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Discovery Kyrgyzstan travel guide #10/2008
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Cholpon Ata

Cholpon Ata is the largest town on the northern shore of the lake, about half way along, some 250km from Bishkek – and the centre of the regions “resort zone”. 
In summertime, during the Soviet period, large numbers of tourists would descend with their “vouchers” for a stay in one of the nearby sanatoria or tour resorts.  Although the sanatoria are still here and still offer medical treatments, the range of facilities has changed and developed over the years since Kyrgyzstan became an independent country.  
The town has a small market for everyday necessities, a yacht club, (it is possible to take boat trips on the lake), a hippodrome and a major stud farm.  A museum displays archaeological finds from around the region and the Chui valley, musical instruments, traditional craftwork, exhibitions devoted to the Manas Epic and Chinghiz Aitmatov. The town also hosts a museum and library dedicated to the Kazakh writer Auezov. The war memorial dedicated to the 214 who fell during the Second World War bears the inscription "No-one is forgotten. Nothing is forgotten".
One of the major sites of interest is the “Open Air Museum”, (sometimes referred to as a “Stone Garden”), to the north of the town’s airport.  It covers some 42 hectares and contains a number of prehistoric monumental structures (stone circles, tombs, the remains of a boundary stone wall, balbals) and petroglyphs (dating from the second millennium BC up to the Middle Ages).  Some of the more interesting stones have plaques giving some information (a short description and a date).  The stones vary in size from about 30 cm to 3 meters.
There are several routes marked with arrows around the “stone garden”.  It is thought that the site was once a gigantic open-air temple, where ancient people worshipped heavenly bodies – especially the sun – and perhaps other gods.  Many of the drawings are of animals, and there are figures of hunters and what appear to be tame snow leopards during a hunt. One appears to depict hunting leopards in motion and is the only one of this kind in Central Asia.
There are a number of routes around the collection, (the shortest takes about 20-30 minutes), which enables visitors to explore a collection of stone balbals, stone inscriptions, stone circles and … a spectacular panorama of the Cholpon-Ata bay of Lake Issyk-Kul.  It is often said that the best time for visit is early morning or late evening, when all the drawings are clearly seen and one can feel the atmosphere of ancient times.
The art of stone inscriptions gradually disappeared with the spread of Islam, which restricted images of animals and human beings, to Central Asia. However many of the forms used in these petroglyphs are still with us today – they form the basis of patterns, showing different parts of animals (horns, wings, claws) are used in shyrdaks (Kyrgyz felt carpets) and other forms of traditional arts and crafts.
A little offshore is the sunken village of Chengu, (“red valley”), the capital of the ancient Usun State in the second century B.C. and one of a number of villages that have disappeared under the waters of the lake.  Referred to by early Russian explorers to the region, diving expeditions were undertaken in 1956. The divers found several baked bricks, fragments of ceramic dishes, a piece of a ceramic pipe (which suggests a high level of local civilization), bronze arrowheads, iron knives, and the bones of both people and animals.  In recent there have been further underwater excavations. 
There are a number of legends associated with Cholpon Ata, one of which is often quoted by locals as their favourite of the Kyrgyz legends. 
It tells of a beautiful young girl, Cholpon, who was courted by many of the local dzhigits (young men) of the area.  The attentions of each she rejected, saying that she loved another.  The khan at time was noted for his mercilessly cruelty and he too fell to the charms of her beauty, only to be rejected as were all the others.    He showered gifts upon her, but no gift could win her over and make her change her mind.  “I love another and I shall never be yours!” was always her answer.
Displeased by her ‘stubbornness’, the Khan, decided on one last appeal – but she ran from him to a window.  “I shall not be yours!” she cried and threw herself onto the ground below.  
From where she fell at the foot of the high and might walls of the fortress, opened up caves and water gushed from them. From them flowed the waters light-blue, pure, clean, crystal clear, and as hot as the maiden heart, which formed the mountain lake, which the people called Issyk Kul.
The name of the town translates as Cholpon’s Father and it is said that if you stand on the shore at Cholpon Ata (“Cholpon’s Father”) you can see his face in the mountains opposite, with his tears flowing down the mountainside to add to the salt waters of the lake as he weeps for his beautiful daughter.  It is also said that on quiet summer evenings, when the sun sets, the ruins of a fortress appear under the water and the voice of the girl can be heard.
In the centre of the town a sculpture depicting Chalpon was erected in 1982.

Discovery Kyrgyzstan
Travel guide#10/2008

Discovery Kyrgyzstan Travel guide #10/2008

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