The beauty of Son Kul has long enraptured
both locals and tourists alike. There is a story that when one of the
local Khans, Ormon Khan, saw it for the first time he imposed a fine of
forty horses, (no small sum – then or now), on the local
tribe – because they had hidden such a miracle from him!
second largest lake is situated on a treeless high mountain plateau,
(3016 meters asl), surrounded by lush mountain meadows which are used
by the shepherds of the Kochkor, Naryn and At Bashi regions as summer
pastures for their livestock: sheep, cattle, horses and even the
occasional camel. In fact, there is evidence that it has been used for
pasture from very ancient times.
The shepherds live in traditional yurts, (round felt tents over a
wooden frame are the typical nomadic dwelling which are found
throughout Central Asia) during the summer and then descend to their
homes in the villages for the winter. Many shepherd will be
happy to welcome tourists and serve a cup of Kumyz –
fermented mare’s milk - and even to let visitors sleep
overnight, (usually on mats on the floor), but it may be best to make
arrangements beforehand. There are several camps (or ‘Yurt
Inns’) established during the summer months to accommodate
tourists … with kitchens, toilets and washing facilities. It
is also possible to arrange horse riding and trekking lasting anything
from an hour to a day.
There are four roads up from the valleys. One from Sary Bulak in the
North East; a second passing through a dramatic sequence of over thirty
serpentine, hairpin bends towards Naryn in the South East (if you have
time you can take a detour to a beautiful waterfall surrounded by
woods); the third goes to Ak-Tal in the South West and the fourth goes
past the coal mines of Kara Keche towards Chaek in the North West. The
roads are not asphalt and can sometimes be impassable.
It is also possible to trek on ride on horseback up from some of the
surrounding valleys such as form the Salt Mines at Chong Tuz (a 3-day
trek – but don’t expect to be able to simply turn
up and find horses ready and waiting … such a journey needs
to be organised in advance).
In the winter, however – and often in spring and autumn
months too – these roads are closed by snow. (Even
so, it is sometimes amazing to see what vehicles do try and make the
journey.) There are no buses up to the lake … if
you are not on an organised tour, you can arrange for a local taxi to
take you up from Naryn or Kochkor.
At Son Kul, it is possible for the visitor to feel that they are
experiencing “pristine nature”. Even though there
are no trees on the plain … there is abundance of herbs
(such as chamomile, sagebrush, lichen, friar’s cap and golden
root) – many of which are prized for the medicinal qualities,
and flowers are plentiful in the spring (especially Edelweiss). There
are some 66 different species of waterfowl that make their homes on the
shores of the lake or in the surrounding area – about two
thirds of all the varieties found throughout Kyrgyzstan. Amongst the
ones that a luck tourist might see are: several different
species of gulls and ducks; cranes, storks, mergansers, bald-coots,
plovers, falcons, golden eagles, shags and the very rare Indian
mountain goose. Animals that you might be lucky enough to see on the
plain include deer, foxes, marmots, lynx, and wolves.
There were no fish in the lake until 1959 – when fish were
specially introduced into the lake and now, (even in the dead of
winter), fish from the lake could be found on sale in the markets of
Naryn and Kochkor – but it is strictly controlled and in
recent years the Fishing Inspectorate has announced that it had banned
fishing to allow the levels of fish stocks to recover.