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
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