Discovery Kyrgyzstan
Discovery Kyrgyzstan travel guide #10/2008

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The Southern Shore of Issyk Kul

The Southern shore of Lake Issyk Kul is much less developed than its northern counterpart, offering a contrast to the “resort zone”. 
This may seem a little strange as the archaeological evidence suggests that this was the first choice for the location of settlements in the Issyk Kul Basin.  Tosor, for example, is the site of an ancient (Paleological) settlement – said to date from 50,000 BC (although alternative dates ranging from 40,000 to 100,000 have been suggested).
The settlements on the southern shore were also important in the days of the Great Silk Road, between the eighth and twelfth centuries, as one of the main routes across the mountains to China passed over the Bedel Pass at the head of the Barskoon valley.    
The mountains approach closer to the shoreline than the northern, there are fewer sandy beaches and the sun bears down more intensely on the northern shore making it more attractive for holidaymakers. 
The local administration is based in the town of Karakol at the Eastern end of the lake.  The town is visited by many tourists who captivated by its old world charm, the architecture (much of it typical nineteenth century Russian Colonial), its sights (the Orthodox Cathedral, Dungan Mosque and museums), and the traditional Animal Market on Sunday mornings.  It also serves as a good base for excursions into the nearby Terksey Ala Too Mountains.
Not far from Karakol are the picturesque valleys of Altyn Arashan and Jety Oguz – both of which offer ample opportunity for trekking and horse riding.  There is a route between the two valleys which takes several days and passes the Ala Kol lake, (at 3532m asl, it is 2.3 km long and 700m wide and is fed by glacial streams and the outflow forms a waterfall). One notable feature of the lake is that it can change colour according to the time of day, the season and the weather – the waters can seem violet, dark blue or even pink. 
About a hundred kilometres further west is the Bassoon valley, home to the annual At Chabysh Festival, in November.  The valley has an impressive waterfall and is a good centre for trekking and horse riding.  In Soviet times the road turned east along the upper Naryn River and looped round over the Yshtyk Pass (3689 m) to Ak Shyrak, Enilchek and eventually back to the city of Karakol.  Unfortunately, some of the bridges are now down and the road, (never an easy route), is no longer passable.
The 11th century scholar Mahumud al-Kashgari (also known as Barskhani) was a native of this area.  He is best known as the author of the first Turkic languages comparative dictionary, which he wrote whilst living in Baghdad in 1072-4.  His map of the then known world has Barskoon at the centre of the world.  His tomb is South of Kashgar – on the road to Pakistan. 
On the other side of the valley is the village of Tamga, famous for rock inscribed with an ancient Tibetan Buddhist mantra.  In fact the village received its name from this stone - Tamga is the Kyrgyz word for “patterned stone” or petroglyph.  There is a sanatorium here where cosmonauts were brought on their return from space.
Tosor is a small village on the southern shore – and site of one of the earliest human settlements in Kyrgyzstan.  In ancient Turkic languages the word meant “outpost” and it marked the western most point of the Barskoon region.  There is a yurt camp here and one of the routes over the Terskey Ala Too Mountains to the Naryn region starts from here.
The village of Bokonbaeva is named after a famous Kyrgyz poet.  The village can be a good base for excursions to Mazhily Ata, Mortvoye Ozero the Kongur Olun valley and across the Terskey Ala Too towards Naryn.  
Manzhily Ata is to the east of Bokonbaeva.  It is an ancient Shaman sacred site which plays host to another Festival every August.  Set back off the road, in the foothills to the south, the site stretches over a wide area and incorporates a small mosque and several natural springs which are said to have particular curative value.  It was supposed to be particularly efficacious in helping childless couples – there was a saying that “if you want sheep (wealth) then go and pray at Cholpon Ata, but if you want children, then go and pray at Mazhily Ata”.
Mortvoye Ozero is the Kyrgyz equivalent of the Dead Sea.  The water has a high concentration of salt minerals so it is possible to float on the surface instead of sinking like a stone and is thought to have particular value.  It lies to the west of Bokonbaeva, between the main road and Issyk Kul.  It is on private property and so there is a fee for access.

Kongur Olun is a 40 km long valley of meadows and swamps which runs parallel to the main road, on the other side of the mountain range between the Western end of the lake and Bokonbaeva. It lies at an altitude of about 2200 m. asl and offers scope for walking.  There is a yurt camp at Temir Kanat, near to Bokonbaeva.   The Kyrgyz film “Beshkempir” (a Kyrgyz film – the title means “Five Old Women”), was filmed in the valley.   There is a legend that an 18th century batyr (a local Khan) won the valley with a band of 40 warriors and an elaborate gumbez (mausoleum) was built for each when they died.  The ruins of some of these can still be seen in the village of Kongur Olun.  There is a route from the valley over the mountains to Ece Naryn.


Discovery Kyrgyzstan
Travel guide#10/2008

Discovery Kyrgyzstan Travel guide #10/2008

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