Discovery Kyrgyzstan
Discovery Kyrgyzstan travel guide #10/2008

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The largest town in the Issyk Kul region – and the local administrative centre, is Karakol.  It lies at the eastern end of the lake, at the foot of the Terskey Ala Too Mountain range. 
It owes its location to the authorities of the Russian Imperial Army, who decided in 1869 that it was an ideal site to garrison a force (an infantry battalion, a mountain battery and a troupe of some two hundred Cossacks) in what was to become a far flung corner of the Tsarist Empire.  The army were soon followed by settlers.  As well as being a garrison town and regional centre, Karakol also served as the base camp for several expeditions: into the Tien Shan and across into China, including those of the nineteenth century Russian explorer, Nikolai Prezhervalsky. 
Prezhervalsky made several journeys into Central Asia and although he almost made it, he was never to achieve his life’s ambition of reaching Lhasa, in Tibet.  It was while preparing for another expedition that he contracted Typhoid and he settled down in the area over looking the lake to die. There is a museum dedicated to him on the site of the house that he had built, a little less than 10 kilometres from the centre of the city, on the Mikhailovka inlet. Six years after his death in 1888, a monument and small chapel were built by the side of his grave, and then in 1957 the Soviet authorities constructed the present museum and gardens. 
The settlement was originally named Karakol – which translates as “black hand”, (the early settlers noted that the soil turned their hands black) – then in 1886 received the name Prezhervalsk.  Lenin gave it back its original name in 1926, only to have Stalin rename it Prezhevalsk again in 1935.  Finally in 1991 it was renamed Karakol once more.
The settlement was to claim a number of important "firsts” in Kyrgyzstan: the first meteorological station in the region was established in 1881; the first public library in what is now Kyrgyzstan; the first hippodrome in Centre Asia.  Other social institutions were established - for example schools and parks.  There were 2 churches, 9 mosques, and 44 factories, all of which signalled that Karakol was a thriving and prosperous market town.
One of those churches was the Holy Trinity Cathedral which is a fine example of a Russian Orthodox Church.  In the Soviet period served as a dance hall, and during the Second World War, as a school. Built on the site of an earlier church, erected in 1876, the current building was constructed between 1890-5. During the construction a yurt served as a church for local population. The building consists of wooden walls on a stone foundation, and it is highly decorative. The five onion domes, which used to adorn it, were destroyed in the Soviet period. Inside are a number of icons – including some saved from Svetly Myz, and a copy of one of Saint Troitzy by Andrei Rublev (who lived in the 13th Century). It has now been returned to active service as a church and some reconstruction was begun in 1961. It is now being renovated anew. 
There is also a Dungan (Chinese) mosque in the town built by a Chinese architect and 20 artisans between 1907 and 1910. It was built entirely of wood, without a single nail. The Dungans first arrived in Karakol, as refugees, in 1877 and created a small community. The Bolsheviks closed the mosque from 1933 until 1943, but it was then reopened and has operated as a place of worship since then. The Mosque is set into its own territory and the distinctive decoration (it is painted in bright colours – red, green and yellow – and bears reliefs depicting various types of flora and mythical animals such as dragons and the phoenix) that give it an original character. There is a veranda by the entrance to the large central space. 
There is the Regional Museum with seven rooms: A Russian which depicts the development of the town and early Russian settlers; A Kyrgyz room depicting aspects of traditional national culture; An Arts and Music room, a fine collection of musical instruments; A wildlife room with a variety of stuffed animals found in the region; An Archaeology and History exhibition; A “Kumtor” room – sponsored by the Kumtor gold mine.
The Sunday “Animal Market” attracts a large number of visitors whjo enjoy simply strolling around, “soaking up the atmosphere”.  A few of them have even been known to buy a horse, or a sheep. 
With its large number of colonial style buildings (sometimes described as “chocolate box cottages”); shady, poplar lined streets; lively market; the oldest hippodrome in Central Asia, and overlooked by the Terksey (“Shady”) Ala-Too Mountains it can give an impression of a Nineteenth Century Russian Village. 
What is more, just as the Imperial Army decided that this was a fine location for a military base, so it proves a suitable base for the modern traveller who wants to explore the surrounding areas – or as the start of an expedition to Enilchek glacier and the 7000m peaks of Khan Tengi or Pobeda. 
As a result, Karakol is perhaps best known these days as a centre for trekking.  There are a large number of well established routes in the valleys nearby. Nearest to the city is Djety Oguz with the Seven Bulls rock formation and the Valley of Flowers. Many trekkers visit the Ak-Suu (Tepliyekluchenki), Altyn Arashan and Karakol valleys. 
In the winter months a ski-base in the nearby Karakol gorge just to the South of the city is popular with both locals and visitors alike.

Discovery Kyrgyzstan
Travel guide#10/2008

Discovery Kyrgyzstan Travel guide #10/2008

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