We looked below and saw two figures waving frantically to us from a boulder at the river’s edge. We waved back, brandishing our trekking poles aloft like exotic insects.
We waved again. More screams. A grey horse came into focus by the boulder and then broke free carrying a dark bundle towards us. The horse forded a braid in the river and plunged into the second sending white spray over its haunches.
“Yah yah.” I heard above the rush of the water.
We stopped and waited.
“Yah yah.” It charged a small patch of grass. The bundle astride had two heads.
“Yah yah.” And was switching a whip.
The beast was urged straight up a steep bank beneath us, hooves scrabbling on scree and arrived in front of us. Panting.
We looked up at two small faces as their expressions flitted from victorious to uncertain. We lowered our waspish sunglasses and reached up to shake the boys' hands as if they were men. They erupted into giggles, again delighted with themselves.
“Kak vas zavoot? Minya zavoot Helen.” There was more laughter once these little Kyrgyz speakers comprehended our anglicised Russian.
“Minya zavoot Naseer,” replied the frontman. I sized him up, he was perhaps eight. He wore a baseball cap and his wellington boots were wedged into short stirrups. Behind him, his brother clung on with one hand, flip-flops in the other, bare feet sticking out at right angles from the broad back of the horse. His name, when we coaxed it out of him, was so long that I could not commit it to memory. The little one was five or six.
We patted the horse (which was still breathing hard) and told them that we came from Shotlandia and, running out of entertainment, asked if we could take their photo. They leaned down from the horse as my husband cupped his hand over the digital display to show them the results.
We stood a little longer inspecting each other, the sound of the river rushing beneath us. The horse, recovered, scratched a hoof. We placed our hands on our hearts in the Central Asian way. “Dasvidaniya. Nice to meet you.”
“Yah!” Naseer raised the whip. “Yah Yah!” The horse started down the steep bank, the frontman lounging with the ease of the men that can ride drunk on three bottles of vodka. The little one was laughing with delight.
“Yah yah yah!” The horse was commanded into a gallop and the boys lurched backwards like ragdolls.
“Be careful!” I exclaimed weakly into the wild landscape, but the horse was already knee-deep in the torrent.
Helen Watson cycled from Scotland to China in 2009/10. Since then she has been obsessed with Central Asia and travel writing. She runs a blog of "flash travel writing" featuring pieces about real adventure that can be read in five minutes or under. Good for a bit of desk-chair escapism perhaps?