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Suusamyr Valley

Less than an obvious valley, steppe plateau might a better description for the terrain of much of the Suusamyr region. Despite its position on the opposite side of the Kyrgyz Ala-Too from the Chui valley this, perhaps surprisingly, is still part of Chui oblast: a far-flung outpost that has many of the characteristics of Kyrgyzstan's more central provinces. The valley lies at an average altitude of around 2,200m, and in spite of its relative proximity to the capital it remains a wild, bleak and generally little-visited part of the country.

Most of the population here are Kyrgyz who are still actively involved in herding and live a partially nomadic lifestyle. The population density is extremely low, a fact that is happily reflected in the zero casualty count that occurred when a spectacularly large earthquake, registering nine on the Richter scale, struck the valley in 1992.

Less than an obvious valley, steppe plateau might a better description for the terrain of much of the Suusamyr region. Despite its position on the opposite side of the Kyrgyz Ala-Too from the Chui valley this, perhaps surprisingly, is still part of Chui oblast: a far-flung outpost that has many of the characteristics of Kyrgyzstan's more central provinces. The valley lies at an average altitude of around 2,200m, and in spite of its relative proximity to the capital it remains a wild, bleak and generally little-visited part of the country.

Most of the population here are Kyrgyz who are still actively involved in herding and live a partially nomadic lifestyle. The population density is extremely low, a fact that is happily reflected in the zero casualty count that occurred when a spectacularly large earthquake, registering nine on the Richter scale, struck the valley in 1992.

In Soviet times the Suusamyr valley was an important centre for sheep grazing, and every year a large number were brought here from the collective farms of the Sokuluk valley over high mountain passes to graze. The land-use of the valley is a little more diverse these days, with potato and vegetable growing and honey-production supplementing more traditional sheep-raising. Adequate rainfall and not too high an altitude guarantees lush and nutritious grassland that provides excellent grazing for horses as well as sheep, and the lack of artificial fertilisers ensures that the valley's meadows are a shock of colour with the drifts of herbs and wild flowers that flourish here in early summer. Tourism, great potential though it might have, is still in its infancy here.

This rarely visited valley offers quaint villages, mountain jailoos, rushing rivers and great off-the-beaten-path adventures. It’s popular with overland cyclists, who use the route as a handy way to connect Kochkor and southern Kyrgyzstan, without having to backtrack through Bishkek.

If you don’t have bike, you’ll need to hire a vehicle to get you through here, or try your luck hitching. Public marshrutkas (originating in Bishkek) can only get you as far as Chayek (via Kochkor) or to Kyzyl-Oi (via Kara-Balta). The stretch between Chayek and Kyzyl-Oi is something of a black hole. Hitchhikers will need patience to get through but can take comfort in travelling through some gorgeous scenery.

Adventurous trekkers can visit the valley as part of a trek to/from Bishkek over the Kyrgyz Ala-Too via the Sokuluk (3775m), Ala-Archa (3898m) or Alamedin (4032m) passes. To reach Suusamyr village, take the Bishkek–Toktogul road and turn off at the bottom of the hill beyond the Tцr-Ashuu pass. It’s a 13km gravel road down to the village from the turn-off. Once in the village it’s possible to stay at the home of Kubanychbek Amankulov, look for the tourist info sign on the main road.

A round trip taxi ride to Sandyk, including overnight stay, will cost around 600som. Continuing east from Suusamyr the gravel road winds another 13km to Kojumkul. The village is named after a local hero who stood 2.3m tall and weighed 165 kilos. Kojumkul (1889–1955) remains a legend in these parts and a museum in the town is dedicated to his exploits (the huge stones outside are reportedly the same ones he used to lift for fun).

The museum, under renovation at the moment, is on the main road through town; look for the red roof. Beyond Kojumkul the road enters a foreboding steep-sided valley cut by the fastflowing Kokomoron River. A break in the gorge has left just enough space for the hamlet of Kyzyl-Oi, one of the most picturesque settings in Kyrgyzstan. The stunning mountains that hover over the town are just begging to be explored. 

Recommended horse treks include the five hour ride up the Char Valley and over the Kumbel Pass to Balik Kol lake. It may be possible to overnight in a yurt en route. You’ll also encounter shepherds at jailoos in the Sary Kamysh range to the south of town.


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