The minibus lurched violently to the side of the track and stopped. We were travelling through central Kyrgyzstan on our way to visit the caravanserai at Tash Rabat, and had been lurching slightly less violently for several hours already, this time we could tell it was different.
A flurry of expletives from Yuri, our large, chain-smoking Russian driver, was translated by our guide Pasha, as a gentle request for us to get out and push. The rain and hailstones had eased a little, so donning our waterproofs we put our shoulders to the back of the bus and heaved. Thirty mud-splattered minutes later we were off again.
The Silk Route was actually a series of trading posts where merchants rested, refreshed their animals and plied their trade both east and west. Following this trail, we passed flocks of goats expertly herded by horseback riders, and looked forward to camping in a yurt.
The circular tents decorated inside with shyrdaks; traditional appliqué felt blankets, were filled with a warm earthy aroma from stoves fuelled by dung.
A football net was strung up, and our sons, guide and hosts were soon engaged in a spirited kickabout. Meanwhile, our daughters were whisked away to Grandma’s caravan, plied with snacks and entertained with outdated Russian magazines.
After a chilly night, snuggled under thick quilts, we drove the short distance to Tash Rabat. Built in the 15th century, the only stone building in the region is famed for it’s perfect symmetry. A large central domed hall where horses can be stabled is surrounded by numerous small rooms, kitchens, even a dungeon. Outside, enjoying the fragrance of wild sage, and avoiding the many marmot burrows, we climbed the steep hill behind the fortress, to admire an endless vista of grey-green treeless hillsides, craggy peaks and scattered yurts, the altitude of 3500m, leaving us surprisingly breathless.
The next night was spent with local nomadic people in a yurt on the shores of the serene Song Kul Lake. The matriarch sported gleaming gold incisors, and her daughters, who served us food, pristine manicures. Herds of sleek, healthy, horses grazed peacefully under the guardianship of small boys and we hired a pretty little pony, with traditional felt saddle blanket for our daughter to ride. The pony’s name in Kyrgyz, translated as ‘The Brown Horse With The White Blaze’! The nomads are not sentimental.
In the small hours with temperatures close to zero and horses snuffling outside, we peeped out to see the clearest and starriest skies ever, the Milky Way stretching across the darkness.
Travelling the silk road is an adventure, but experiencing the remote beauty of this high Alpine valley, was a highlight to our journey. A few minutes stuck in mud was an unexpected bonus.