Cholpon Ata is
the largest town on the northern shore of the lake, about half way
along, some 250km from Bishkek – and the centre of the
regions “resort zone”.
summertime, during the Soviet period, large numbers of tourists would
descend with their “vouchers” for a stay in one of
the nearby sanatoria or tour resorts. Although the sanatoria
are still here and still offer medical treatments, the range of
facilities has changed and developed over the years since Kyrgyzstan
became an independent country.
The town has a small market for everyday necessities, a yacht club, (it
is possible to take boat trips on the lake), a hippodrome and a major
stud farm. A museum displays archaeological finds from around
the region and the Chui valley, musical instruments, traditional
craftwork, exhibitions devoted to the Manas Epic and Chinghiz Aitmatov.
The town also hosts a museum and library dedicated to the Kazakh writer
Auezov. The war memorial dedicated to the 214 who fell during the
Second World War bears the inscription "No-one is forgotten. Nothing is
One of the major sites of interest is the “Open Air
Museum”, (sometimes referred to as a “Stone
Garden”), to the north of the town’s
airport. It covers some 42 hectares and contains a number of
prehistoric monumental structures (stone circles, tombs, the remains of
a boundary stone wall, balbals) and petroglyphs (dating from the second
millennium BC up to the Middle Ages). Some of the more
interesting stones have plaques giving some information (a short
description and a date). The stones vary in size from about
30 cm to 3 meters.
There are several routes marked with arrows around the “stone
garden”. It is thought that the site was once a
gigantic open-air temple, where ancient people worshipped heavenly
bodies – especially the sun – and perhaps other
gods. Many of the drawings are of animals, and there are
figures of hunters and what appear to be tame snow leopards during a
hunt. One appears to depict hunting leopards in motion and is the only
one of this kind in Central Asia.
are a number of routes around the collection, (the shortest takes about
20-30 minutes), which enables visitors to explore a collection of stone
balbals, stone inscriptions, stone circles and … a
spectacular panorama of the Cholpon-Ata bay of Lake
Issyk-Kul. It is often said that the best time for visit is
early morning or late evening, when all the drawings are clearly seen
and one can feel the atmosphere of ancient times.
The art of stone inscriptions gradually disappeared with the spread of
Islam, which restricted images of animals and human beings, to Central
Asia. However many of the forms used in these petroglyphs are still
with us today – they form the basis of patterns, showing
different parts of animals (horns, wings, claws) are used in shyrdaks
(Kyrgyz felt carpets) and other forms of traditional arts and crafts.
A little offshore is the sunken village of Chengu, (“red
valley”), the capital of the ancient Usun State in the second
century B.C. and one of a number of villages that have disappeared
under the waters of the lake. Referred to by early Russian
explorers to the region, 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. In recent there have been further
There are a number of legends associated with Cholpon Ata, one of which
is often quoted by locals as their favourite of the Kyrgyz
tells of a beautiful young girl, Cholpon, who was courted by many of
the local dzhigits (young men) of the area. The attentions of
each she rejected, saying that she loved another. The khan at
time was noted for his mercilessly cruelty and he too fell to the
charms of her beauty, only to be rejected as were all the
others. He showered gifts upon her, but
no gift could win her over and make her change her mind.
“I love another and I shall never be yours!” was
always her answer.
Displeased by her ‘stubbornness’, the Khan, decided
on one last appeal – but she ran from him to a
window. “I shall not be yours!” she cried
and threw herself onto the ground below.
From where she fell at the foot of the high and might walls of the
fortress, opened up caves and water gushed from them. From them flowed
the waters light-blue, pure, clean, crystal clear, and as hot as the
maiden heart, which formed the mountain lake, which the people called
The name of the town translates as Cholpon’s Father and it is
said that if you stand on the shore at Cholpon Ata
(“Cholpon’s Father”) you can see his face
in the mountains opposite, with his tears flowing down the mountainside
to add to the salt waters of the lake as he weeps for his beautiful
daughter. It is also said that on quiet summer evenings, when
the sun sets, the ruins of a fortress appear under the water and the
voice of the girl can be heard.
In the centre
of the town a sculpture depicting Chalpon was erected in 1982.