The Kekemeren valley

July 2nd, 2010 Sections: Chui, Naryn

The Kekemeren River runs through a striking narrow valley South from Suusamyr plain, past the village of Aral (in Naryn oblast – 1400 m. a.s.l.), until eventually it flows into the Naryn River.

108 kilometers long, the river is popular for white-water rafting, at first the river is relatively calm, but gradually, more and more obstacles appear making it a much more demanding course.  Fishing is also a popular activity on the river from Spring, through summer and into Autumn.

Amongst the villages in the valley are Kyzyl Oi and Kojukol:

Kyzyl Oi means “Red Bowl” in Kyrgyz – the village is located at 1800 meters a.s.l., about 200 kilometers from Bishkek and 40 kilometers South of Suusamyr on the main road to Kochkor and Son Kul.  The road travels through the narrow gorge of the Kekemeren river and into a wide bowl surrounded by red coloured mountains. The local clay soil was used to build houses, which give the village a distinctive style and character.

Nearby the mountains surrounding the village offer potential for hiking and horse trekking; the river for rafting.

The jailoo of Chet Tor, about five km from the village has a number of springs and it is possible to find  yurt accommodation which can be a base for further exploration to Kol-Tor gorge and it’s glacial lake.

The Chon Tash jailoo, which is a gentle 40 minute horse ride from the village, leads on to the Munkur pass to a glacier feeding three mountain lakes.

A Community Based Tourism project is based in the village originally established and supported by the British Department for International Development but now a member of KCBTA can offer accommodation, guides and other services.  They have a number of suggested hikes :

  • up the Char valley and over the Kumbel Pass; to the waterfall on the Burundi river, 12 km to the East;
  • to Peak Yr Gailoo (2664m.) to the East of the Kekmeren River;
  • to Peak Chichkhan Choku (3989m.) to the North West beside the Sadyk River;
  • to Peak Sary Kamysh (4042m. – also known as Ai-Suluu), the highest peak in the region, via the Chockutur pass.
  • The Four Lakes itinerary which visits Kol Tor, (to the West of the village), up the Shoro valley and across the Kum Bel pass. One of the lakes is apparently teeming with fish;

The village of Kojumkol is named after a giant of a man, (he was 2.3 meters tall- seven feet five inches – and weighed 164 kg. – 361 lbs or nearly 26 stone), born in 1889 and who died in 1955 at the age of 67. Apart from his size, which would mark him out in any society – in one which takes “macho” qualities very seriously, he became a local hero for his feats of strength.

In his youth he would easily beat other “strong” men in wrestling competitions.  On one occasion, already famous for his feats of strength, he received an invitation to participate in a competition in the neighbouring Toktogul area, (at that time wrestling competitions were an integral part of any celebration), being organized by one of the local “bais”, (one of the richest and noblest people in the area).  Participation in that competition made Kojomkul even more famous as he beat several well-known wrestlers and won prizes comprising 50 sheep and several mares, which, apparently, the young fighter then distributed amongst the poor residents of the village.

He fought many bouts but by the end of the 1920s there was no-one to rival him in Kyrgyzstan.  One contest of note was against the Kazakh wrestler, Cholok Balaban. At this time Kojomkul was the Chairman of the District Council and thought he had no right to participate in such competitions. It took the intervention of “Higher-ranking” authorities to persuade him that he should compete for the Republic. He won in the 23rd minute of the match.

Sometime in 1930s, some residents of Suusamyr were going to the Chui Valley on horseback. At the Too-Ashu pass, a huge boulder, as big as a yurta, had fallen and blocked the way.  They turned to Kojomkul for help and he told them to start digging a big pit near the boulder. Digging the pit took a long time and when it was ready, Kojomkul sat down on the ground, pressed his back to the mountain and began pushing the boulder into the pit. The huge boulder slowly moved and finally fell into the pit.

Kojomkul had eagerly adopted Soviet ways – having worked previously as a labourer for “bais“, (rich landowners).  He served as Chairman of the collective farm in the Suusamyr Valley for 20 years.  All was not well, however, and in 1937 he was imprisoned for a year for refusing to write information against the Chairman of the neighbouring collective farm. In prison he was “an authoritative person” for both prisoners and guards.

During the years of the Second World War, he is reputed to have saved the poorest villagers from hunger. He was an excellent hunter and every day his wife, Akmadai, prepared food for needy villagers.

Akmadai was a fragile and graceful woman and people wanted Kojomkul to have strong sons – so they decided to find him a second wife!. They found a tall strong girl for him in the neighbouring village, a daughter of a well-known strong man, Tooke. Several times they suggested to him that he should marry the girl – but he consistently refused, and (finally) they understood that their idol would never betray his first and only love.

There are many versions about his death. Some people say that it was caused by an insect which got into his food which caused him to fall ill.  The doctors in the capital tried to treat him, but could not cure him.

The village named in his honour has a small museum where visitors can see huge stones which he is reputed to have lifted onto his shoulders. A little out of town it is also possible to see a stone weighing almost 700kg which he is supposed to have lifted and placed on the grave of a local official. He is also reputed to have carried a horse for over 100 meters.

In the museum there are also some photographs of him and a display of some of his clothes – so you can get a good impression of the size of the man … which helps to give credence to the various stories they tell about him.

Some of the locals even think that his spirit is still looking them. During the serious earthquake that his Suusamyr in 1992 – a nine on the Richter scale – several houses in the village were destroyed, but there were no fatalities – the mausoleum that marked his grave was the first structure to collapse. It was rebuilt in 1996.

The Sports Palace in Bishkek (on Togolok Moldo Street) is also named in his honour and a staue of him carrying a horse.

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