Introduction to Issyk-Kul

Balykchy Travel Blog

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The unlovely entry point for the Issyk-Kul oblast, seen from the Issyk-Kul side
We had an early start today, because Irina, her father and I were travelling to spend a couple of days at a dacha on the shore of Issyk-Kul, so-called because in spite of its altitude of over 5,000 feet it never freezes over - 'Issyk-Kul' means 'Warm Lake'. It is roughly elliptical, with its major axis orientated south-west to north-east, and from its westernmost extremity to its easternmost is about 110 miles, with a maximum width of about 45 miles. Its greatest depth is over 2,000 feet, and there is a legend that under the waters lie the remains of an ancient town. Rather remarkably, modern investigations have now confirmed this story. Issyk-Kul is, apparently, the second-largest mountain lake in the world, a fact of which the Kyrgyz are very proud. It is frequently referred to, especially in tourist literature, as The Pearl of Central Asia, and Irina mischievously exhorted me to use this appellation on every possible occasion.
Wonderful modern Muslim mausoleum on the shore of Issyk-Kul, which can just be glimpsed as a tiny triangle of blue on the left

The plan was to drive east to Balykchy, which is at the westernmost extremity of the lake, and then follow the north shore until we reached the dacha at Novo-Pokrovka, which is at almost at the easternmost extremity and only about 40 miles from China. The north shore, in Soviet days, was a popular playground and holiday resort, for there are numerous beaches, and the waters of the lake are rich in minerals and were supposed to have curative properties, which accounts for the many sanatoriums, some of which are still open for business. After a couple of days at Novo-Pokrovka we would make the return journey along the somewhat longer and less populated southern shore, which would take us back to Balykchy and so home to Bishkek.

Issyk-Kul lies in the oblast, or province, of the same name, which is something like a national park. On entering the oblast shortly before Balychky an environmental levy is payable at a border control that is totally redolent of the Soviet era, appears to have been made out of hundreds of tons of unadorned concrete, and is perhaps the most unpromising introduction that one could imagine to an area of outstanding natural beauty.

At Balykchy itself we did not stop, and therefore I was unable to verify the observation in the guide book that it is renowned principally for wind, truckers, vodka and prostitutes. However, it is not long before the road starts to run parallel with the shore, and we made an unscheduled halt to admire a modern Muslim mausoleum that lay between the road and the lake. Made of white marble, at least thirty feet high, and in a deserted area otherwise devoid of structures, it was beautiful and gleaming in the brilliant morning sun, with nothing of the oppressive gloom that one normally associates with a mausoleum. It must also have made a very obvious and useful landmark for sailors on the lake, and there are surely many, many worse places in which to deposit one's mortal remains.
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The unlovely entry point for the I…
The unlovely entry point for the …
Wonderful modern Muslim mausoleum …
Wonderful modern Muslim mausoleum…
photo by: londonstudent