“Yellow Bucket” may not seem particularly appealing
to tourists or to suggest a natural paradise but this would be
misleading. “Yellow Bucket” is in fact a
translation of “Sary Chelek” and, to those who know
Kyrgyzstan, the name of “Sary Chelek” conjures up
images of an area of outstanding natural beauty, an alpine lake with
crystal clear waters, steep sided banks lined with woods, snow-capped
peaks, rapid rivers and mountain lakes, blossoming valleys and alpine
meadows and as the home of a wide variety of wildlife including many
threatened and endangered species.
are over a thousand different species of plants: grasses, shrubs, herbs
and trees and the relic walnut forests are amongst some of the largest
and oldest in the world.
Amongst the animals to be found here are deer, mountain argali (Marco
Polo Sheep), the Snow Leopard, Turkestan Lynx and the Tien Shan Brown
Bear, all of which are listed in the Red Data Book as Endangered
Situated some 1873 meters above sea level, the lake itself stretches
for some 7.5 kilometres, varying in width along its length from 350 m.
to 1500 m. and it at its deepest point reaches a depth of 234 m
– and, as such, it is the second deepest lake in
Kyrgyzstan. The shoreline is deeply indented and lined by
steep forested slopes – which descend into the depths of the
lake. Shallow areas have developed only in the larger of the
The Lake’s picturesque shores are thought by many of the
local population to be the most beautiful in Kyrgyzstan. The
steep slopes, (in places they are sheer), are covered with pine, silver
fir and archa (juniper) trees. The waters often appear a
greenish shade of blue – and make attractive photographs.
There is some dispute about how the lake was formed – some
scholars think it resulted from the collapse of two mountains ridges
which blocked the river holding back the waters, whilst others think it
was the result of a shift along a fault line some 2000 years
The lake itself is at the heart of a national park, (The Sary Chelek
Biosphere Reserve), The Park was established in 1959, and is one of
Kyrgyzstan’s earliest natural reserves. One of the
aims of the Park is to preserve the natural habitat of the wildlife,
and a wildlife reserve, offering facilities and a resource for the
scientific study of biological diversity. There is also a
small museum in the neighbouring village of Arkit.
It includes a number of river valleys, some smaller lakes (such as Kyla
Kol, Iyri Kol, Aram Kol, Cherek Kol, and Bakaly Kol), but the
“jewel in the crown” is considered to the
lake. Like most precious jewels, it is protected with both
access and activities strictly controlled.
In 2003, for example, there were less than 1000 visitors to the park
– with less than 5% coming from abroad.
Camping in the park is forbidden, but near the lake is a small wooden
lodge and several of the nearby villages provide accommodation, either
in homestays or in yurts. There are several trekking routes into and
around the lake, and it is possible to go horse riding.
This area is also rich in cultural heritage with many interesting and
beautiful legends related to the lake and the surrounding
area. Uyum Tash, for example, is supposed to have been an
ancient place of judgement. Legend had it that anyone
attempting to pass through the narrow crevasse between two rocks would
get stuck, squeezed or crushed if their soul bore the weight of a
multitude of sins and when someone suspected of lying or cheating was
asked to visit the site, just the fear of this potential experience was
sufficient to elicit full confessions.
As for the name, “Yellow Bucket”, there is
a legend that a bee keeper attending his hives somewhere on the shores
of the lake, pouring honey into a bucket, was so taken by the colour of
the honey that he decided to call the lake “Yellow
Bucket”. In fact, the honey produced in the area is
regarded by many to be amongst the best produced in the country
– deriving both taste and nutritional value from the rich
variety of flowers to be found in the vicinity.
Another suggestion for the origin of the name is that in the autumn,
when all the leaves of the trees turn colour, the whole basin reminds
the visitor of a “yellow bucket”.