The Suusamyr Valley

Suusamyr is far and away my favourite place in Kyrgyzstan, yet, despite all it has to offer, it is for some reason one of the least visited parts of the country. The breathtaking, yurt-dotted, mountainous scenery, the most hospitable locals I met anywhere in Kyrgyzstan and the weekly 50-man games of ulak, the world’s craziest sport, have somehow failed to earn it more than a passing mention in The Lonely Planet, thus leaving this hidden gem as a nice surprise for the odd traveler who makes it this way.

A herders' yurt in the Suusamyr Valley, Kyrgyzstan

A yurt in the Suusamyr Valley

There are two ways to get here:

1) The road heading south-west out of Bishkek towards Osh, Sary Moghul and Tajikistan. Occasionally there is a shared taxi from Bishkek’s Osh Bazaar going straight to Suusamyr. If not, don’t wait around for one to show up as it probably won’t. Take the fairly regular public minivan from Bishkek’s Osh Bazaar to the town of Kara Balta about an hour away. Let the driver know you want to go to Suusamyr so that he drops you off at the right place in Kara Balta (ie where the taxis to Suusamyr go from). Even from Kara Balta the shared taxis to Suusamyr do not go often so get there early in the day and be prepared to wait a couple of hours. The journey from Kara Balta to Suusamyr takes 2 hours and passes over a high pass with stunning views.

2) The road heading south-east out of Bishkek towards Naryn and Kochkor (the 2 main access points for Lake Song Kol). As mentioned on the main Kyrgyzstan page of this website, there is a link road between the south-west and south-east roads out of Bishkek. It forks off the south-east road at Kochkor at a right angle, passing the north shore of Lake Song Kol and the towns of Jumgal and Kyzart (from where a good trail leads over the mountains to the lake). The link road then passes Chayek, Kyzyl Oi and leads to Suusamyr. This is of course a MUCH longer route than (1) above and public transport only goes as far as Chayek. Therefore it is only worth it if you plan on going to Lake Song Kol anyway.

If you want to stay in Suusamyr village, ask the driver who brings you from Kara Balta to find you someone to stay with, or ask someone in one of the shops. If you want to stay with herders in their yurts, ask the driver to let you out before you get to the village, near the yurts of someone he knows and recommends. Apart from a few that sell kymys (fermented horse milk) by the roadside, the yurts are quite far from the road so unless you have hired your own driver from Bishkek your car will not wait for you while you walk to them. This made me feel somewhat nervous as a refusal of a place to stay from the yurt-dwellers would have meant a very long trek to Suusamyr village when it was already getting dark, and in addition I was feeling a bit self-conscious about just walking up to a yurt and asking them if I could stay. The taxi driver had assured me it was okay though and he had been right – the people from the yurts welcomed me as an honoured guest, refusing to let me go and subjecting me to their hospitality for an entire week!

During that week they got me involved in herding their flocks and herds, took me up on horseback to the very highest pastures, fed me so much food and kymys that I thought I would burst, people from other nearby yurts invited me round for meals and they took me to the game of ulak that fifty men from the Suusamyr Valley play together every Saturday.

Click here for my blog about Suusamyr with 6197 words and 18 photos.

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