Kyrgyzstan is a land of mountains, but it is
also a land of lakes.
total, there are almost two thousand lakes in the country with a total
area of almost 7000 sq. km. Most of them are small mountain
lakes, located at altitudes between 2500 and 4000 meters above sea
level and were formed as a result of glaciation. Only sixteen of them
have a surface area of over 1 sq. km.
In Kyrgyz, the word for lake is “kul”, as in Issyk
Kul, Son Kul and Chatyr Kul, (the three biggest lakes in the country).
Issyk Kul, the largest of the Kyrgyz lakes, is sometimes referred to as
“The pearl of the Tien Shan” and has a special
place in the affections of the local people. The name means
“warm lake”, but that doesn’t necessarily
refer to the temperature of the water, but rather to the fact that it
never freezes over. This is because, lying at the bottom of a drainage
basin and has no outlet. Evaporation means that the water is
salty which lowers the freezing point.
Son Kul, the second largest lake in the country and the largest
freshwater lake, is located at 3016 meters asl on a treeless plateau
which provides lush meadowland for summer pastures. The waters flow out
through the Kajyrty River and into the Naryn River.
Chatyr Kul is not only the third largest lake; it is the highest lake
in the republic at 3530 meters. It is fed by the Kok Aygyr
River and with no outflows. There are no fish in the lake.
the other lakes of interest include Sary Chelek and the Merzbacher
Sary Chelek, (“Yellow Bucket”), which was formed
long ago when a rock fall blocked the course of a river in a mountain
valley, in the south west of the country. It is surrounded by
wooded slopes and fed by many mountain streams; this freshwater lake is
often thought to be the most beautiful. It is the centre of a National
Park and access is strictly controlled.
Merzbacher Lakes are a strange geological phenomenon and are named
after the German explorer that discovered them. They appear
and then disappear each summer, without any apparent reason.
At their greatest extent the lakes measure about 4 km by 1 km and can
vary between 40-80 meters in depth.
Water is just one of the natural resources in which Kyrgyzstan is
richly endowed. The mountains, and the glaciers
that cover them, are the source of many rivers that flow through the
territory of the Kyrgyz Republic and across its borders to its
neighbours: rivers such as the Naryn, which was known as the Syr Darya
in ancient times. In addition to the naturally formed lakes,
there are several reservoirs which have been created, for the purposes
of water management and irrigation and also for hydro electricity
generation, by damming some of these rivers. In addition to
their primary purposes, these reservoirs provide an ecological resource
and, sometimes, facilities for leisure.
largest is the Toktogul Reservoir on the Naryn River.
Constructed in 1974, the dam holds back almost 200000 cubic meters of
water, houses a hydro electric power plant, and controls the flow of
water further downstream.
There is virtually no water traffic in Kyrgyzstan, (although there are
some “steamers” which ply back and forth on Lake
Issyk Kul, joining other pleasure craft and small rowing boats carrying
fisherman on the water, and some of the rivers provide excellent
opportunities for white water rafting), meaning that the lakes,
reservoirs and rivers are usually peaceful havens in which to relax and
observe the natural environment.