In front of the chapel of Babur stands a shady tree. Most visitors sit down on the low walls in the shade for a while to rest from the 100 m ascent to Sulaiman-too in the Southern Kyrgyz town of Osh, before entering the chapel for prayer.
Sulaiman-too means "Solomon's Throne" and it is the reason why most visitors come to Osh. The small but very unusually shaped mountain abruptly rises from the flat high plain, the long, narrow ridge looking like the back of a dragon, or a sea monster rising from the ocean. This remarkable geological formation results from parallel fault lines on both sides of the ridge, with the zone between them being uplifted by some sort of under-pressure, as the areas around the mountain are drawn apart.
For millennia, the mountain has been a place of worship – the oldest remnants of religious activities are petroglyphs on the rock faces, supposedly dozens of them dating to the Bronze Age (we spent hours climbing around between the rocks without finding any prehistoric petroglyphs – but then, this does not prove anything). Archaeologists have found prehistoric cult sites on the mountain and early Islamic buildings at the foot of it. Babur's chapel, halfway up, is one of these religious places, although the current building dates from the 1990s. The original 16th century edifice was reportedly built by Babur, the last Central Asian Timurid, and back then it was apparently more a quiet place to write some poetry than a chapel to him. Babur later went on to become great and famous, but as a young man in Osh he was just one of many local princelings marauding the Fergana Valley and trying to win a kingdom for himself. Not very successfully at that time, but later he founded the Moghul dynasty in India, where he still always yearned for his carefree days of youth and wrote only the nicest things about the Fergana Valley (and about Osh) in his memoirs …
If Babur came to Sulaiman-too for relaxation rather than for prayer, today's visitors are not much different, although they do sit down in the chapel, listen to some old man reciting a Sura, fold their hands and leave a little money. But most of all, they come for the view, a stroll over the mountain, and a souvenir photo. A resourceful entrepreneur has even set up shop with a camera and a printer, while another one is operating two refrigerating boxes for cold drinks.
From the terrace at Babur's place, a concrete path runs along the length of the mountain. We see lots of modern graffiti, but as said, no ancient petroglyphs. Small and big caves, however, are easily spotted. Some of the smaller ones are still used for Shamanistic rituals today, and people are ducking inside. There's even a whole new museum installed in one of the large caves.
Back at the shady square at the foot of the mountain, we do like the Kyrgyz do: We have a cone of soft ice, sit on a bench in the park and watch the children drive around in the popular electric toy cars for rent in the square.
Since 2009 Sulaiman-too is inscribed as a UNESCO World Heritage site for its 1500 year-old tradition as a sacred mountain. According to the UNESCO documents, there are 17 ritual places still in use today. Some of them you will see on your walk. If you have made your way to Osh anyway, for example to start the Pamir Highway from here or to continue to the Uzbek Fergana Valley it is absolutely worth spending a day in order to visit Sulaiman-too. However, we would argue that it does not justify a larger detour on its own.
How to get there
Sulaiman-too is situated in the town of Osh and easily reached on foot.