Our first introduction to the Tibetan horse wranglers was during dinner. He strode into the hotel restaurant and pulled me to my feet. He looks me up and down, much as one might evaluate a horse, with an expression more befitting examining that which comes out the rear.
“He’s too tall. He’ll need our largest horses”. Having just arrived in RiLongZhen to go horse riding, I’d been expecting to need a horse, but not necessarily multiple horses. He pointed out the window at his horse. It was tiny – heavily built, but not much taller than a donkey. A second one was loaded with boxes and boxes of beer, so it seems they can take more than enough weight.
“Do you have larger horses?”
“They’re in the other valleys”. We’d opted for the harder to reach second valley. Most people stop in the first valley, so they weren’t used to foreign tourists here.
“We do have two large horses here, but they’re…”. mumble-mumble..”Can he ride?”. I can’t make the mumble out. H translates it as a word meaning feisty, bordering on angry.
I have ridden for days at a time, but only on camels. I wouldn’t say I can ride very well. I weigh this up against spending a day in the minus 10 degree centigrade village without electricity, windows or adequate clothing. It occurs to me that unless the other horses are much larger I can probably just take my feet out of the stirrups, stand up and the horse will carry on out from underneath me. “I can ride”.
The clatter of hooves wakes us at 5.20. It’s a struggle to get out from under the blankets onto the cold tile floor, but an incentive to get dressed quickly, so we’re downstairs at 5.30.
The village is pitch black, but even by the starlight I can tell they’re still not very big horses.
Shoed horses aren’t allowed to be ridden in town so we hike 30 minutes to the start of the trail. We’re at altitude, so this is harder than expected in the freezing night air. The actual trail is another 20 minutes straight up the side of a hill, so we start to climb on foot through the dark. It’s not that bad, but I wheeze a little and the guides watch me warily.
By the time we reach the top the sky is lightening a bit so we can see the grassy hillside ahead.
The start of the trail is marked by a cluster of boulders. He lines the horses up against a low rock so H can climb on easily. I don’t need the rock to easily swing my leg over the horse.
We set off up the steep trail and my horse seemed to be coping well. By the top there’s the beginning of daylight and we dismount to view the golden coloured snows under the rising sun.
My horse looks at me balefully and I can now see it’s drenched in sweat. I try the larger horse a short distance up to the next viewpoint.
It keeps stopping, panting for breath.
The guides aren’t too worried yet, but say it gets steeper the further we go so I get off and walk.
I keep stopping, panting for breath.
It’s clear I’m not going to be able to hike for another eleven hours, especially at this altitude.
Turning for one last look at the spectacular view I head down. They offer me a horse, but I’m now feeling lazy so walk all the way.
Coming down I pass numerous people just heading up. They ask if I’ve been to the top and I tell them the view is worth the effort… They seem unduly impressed. I should probably feel bad for lying, but instead stop for a breakfast of tofu, which is spicy enough to make me forget any guilt.
The next people to pass me are bemused to find a lone foreigner drinking green tea and munching the contents of a plastic bag with chopsticks, whilst they eat Snickers bars washed down with Coke.
Meanwhile, H carried on down into the valley and took some great photos.