valley is a high steppe plateau, (2200 meters asl), that, although only
some 160 kilometres from Bishkek, is also one of the more remote and
rarely visited regions of Kyrgyzstan. Although it is on the
other side of the massive Kyrgyz Range from Bishkek and the Chui
valley, it is part of the Chui administrative region.
Today, most foreign visitors simply pass through as they travel the
main Bishkek-Osh road. Leaving Bishkek, you travel to Kara
Balta and then turn south towards the mountains. The road
climbs through the spectacular Too Ashu gorge – the original
road climbed right to the top of the pass, but nowadays there is tunnel
burrowed under it.
The road descends on the other side of the mountain range to the
Suusamyr plain. The main settlement on the plain, the village
of Suusamyr, which lies about 15 kilometres east of the main
Bishkek-Osh road. The turn-off is well signposted, even in
In 1992, the region was hit by a massive earthquake –
reaching 9 on the Richter scale – and most of the villages
suffered considerable damage, but fortunately there were no causalities
– a feature of the low population density. (The
earthquake, and the location of Suusamyr - 250km to the East
of Tashkent - turns out to be a crucial clue for Inspector
Morse, (the Oxford detective), in "The Inside Story" - a short
story by Colin Dexter).
The population, of about 6000, is mainly Kyrgyz and they are nearly all
involved in agriculture. In Soviet times this was one of the
major sheep breeding areas in the country. Up to four million
sheep would be driven over the mountain passes in spring to graze on
the luscious grasses of the steppe. One route, which was
taken was from Tash Bulak (about 50km from Bishkek and often still
referred to by some locals by it’s former Soviet
name). Although the path is still featured as a possible
trekking route – it is not easy and is still often blocked by
snow, even in summer.
1991, the flocks of sheep grazing here have dwindled substantially and
the people have diversified into other forms of agriculture –
growing potatoes, garlic, cabbages and fodder crops. In the
summer, people still live in yurts and graze sheep and horses on the
lush grass. There are alpine summer pastures full of herbs
and wild flowers – carpeting the valley floor in many
colours. The area is well known for its kumyz, airan
(yoghurt) and honey.
It is possible to travel from Suusamyr through the magnificent
Kekemeren gorge and the villages of Kojomkul and Kyzyl Oi, Chaek and
then onto either Son Kul or Kochkor. There are plenty of
opportunities for hill walks from using these villages as a base.