Discovery Kyrgyzstan
Discovery Kyrgyzstan travel guide #10/2008

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Cholpon Ata

Cholpon Ata is the largest town on the northern shore of the lake, about half way along, some 250 kilometers from Bishkek. Large numbers of tourists used to descend with their vouchers for a stay in one of the nearby sanatoria or tour resorts in summertime, and Soviet athletes would come here to train at altitude.

Cholpon Ata offers a small market for everyday necessities, a yacht club (which can organize boat trips), a hippodrome, a major stud farm, and a number of beaches. There is a museum displaying archaeological finds from around the region and the Chui valley, musical instruments, traditional craftwork, and exhibitions devoted to the Manas Epic and Akaev and Chinghiz Aitmatov. Another museum is dedicated to the Kazakh writer Auezov.

Just to the north of the town lies an open air 'art gallery' containing a fine display of petroglyphs which date from the sixth to the first century BC. In the canyon above the town are forests, the Kyzyl Beirel waterfall, and the Chon Koi canyon Suu. Accommodation is available in the large sanatoria built during the Soviet era as well as in a number of homestays.

A little offshore is the sunken village of Chengu or 'red valley', the capital of the ancient Usun State in the second century BC. As the waters of the lake recede it is thought that the village will soon emerge from the depths. It was referred to by early Russian explorers to the region, and diving expeditions were undertaken in 1956. The divers found several baked bricks, fragments of ceramic dishes, a piece of a ceramic pipe (which suggests a high level of local civilization), bronze arrowheads, iron knives, and the bones of both people and animals.

Offshore, opposite the villages of Korumdy and Temirovka and near the Grigoryevskaya harbor, archaeologists found fragments of ancient pots dating back to the Bronze Age. Unfortunately only a few of such articles are preserved because many were taken by local residents and tourists as souvenirs. The knife handles are topped with large figures of horses or sheep. The horses look very realistic with large heads, long tails, and well-developed leg muscles typical of steppe horses.

One of the most interesting finds from the bottom of Issyk-Kul is a sacrificial table of almost square shape. It has four legs shaped like a woman's body, 22 cm high. These figures are well preserved: slant eyes, wide nose, oval chin, and a short and strong neck and scholars think these figures may be accurate representations of the ancient residents of the Issyk-Kul region.

Another find was a large hemispheric sacrificial pot with two horizontal handles and a relief tamga (the seal of the master) resembling a crescent with the points directed downwards. Such pots were widespread in this region in the second half of the first millennium and more than ten such pots have been found at Issyk-Kul this one being the largest. It is thought that such pots were used only on holidays and special occasions. The large size of these pots suggest the large scale feasting of ancient cattle breeders in honour of their gods.

Discovery Kyrgyzstan #3

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