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Discovery Kyrgyzstan travel guide #10/2008
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Lakes


Kyrgyzstan is a land of mountains, but it is also a land of lakes. 
In 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. 
Amongst the other lakes of interest include Sary Chelek and the Merzbacher Lakes.
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.
The 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.
The 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.

Discovery Kyrgyzstan
Travel guide#10/2008

Discovery Kyrgyzstan Travel guide #10/2008

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