That night we camped early, near the foot of the Aylama Glacier, to wait out a tremendous hailstorm. When I awoke the next morning, my tent was frozen stiff, covered in ice from the previous evening’s rain.
Thereafter, it was a taxing 1,400m ascent across loose fans of scree to reach the knife-edged Archa-Tor Pass (3,900m). The ridge was dusted by fresh snow and we ate lunch while soaking in the sublimity of a huge U-shaped glacial valley. Only echoes of ravens and the ricocheting cracks of landslides disturbed the silence.
The descent was long and jarring through alpine pasture sparkling with gentians and bellflowers. On the way down we met Khanabek and his ten-year-old son tending a sizeable herd of horses. They invited us to camp alongside their yurt that night by the Dzheti-Oguz River, which was braided like an unthreading rope, fed by a magnificent complex of glaciers overlooked by frosted summits.
Upon arriving at Khanabek’s yurt, we scarcely had time to pitch our tents before his wife invited us in for tea and hot baked lepeshki. She explained that their family tends the livestock of other villagers who have no time to practice the old ways.
We left the next morning to walk out to Dzheti-Oguz town as an early sunshine starburst drew a cascade of brilliant light off the glacier. I watched their young son expertly saddle his horse while his five-year-old sister led another to an enclosure. They are Kyrgyzstan’s future generation of nomads – a culture that seems destined to endure.