Issyk Kul Lake

Cholpon Ata Travel Blog

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People i met here who contributed to and improved my trip: Julia (Russia)

Our taxi trip from Tokmok lasted around two and a half hours, in which time the driver had managed to annoy Julia with constant digs about how rich we must be and stating that we should therefore pay more money for everything in Kyrgyzstan. I told her to remind him that he was the one with a big people carrier, a house in Bishkek and a country house by the lake. I really hate how its always the rich people of a country bitching and moaning they want more, whereas the majority of the really poor people seem to hold more dignity and respect for themselves and others.

I owe far more money in student loans than i have in my bank account, making just about every person in Kyrgyzstan technically richer than me, so by this guys theory, maybe i should actually be paying LESS than locals!

Lousy Planet recommended a cheap guest house in the centre of Cholpon Ata, which supposedly had rooms for 200Som ($5.50), so we made this our first port of call. The lady had clearly gained a big head about her inclusion in the book and subsequently hiked the cost of a room up to 700Som ($19.50). We politely declined the chance of staying there, even though she claimed to be the cheapest place in town and where all the foreigners stay.

Walking 500 metres up the road, we came to Pegasus Guest House and although the price was the same, the lady was polite and breakfast was included.
Our room had a TV and DVD player, comfortable beds with plenty of blankets, a separate dining room that even had a piano in it and clean outside shower and toilet facilities. We were warned in advance that the water had been cut off to the village for the last four days, but told it was supposed to come back on the following day.

The day was drawing to a close and thus it seemed pointless to walk down to the lake, so instead we went to Cafe Suusamir for Dinner. Two cutlets with mashed potatoes and some salad cost a reasonable 65Som ($1.80) and some milky tea helped to warm us up, as the chilly wind began to pick up a bit. Leaving the cafe, Julia went and got her hair cut for 100Som ($2.80), and i think it looks really nice. There were a couple of bars that had music playing from them, but neither of us were particularly keen on checking them out.
Instead, we went home and spent the evening chuckling away at Family Guy, on the DVD player.

The following day, the friendly owner Tatiana said that although there was now water, there wasn't any pressure in the shower. I figured that this meant that we would have to go without, but she kindly filled a large tub in the shower room with piping hot water, so we could take a scoop shower. I know plenty of places would have just let us go without, so i thought it was really kind.

The second happy occurrence of the morning was when we were brought our breakfast. I had expected a small portion of pelmeni (dumplings) with tea, but instead we got a banquet! There was a portion of pelmeni that could have fed a small army, salad, cakes, bread, cheese, butter, jam, and a huge pot of tea.
Although we tried our best, it was impossible to finish it all and it gave us plenty of energy to set out on our visit to the nearby petroglyph's.

Originally we had planned to walk up the ancient rock carvings and pay for a guide when we got there, but Tatiana said she would drive us up there and her knowledgeable sister Elmira could give us a guided tour. I expected they would try and charge quite a lot for this, so it came as a pleasant surprise that they only wanted 50Som ($1.40) per person for themselves,  plus the 25Som ($0.70) entrance fee. They said it cost more if you didn't stay with them, but they were happy to do it for us at this price, as we were.

The ride took 10 minutes up a bumpy road, before the landscape opened up into a vast field of stones, located in front of an impressive mountain range.
The stones had been washed down to the area when the glaciers in the mountains had melted, at the end of the ice age.

Not only were we going to learn about the petroglyph's, but Elmira also wanted to give us some background information on the area. Firstly we were told the story behind the naming of the town, in which a father (translates to Ata in Kyrgyz) was trying to marry his daughter, Cholpon, to a rich Khan's son. Inevitably she loved a poor man, so in her despair she ran away and jumped off one of the mountains. The next day her father went out looking for her and found her dead, so in his despair he turned to stone. There are two stones nearby said to resemble a woman lying face down and a man hunched over her.

Looking from the site back down to the town, there were terrific views of Issyk Kul Lake, with another snow capped mountain range running along the far side of the Southern shore.
The local myth behind the naming of the lake comes from a girl called Issyk (meaning hot). It is believed that two men were fighting for the love of Issyk, but she wanted this to stop, so much so that she tore her own heart out. The blood of her heart formed the lake, which even at an altitude of 1623m never freezes. Seeing this, the people immediately turned into the mountains, whilst the men turned into the wind. The lake has two winds that come in from either shore and when they clash they cause storms to occur and the people believe that this is still the two men fighting. You would have thought that they would have learned their lesson by now... men!

It is believed that people settled in this area as far back as 300,000 years ago, although the petroglyph's that we had come to see dated from between the 15th Century BC and 7th Century AD.
The earliest of the carvings were created in the bronze age, but the majority are dated to the Saka-Usun nomadic tribes who lived in the region from the 8th Century BC to the 1st Century AD. The Saku-Usun were pagans who worshiped several Gods including a Sun God and thus all of the etchings face South towards the Sun. The latter Turkic works on the other hand faced in any direction, as they didn't hold such beliefs. Due to the nomadic traditions, many petroglyph's can be found around the lake, as the settlements moved according to the season, so as better to survive from their surroundings.

Over the next hour, we were shown to a number of interesting petroglyph's and offered explanations throughout. Most showed pictures of long horned ibex (sheep like animal) and men, whilst others had hunting scenes including tamed snow leopards chasing ibex.
The importance in these depictions, is that it showed which animals lived in the region and also the customs and traditions of the tribes. In the case of the petroglyph depicting a North Deer, this was particularly significant, as they are no longer found in the area. Another reason that the stones had animal carvings on, is that they were used for sacrificial purposes, so the animals drawn were often those that would have been offered to the Gods on that particular boulder.

Some of the stones were huge, measuring well over a metre, which we were told was very rare. Also unique to the area was the way that the petroglyph's had been created. In most circumstances, the sculptor would simply scrape their drawing into the rock, whereas some of the ones here had been created by chipping and dotting the design.


Other points of interest were the burial sites, the stone circles that were believed to stand on magnetic fields and the the boulders that clearly marked the end of one tribes territory and the start of another's. The terrain was also variable in height and it is believed that according to rank, your living quarters would be placed higher up the slope.

Sadly what we went to see today is only a patch of what once existed, as there used to be up to 10,000 different petroglyph's, of which only 1,500 to 2,000 have survived. Incredibly many of them were taken away to build a nearby airport, whilst the two most impressive ones were destroyed through 'conservation' work. The team assigned to maintain the clarity of the rock carvings actually applied a solvent that acted like an acid and eroded away the face of the rock! A scene illustrating a military parade with people, camels and horses has subsequently been lost forever.


Unbelievably one of the rocks that we had gone to see today had also vanished, that depicting a headless horseman. It was a shocking development to the day and one which saddened me. There were no barriers or fences that cordoned off the area, so in theory people could just walk up and take whatever they wanted. The really sad part is that these millenia old stones would probably end up as no more than building materials!

It had been a fascinating and informative tour, and one that i would highly recommend. Tatiana dropped us back at the Guest House to grab our swimming gear, and even though we had checked out, they let us store our bags in the room and keep the key for the lock. This might not sound much, but we had encountered plenty of other places where baggage storage wasn't allowed.
From here we went down to the Lake, and it seemed a little weird to be in a land locked country, a hell of a long way from the sea, and still be getting ready to go to the beach!

It was a cloudless day and even though i had sun cream on, i didn't want to spend too long in the midday sun, in case i got frazzled, as so often happens. After an hour we left so as Julia could go and get her hair dyed and i went for a beer in Cafe Suusamir. Julia came an hour, later looking lovely as ever, and we had our lunch before returning to the hotel to collect our belongings.

It was a 20 minute walk to the bus stop, where after some quarreling we got a seat in a minivan to Karakol for 100Som ($2.
75).The driver was trying to charge us 50% extra for our bags, but a woman who was collecting the money was siding with us and saying that there should be no luggage charge. Clearly the driver was just trying his luck and ended up agreeing to the fare mentioned above. The journey took around two hours and we passed some nice mountain scenery and Kyrgyz men wearing their traditional pointed white felt 'Ak Kalpak' hats, whilst riding their horses. It finally felt like we were heading into the rural countryside that i had come to see.

Deats says:
I'll try and have a look if i get a spare 5 minutes! Maybe with a glass of wine before i go to bed :D
Posted on: Oct 07, 2011
KarinaKalinka says:
There's an interesting thread on the forums on how to capture the details..if you want to go to the trouble :-)
Posted on: Oct 07, 2011
Deats says:
I made some notes when i traveled, so the entries i didn't complete, i have some help with! But to complete those old entries, the blog won't be as nice, as i can't remember the small details, which are usually the most interesting things :/
Posted on: Oct 07, 2011
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Cholpon Ata
photo by: Biedjee