The hike to the mountain valley of Jety Oguz was supposed to be a beautiful one. A short taxi ride from Karakol, and you are in the foothills of Tian Shan, steadily ascending along the dirt road, bypassing the turnoff to the Girl’s Braids Waterfall and continuing forward till you pass lush pastures and face up to 5000 meter snowy peaks.
That is, until it starts raining. I thought I was fortunate enough to avoid the particularly wet weather that morning, but the clouds came from nowhere. All of a sudden, with little warning, all of the sky’s water seemed to have poured through some kind of a lid. The trail that had been perfectly walkable suddenly turned to mud, and the high peaks on all sides became barely visible.
Luckily, there was shelter on the way. Well, it was really lucky, because there were no trees to speak of, and even if there were, they wouldn’t have been of much use. But there was a small, 2×3 meter gazebo in the middle of a muddy cattle corral, perhaps whipped up by some local shepherds for exactly this purpose. And I happened to be passing by right when the rain started.
As I stood there, trying to protect myself and my camera from the rain that still managed to creep in even under the cover, I started hearing the extremely loud drilling sound over the roof. I looked on the ground around me and there it was – solid pea-sized hail, covering the earth as if it were snow. I looked out at the cows that were still grazing in the vicinity. They didn’t seem to mind the rain, but the hail clearly puzzled them. They stopped in their tracks, not moving even slightly, and I even started wondering if they were sitll alive.
As I glanced further afield, I noticed a shepherd at the distance – riding his horse, like they always do, except right in the rain and the hail. He was rushing to come back to his hut, and I thought it was a beautiful moment to capture. So I quickly got the camera out of my not-so-waterproof backpack and took literally 2 or 3 shots before he disappeared behind the hill.
The rain stopped soon after, and I was able to continued my trek. Later that day, I rode another shepherd’s horse, I got to see those 5km peaks, drank copious amounts of vodka with the locals and was treated like a guest of honour at a dinner by another group of strangers. Their hospitality certainly left a mark in my memory as one of the most wonderful days of my trip to Kyrgyzstan, but this image of a rider in the hail is what I consider the biggest photographic trophy of that day.