shore of Lake Issyk Kul is much less developed than its northern
counterpart, offering a contrast to the “resort
may seem a little strange as the archaeological evidence suggests that
this was the first choice for the location of settlements in the Issyk
Kul Basin. Tosor, for example, is the site of an ancient
(Paleological) settlement – said to date from 50,000 BC
(although alternative dates ranging from 40,000 to 100,000 have been
The settlements on the southern shore were also important in the days
of the Great Silk Road, between the eighth and twelfth centuries, as
one of the main routes across the mountains to China passed over the
Bedel Pass at the head of the Barskoon valley.
The mountains approach closer to the shoreline than the northern, there
are fewer sandy beaches and the sun bears down more intensely on the
northern shore making it more attractive for holidaymakers.
The local administration is based in the town of Karakol at the Eastern
end of the lake. The town is visited by many tourists who
captivated by its old world charm, the architecture (much of it typical
nineteenth century Russian Colonial), its sights (the Orthodox
Cathedral, Dungan Mosque and museums), and the traditional Animal
Market on Sunday mornings. It also serves as a good base for
excursions into the nearby Terksey Ala Too Mountains.
Not far from Karakol are the picturesque valleys of Altyn Arashan and
Jety Oguz – both of which offer ample opportunity for
trekking and horse riding. There is a route between the two
valleys which takes several days and passes the Ala Kol lake, (at 3532m
asl, it is 2.3 km long and 700m wide and is fed by glacial streams and
the outflow forms a waterfall). One notable feature of the lake is that
it can change colour according to the time of day, the season and the
weather – the waters can seem violet, dark blue or even
a hundred kilometres further west is the Bassoon valley, home to the
annual At Chabysh Festival, in November. The valley has an
impressive waterfall and is a good centre for trekking and horse
riding. In Soviet times the road turned east along the upper
Naryn River and looped round over the Yshtyk Pass (3689 m) to Ak
Shyrak, Enilchek and eventually back to the city of Karakol.
Unfortunately, some of the bridges are now down and the road, (never an
easy route), is no longer passable.
The 11th century scholar Mahumud al-Kashgari (also known as Barskhani)
was a native of this area. He is best known as the author of
the first Turkic languages comparative dictionary, which he wrote
whilst living in Baghdad in 1072-4. His map of the then known
world has Barskoon at the centre of the world. His tomb is
South of Kashgar – on the road to Pakistan.
On the other side of the valley is the village of Tamga, famous for
rock inscribed with an ancient Tibetan Buddhist mantra. In
fact the village received its name from this stone - Tamga is the
Kyrgyz word for “patterned stone” or petroglyph.
There is a sanatorium here where cosmonauts were brought on
their return from space.
Tosor is a small village on the southern shore – and site of
one of the earliest human settlements in Kyrgyzstan. In
ancient Turkic languages the word meant “outpost”
and it marked the western most point of the Barskoon region.
There is a yurt camp here and one of the routes over the Terskey Ala
Too Mountains to the Naryn region starts from here.
village of Bokonbaeva is named after a famous Kyrgyz poet.
The village can be a good base for excursions to Mazhily Ata, Mortvoye
Ozero the Kongur Olun valley and across the Terskey Ala Too towards
Manzhily Ata is to the east of Bokonbaeva. It is an ancient
Shaman sacred site which plays host to another Festival every
August. Set back off the road, in the foothills to the south,
the site stretches over a wide area and incorporates a small mosque and
several natural springs which are said to have particular curative
value. It was supposed to be particularly efficacious in
helping childless couples – there was a saying that
“if you want sheep (wealth) then go and pray at Cholpon Ata,
but if you want children, then go and pray at Mazhily Ata”.
Mortvoye Ozero is the Kyrgyz equivalent of the Dead Sea. The
water has a high concentration of salt minerals so it is possible to
float on the surface instead of sinking like a stone and is thought to
have particular value. It lies to the west of Bokonbaeva,
between the main road and Issyk Kul. It is on private
property and so there is a fee for access.
Kongur Olun is a 40 km long valley of meadows and swamps which runs
parallel to the main road, on the other side of the mountain
range between the Western end of the lake and Bokonbaeva. It
lies at an altitude of about 2200 m. asl and offers scope for walking.
There is a yurt camp at Temir Kanat, near to
Bokonbaeva. The Kyrgyz film
“Beshkempir” (a Kyrgyz film – the title
means “Five Old Women”), was filmed in the
valley. There is a legend that an 18th century
batyr (a local Khan) won the valley with a band of 40 warriors and an
elaborate gumbez (mausoleum) was built for each when they
died. The ruins of some of these can still be seen in the
village of Kongur Olun. There is a route from the valley over
the mountains to Ece Naryn.