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Chatkal Valley

This highly inaccessible valley in the far west of Jalal-Abad Province is where the road from Jalal-Abad turns to the northeast towards Talas Province. The colder, northern part of the valley climbs up to the 3,302m Kara-Buura Pass to descend along the Kara-Buura river into Talas Oblast. There is little contact between the two provinces along this route as the pass becomes impassable during the winter months due to snowfall, and there is no public transport that connects the Chatkal valley with Talas at any time of year. Even the southern part of the valley is difficult to reach and, with many more easily accessible destinations to tempt visitors, it is no surprise that very few visitors to Kyrgyzstan make it this far; those that do tend to come for rugged outdoor activities such as rafting expeditions or trekking. The whole region is, as they say, ripe for exploration.

That the valley has long been settled is evidenced by archaeological finds that date back to the Neolithic period. Metal ores were extracted here in the Bronze Age and bronze vessels have been found in burial mounds from this region that date from the 1st and 2nd millennia BC. It appears that the livestock breeding that still characterises the economy of the region today has been important since the Iron Age and that later, between the 4th-12th centuries AD, the valley was fairly densely populated by a mixture of settled farmers and nomadic herdsmen.

Trade used to be important too and Silk Road commerce along the valley transported silver from Talas and walnuts from Arslanbob to destinations south and west. As with almost everywhere else in the central Asian region, Genghis Khan's violent forays into the region disrupted settled life severely and this, coupled with feudal warring, heralded a sharp decline from the 12th century onwards.

The most important centre in the valley today is the small market town of Jany- Bazar, which has limited public transport reaching it from further east in Jalal-Abad Province. Jany-Bazar serves as a centre for visiting the Besh-Aral State Reserve and also has the 18th-century Idris Paygambar mausoleum on a hill nearby, which was built for an Arab mystic who came to the region. The brick mausolea were constructed between the 18th and 19th centuries. There is a guesthouse for pilgrims in the town that has rooms to rent, and it should be possible to find homestay accommodation in the town. A daily bus runs between Ala-Buka and Jany-Bazar, leaving both destinations in the morning.

With adequate preparation it is possible to trek to Sary-Chelek or the village of Kyzyl-Kol from the northern part of the Chatkal valley, crossing high passes and taking 5 days. Coming in the reverse direction this can be organised with the CBT co-ordinator in Kyzyl-Kol.