your lives (boyfriend/Dad/brother); surely better than socks? And let’s face it, presents we can ‘borrow’ are always the best ones.

 

Check out http://www.buffwear.co.uk/buff-headwear/Neckwarmer-Wool-Buff to get your own!

WEEKLY PHOTO – Children with spinning top, Sacred Valley, Peru

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This summer I led an expedition in Peru. The team and I stayed in a rural village in the Sacred Valley, close to the well known Inca ruin of Machu Picchu. Although Machu Picchu is visited by up to 2000 visitors a day, no tourist visited this village during our stay. The kids were fascinated by us all and introduced us to their games such as the playing with this spinning top.

The highlight of our stay, for me, was the Sunday market. People came from surrounding hamlets and filled the market with the vibrant red ponchos traditional to of the Quechua people.

WEEKLY PHOTO – Camel, Wadi Rum, Jordan

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I took this photo of a camel and Bedouin handler in Wadi Rum,Jordan last week. Our group of 15, including me, 12 other women, Dave and Abdullah a local guide, trekked through the desert and scrambled through canyons and over the rocky peaks, culminating in summiting Jebel Khazali. Don’t be fooled by the camel’s long lashes, big doe eyes and glimmer of a smile, beneath this vizard is an animal intent on causing indiscriminate bodily harm.

WEEKLY PHOTO – Dhows, Mozambique Island

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Mozambique Island, a Unesco World Heritage site, lies off the northern coast of Mozambique in the Indian Ocean. In August 2012 I travelled overland from Zambia, through Malawi and northern Mozambique to Mozambique Island, the most easterly point of my trip. I caught a train through northern Mozambique and after several bus rides reached the coast. Just a handful of backpackers and those driving overland through Africa visit the island which is joined to the mainland by a bridge. Mozambique Island’s architecture reflects the fact that is was a hub for trade in the Indian Ocean from the 15th century. Its old trade links with Arabia, Persia and Madagascar as well as and its Portuguese colonial past are evident in the cobbled streets of the Stone Town.The island is dominated by a fort on the northern tip of the island, mosques are built against white washed European-colonial buildings, and the fishing dhows are still in the glassy waters next to white sandy beaches.

WEEKLY PHOTO – Man with sheep on motorbike, Karakum Desert, Turkmenistan

Man with sheep on motorbike Karakum Desert, Turkmenistan

 

I captured this photo whilst travelling through Turkmenistan as part of an overland adventure starting in Kathmandu, Nepal and travelling back to the UK. In total this trip took 9 months. Turkmenistan is one of the most isolationist countries in the world, second to North Korea. It was difficult to get a visa which allowed just 5 days to travel across the country. In those days I had some surreal experiences of which a sheep being transported on a motorbike was one of the lesser ones.

Lundy – Climbing on England’s Secret Island

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As passengers tucked into bacon sandwiches and milky cups of tea an announcement came over the tannoy, “the sea conditions today are moderate to rough.”

“how rough could the Bristol Channel be?”

We were about to set out on a voyage into the Bristol channel. It had been an early start to catch the MS Oldenburg bobbing benignly at her mooring in Bideford. I mean, really, how rough could the Bristol Channel be? I’ve sailed the South Ocean from the Falkland Islands to South Georgia, Antarctica and back; this really couldn’t be a big deal.

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I can now confirm that it can get quite rough in the Bristol Channel. The waves tossed the MS Oldenburg back and forth, crashing over the bow. Passengers braved the poor weather on deck in attempts to feel less queasy with the aid of the bracing sea air. The large group of children on a school trip were restricted to below deck for fear of them being thrown overboard, and they wailed and sobbed as their poor teachers tried to calm them whilst handing out sick bags. After 2 hours it was with great relief from all that we came into harbour on the tiny island of Lundy. People gingerly stepped off the boat and found a spot in the sun to sit and gather themselves. Another announcement came over the tannoy, “if you would like to join this afternoon’s boat tour around the island, please book on-board.” I doubted there would be many takers.

After a bit more of a seafaring adventure than we had anticipated, and thankfully firmly back on dry land, we now had the run of one of Britain’s most beautiful islands. 5 km long and just over 1 km wide, Lundy’s golden granite cliffs jut out of the sea. The island draws a diverse group of visitors who want to take in the sea views, hike, watch the wildlife and birds, sea kayak and SCUBA dive around it’s shores, but we had come to scale the soaring cliffs. Lundy hosts some of the best sea cliff climbing in the UK and the wild setting makes rock climbing here truly spectacular.

“Lundy hosts some of the best sea cliff climbing in the UK”

We had been tipped off to carry the climbing kit we needed for the day in our hand-luggage, as the rest of our belongings had been lowered into the hold for the voyage and it took a little time to be unloaded. Once unloaded, however, hold luggage is delivered to the accommodation for you, hence there being no need to wait about. So off we headed, a little unsteadily, in search of our first rock route.

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There is still a working farm on the island and we found our way through the dry stone walls which created a patchwork of fields where fat ewes munched contentedly. We passed the elegant Old Lighthouse, obsolete due to being built too high; its light could not penetrate through the fog to sealevel. And found our way to the top of Landing Craft Bay. Most of the approaches to the climbs on Lundy require an airy abseil above the waves to small belay ledges where you can begin climbing. This adds an extra feeling of adventure to climbing here, whilst also requiring extra expertise to safely access the start of the routes. Luckily for us the first climb was situated next to a board platform of granite sloping down to a pebbly beach where we could walk around to the start of a climb called Shamrock. It was a superb route of clean rock, with an exposed swing out onto an arête at the top. We were hooked.

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Si on the arête on Shamrock.

Most visitors come for the day but it is possible to stay on the island, either in the range of accommodation managed by the Landmark Trust or, in our case, the budget option; camping. If you plan to stay on the island it is not possible to buy a boat ticket useless you have accommodation booked in advance. I was relieved to be pitching my tent that evening instead of returning back to the mainland on the boat, as the wind still hadn’t dropped and it looked like it would be another rough crossing. That evening we explored the hamlet. The tiny community has a pub serving produce from the farm, a shop and a sizeable church with a square tower that dominates the skyline at the south end of the island. The campsite is well served and even has hot showers – luxury. Although the shop is well stocked we’d been organised for once and had brought most of our supplies across with us, along with a double blow up mattress and duvet – why rough it when you don’t need to? That evening we tucked into a hearty meal with a glass of wine (top tip; boxes of wine maximise weight to wine ratio!).

“ The Devil’s Slide – 300 m of pristine granite which sweeps down into the ocean.”

We set to work over the next couple of days ticking off the wish list of climbs we had made. The day trippers came and went and we bumped into other climbers and swapped tips on good routes. A few days in we went to seek out Lundy’s most famous climbing area; the Devil’s Slide – 300 m of pristine granite which sweeps down into the ocean, hosting one of the UK’s most famous slab climbs. We gained a vantage point to take in its splendour. Gazing over the cliffs and ocean we realised that something was missing; people. There was no one there, no climbers, walkers or birdwatchers; we had it to ourselves. Quickly we scurried around to the descent, giggling at the prospect of enjoying such classic climbing to ourselves. That day the sun shone, no one joined us and, padding up the warm granite, we ticked off three of the best routes in country; Devil’s Slide, Albion and Satan’s Slip. Without a doubt one of the best day’s rock climbing I’ve had.

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Si climbing the Devil’s Slide

Lundy’s remote location has attracted some eccentric characters – and according to a local warden still does! None more than Martin Coles Harman (sadly no relation), the island’s owner between 1924 – 1954. He proclaimed himself King and set up the island’s own currency and postal system. Coins were issued in dominations of Puffins for trade on the island. In 1931 he was prosecuted for setting up an illegal currency under the United Kingdom’s Coinage Act of 1870 and the coins were withdrawn. The stamps and postal service, however, remain, and stamps can be bought in pounds sterling as one puffin conveniently converts to one pence. Today the postal service is the oldest operating private postal service in the world. The stamps are highly collectable and an out of the blue text from my Dad requesting a selection meant I made a special trip to the shop, which doubles as the post office, for him.

“seal pups’ … mewls and barks echoed around the cliffs”

Walking to the rugged north of the island the next day we visited one of the two working lighthouses, its Mediterranean white walls set against the glistening ocean. After some indecision we settled on climbing American Beauty and set up the long abseil down into a cove. On the rough pebbly beach seals basked in the sun. There, a huge dark, damp cave gaped at the back of the cove and we peered into this menacing black void from a distance. Here seal pups sheltered and their mewls and barks echoed around the cliffs. American Beauty was another stunning climb, hard enough to require thought and precision but not too bold to be scary. Just my type of climbing.

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Crossing to the Flying Buttress before the tides turn.

On our final day we headed to the Flying Buttress area. To gain access to this area a path down to the Battery is taken. Here a couple of derelict buildings and several canons can be found. The Battery was manned by two keepers and their families who were employed to fire the canons on foggy days to warn ships of the proximity of dangerous cliffs. It is possible to down climb or abseil from here to get within striking distance of the Flying Buttress, a pillar of clean granite which leans against the main cliff creating a bridge across the sea. Several climbs ascend this pillar and we had these in our sights. Being able to reach the bottom of the climbs, however, is dependent on the tides as once the descent has been made a sea level traverse followed by some rock hopping is needed and this is only possible at low tide. We just made it across without getting our feet wet and set out on the classic route, Double Diamond. The tide had risen too high for us to cross a second time so we chose to climb Diamond Crack on the main cliff. An overhanging crack; short and punchy, and not something I’d usually climb. I find these sorts of climbs difficult and intimidating due to their requirement for more upper body strength, so it was with great satisfaction when I confidently pulled through the final moves and topped out in the sun.

MS Oldenburg in the island's harbour.

MS Oldenburg in the island’s harbour.

It was with a little trepidation that we walked to the quayside on our last day. The MS Oldenburg bobbed gently in the water. It felt windy. We boarded and took up a good spot; centre of the boat, line of sight of the horizon and where we could get a blast of sea air. Luckily, it turned out that this was a different sort of wind, one that didn’t create a stomach churning swell, and it was a smooth crossing which we could actually enjoy and take in the views. We were uneventfully delivered back to the North Devon coast with plenty of stories to tell of our Lundy climbing adventure.

 

Want to visit Lundy?

Boats leave from Bideford or Ilfracomb and times can be found here – http://www.lundyisland.co.uk/sailing.htm

Don’t have very good sea legs? You can get a helicopter instead – http://www.lundyisland.co.uk/helicopter.htm

Book accommodation including the campsite through the Landmark Trust – http://www.landmarktrust.org.uk/Search-and-book/location/lundy/

Restrictions apply to rock climbing due to nesting birds usually between 1st April – 31st July find out about access here – https://www.thebmc.co.uk/modules/RAD/viewcrag.aspx?id=245

Tide times – http://www.tidetimes.org.uk/lundy-tide-times

The official Lundy website – http://www.lundyisland.co.uk/

Kyrgyzstan by horseback – travelling like the local nomads

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By the end of the 5 day horse trek we undertook in the hills of Kyrgyzstan James would have lost yet another thing. So far, on our overland trip from Kathmandu to London, he had lost 2 hats, 2 books, numerous pairs of pants (exact number unknown), toilet paper at critical moments, an investigation was still ongoing to his involvement in the loss of my headtorch and one………………………. horse.

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Kyrgyz rural life is based around horses, so to fully experience it we would have to hire mounts and ride into the mountains. We headed to the fantastically organised Community Based Tourism (СBT) Association for advice on a suitable trek. Our requirements were a 5 day trek, no camping or self-catering if at all possible, quiet ponies, spectacular scenery, a knowledgeable guide and the chance to see local rural life. They recommended a jailoo (settlements that spring up during the summer at the best pastures) hopping trip around Song-Kul lake in the Tien Shan Mountains staying with families in their yurts.

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Two days later everything was organised and we caught the bus to our starting point of Kochkor in Central Kyrgyzstan, and about 4 hours from the capital, Bishkek. In Kochor we stayed with Mrs Guljat for the night. She was part of the CBT homestay network and after several months on the road, staying in hostels, cheap hotels and camping, we gladly let her mother us as she provided home cooked meals and an immaculate, cosy home.

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The following morning we met our guide, Milan, outside the local CBT office and set out in a taxi to where our horses would be waiting for us. The car showed promise to begin with but 10 miles in it spluttered to a halt. Some handy work under the bonnet and we made it another 200m before rolling to a halt again. Four breakdowns later (and a total of 10 so far in Kyrgyzstan) and the problem was finally located to the fuel pipe. After much swearing, which James wouldn’t translate instead saying, “and that’s an expletive and so is that….”, we eventually got going again and made it to Kyzart Pass.

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“The car showed promise to begin with but 10 miles in it spluttered to a halt”

At the pass we were introduced to our trusty steeds for our trip. The two ponies had totally unpronounceable Kyrgyz names so we called them Jeffrey and Steve. Jeff was a 4 year old bright bay whilst Steve was an iron grey 10 year old stallion. We managed to clamber aboard and with our guide in the lead headed into the green hills. We rode past colourful traditional Kyrgyz caravans surrounded by flocks of fat-tailed-sheep and herds of horses and cows and continued up and over a 3500m pass and then down the other side.

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The hills were flush with spring grass which softened their curves like the skin of a peach. We were in sight of our first night’s yurtstay when there was a rumble of thunder and it began to rain. Within minutes the rain turned to hail and then the heavens let rip with hazelnut sized hailstones and thunder and lightning crashing overhead. Steve and Jeffrey swung their backs into the wind and refused to move. Fortunately we were near a cluster of farm buildings with a little lean-to barn. Our guide evicted the cows and we took shelter until the worst of the storm had passed.

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“then the heavens let rip with hazelnut sized hailstones”

That evening we snacked on a traditional spread of cream, jam and round flat loaves of lipioshka bread torn into chunks, washed down will gallons of tea, before dinner of the rice dish plov. This meal routine would be repeated throughout our trek but varied with fried fish fresh from the lake and sometimes with the fermented mares’ milk. Breakfast usually consisted of semolina or rice pudding. The diet is so heavily based around milk, mainly horse milk, products that anyone who dislikes milk or has a an allergy would struggle. This posed a bit of a problem for James, who has an extreme aversion to milk; the result being double portions for me and near starvation for him. That evening we read before bedding down for the night in the guest yurt; where thick bed rolls and heavy blankets on the floor made our beds. Gazing up from my warm bed I studied the yurt roof. At the centre the wooden spokes of the roof frame are brought together like a wheel to what is called the Shangrak. The Shangrak is highly symbolic and although much of a yurt is replaced and repaired over time the original Shangrak should remain and be passed on from generation to generation. The red and yellow Kyrgyz flag has a Shangrak at it’s centre. I drifted off.

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The following day we rode over a second 3000m pass and got our first glimpse of Song-Kul lake framed by snowy peaks in the distance. The spring flowers were in full bloom, yellow buttercups, blue forget-me-nots, purple violets and white edelweiss covered the ground making it look as idyllic as it sounds. These were the summer pastures for the Kyrgyz and their herds. It was early in the season and yurts were still being built as families moved all their possessions up into the hills. But their herds were already at home, fattening up on the fresh new shoots; horses dotted the pasture as far as the eye could see.

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Over the next couple of days we circumnavigated the lake stopping for lunch at one yurt then staying at another after a couple of hours riding in the afternoon. The air was so clear that we could often make out our destination which would then take 5 or 6 hours to ride to, never seemingly getting closer to the dismay of our aching cheeks. We watched the storms roll in across the lake. Sometimes they would hit us, sometimes not. One morning our guide gave a 7 year old boy a lift to his herd of horses. The boy made polite conversation with James and asked the name of his horse. “Jeffrey”, James replied, “Jeffrey”, the boy repeated. A few minutes went by and then the boy said, “I’m sorry what is your horse called again?” Still puzzled he said, “I’ve never heard of a horse called Jeffrey before.” Milan, who had a great sense of humour, was chuckling to himself.

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We stopped for lunch on the penultimate day at a yurt at the side of the lake, amazed to see a couple of shaggy two-humped Bactrian camels grazing. A drunk man staggered over to us and tried to introduce himself. He grabbed James’s hand and decided that they should get to know each other better through the medium of wrestling. James eventually managed to extract himself, rather dishevelled.

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On the final night we stayed with a wonderful family in their homely yurt. Gran, Mum and their 6 children (4 girls and 2 boys) were fantastic hosts. A riot nearly broke out when they worked out how to use James’s ipod touch. Before long, dozens of sticky fingers were pressing every icon simultaneously. Of particular amusement was the imitation police siren with flashing blue lights.

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“Jeffrey hadn’t shown any signs of being a trouble maker”

We were sorry to be leaving the following day but packed up our stuff ready to go. However there was no sign of Milan and our horses. Eventually, Milan returned with Steve and his own horse but there was no sign of Jeffrey. When the 5 year old boy in the yurt heard about the missing horse he saddled his donkey immediately, recruited his 3 year old sister and they both set out to join the search. James was rather concerned that two under 6s and a donkey were being trusted with the search for Jeffrey but, luckily, their big sister called them back for breakfast. Jeffrey hadn’t shown any signs of being a trouble maker, in fact he had shown very few signs of anything, plodding and munching his way through each day. However, despite 4 hours of searching Jeffrey could not be found. This meant that James had to walk over the final pass back to the village of Kyzart where a final lunch was waiting for us. Milan phoned Jeffrey’s owner to see if he had returned home. He hadn’t. “What did he say about losing his horse?” I asked, concerned. Ever the man of few words, Milan replied, “Find him,” and shrugged. Our hosted assured us that Jeffrey would be making his way home and there wouldn’t be a problem. The consequence of our late arrival was that we spent another night at Mrs Guljat’s in Kochkor; which was no bad thing.

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Do this trip yourself:

Kyrgyzstan is sometimes referred to as the Switzerland of Central Asia. It is a truly beautiful country.

Visas – Good news! British citizens now no longer need a tourist visa for visits up to 60 days in Kyrgyzstan. https://www.gov.uk/foreign-travel-advice/kyrgyzstan/entry-requirements

Community Based Tourism (CBT) can help organise treks by horse or on foot. http://www.cbtkyrgyzstan.kg/index.php/en/

Is Kyrgyzstan safe? More good news. Although not in the Song-Kul/Kochor/Bishkek area which is in the north and central regions of Kyrgyzstan, there were some troubles in the south of the country particularly in 2010. This led to the FCO issuing travel warnings for the areas affected. Things have been settling down since and as of this month FCO removed all warnings. Up-to-date information and more advice on travelling in Kyrgyzstan can be found here https://www.gov.uk/foreign-travel-advice/kyrgyzstan and it is always sensible to safeguard against petty crime.

If you would like more advice on travelling in Kyrgyzstan, Central Asia or travel in general why not join one of my travel workshops?