Discovery Kyrgyzstan
 
Discovery Kyrgyzstan travel guide #10/2008
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Sary-Chelek reserve

Sary-Chelek reserve, the only biosphere reserve in the Central Asian mountains, is located on the southern slopes of the Chatkal ridge. Its landscapes are beautiful and multifarious. Piedmont steppes and ridges with snow-covered peaks, turbulent rivers and still marshes, mountain lakes with diverse rocks, flower-filled valleys, mountain taiga and alpine meadows - all combine to make an unforgettable impression.

The small reserve territory (23,900 hectares) is ringed by the Chatkal mountain ridge some of whose peaks tower more than 4000 m above sea level. The ridges and the valleys separating them run almost parallel with each other. The relief of the Middle Mountains is relatively smooth, but even here steep edges, jagged peaks and narrow gorges are visible. The lower part of the mountain range looks like a strip of small rolling foothills, interspersed with ravines and valleys.
The fast-flowing Khodja-Ata River starts at the western edge of the reserve and runs through the whole territory, creating picturesque waterfalls in places. The river and its various tributaries flow for twelve to fifteen km through deep gloomy gorges. In the northern part of the reserve at an altitude of 1940m above sea level lies the Sary-Chelek lake. To the south-east are a few smaller lakes: Kyla-Kol, Iri-Kol, Chocha-Kol and Krugloe (meaning round). All the lakes were formed due to a subsidence in ancient times, which blocked the river like a dam. Sary-Chelek, the largest lake, spreads for 7.5km from north-west to south-east. The mountain ridges with variously colored rocks encircle the lake and are reflected in its calm waters.
The climate in Sary-Chelek reserve is relatively damp and gentle in comparison with other continental and windswept regions of Southern Kirghizia. The mountain walls protect the territory from the cold north wind so winter temperatures are higher than in the valleys. In the summer conversely the temperature here is lower than in the valleys.
Such conditions: a moderate climate, abundant precipitations and heightened air moisture are very favorable for many heat-loving plants. The variety of altitude, climate, light and soil is the reason for the richness and diversity of colors of the flora. About 800 species of vascular plants can be found here.
At a height of about 2200m above sea level the mountain taiga begins. The main plant growing here is the Shrenk fir (picea schrenkiana), but silver fir (abies semenovii), maple (acer turkestanicum), juniper, birch (betula procurva), as well as different bushes (eg spiraea, currant) can be also found in some gorges and mountain slopes.
Bushes create impassable thickets, in which the Exochorda (Exochorda tianschanica) prevails. There are thirteen types of dog-rose on the reserve territory.
High up grassy meadows lie in amongst the forested areas. The sub-alpine meadows are very beautiful during the flowering season, when the dense colorful carpet of geraniums and other plants can be seen from miles around. Further up between the rocks and taluses lie the alpine meadows.
Unfortunately today you rarely see argali , the mountain ram, on mountain plateau meadows, overgrown with wormwood, wild oats or fescue. Its numbers have dwindled due to poaching and distant-pasture cattle breeding, which was popular on this territory earlier.
The ounce or snow leopard, which is extremely rare, lives in the alpine zone of the Chatkal ridge. This skilled predator is very cautious; you will hardly ever find its tracks among rocks, taluses and stones, and it takes care to leave the remains of wild mountain goat and argali, its favorite prey, far from the den. Like any cat, the snow leopard is very dexterous: when threatened or in full pursuit, it can leap as far as ten meters.
Very interesting ancient trees can be found in the reserve. For example the Turkestan juniper is 2000 years old and it has been known to live even longer. Obviously these trees have preserved traces of terrestrial and astrophysical phenomena of the past years and the scientists can glean a great deal of information on the history and growing conditions of such plants by studying these venerable old trees. Tian Shan is young in geological terms and the orogeny is still in process. Instant change processes, such as those leading to natural disasters (earthquakes, mudslides, avalanches), and prolonged processes (eg erosion, cryogen) change the biogeocenoses, cause rockfalls, and destroy top-soil. Such vulnerability of natural resources requires us to fight against soil erosion by regulating the surface run-off and ensuring that farming methods work in harmony with the features and rules of natural development. In the meantime all negative processes that take place in the mountains are as a direct result of human intervention.

Discovery Kyrgyzstan #2

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