A resort town on the shore of Issyk-Kul with an open-air museum of petroglyphs

The Cholpon-Ata petroglyphs are a grandiose temple in the open air, where religious ceremonies connected with the spiritual world and the life of the nomadic population of Issyk-Kul were performed

Cholpon-Ata is a resort town on the northern shore of Lake Issyk-Kul in Kyrgyzstan with a population of 10.525. It is the administrative center of the Issyk Kul District of Issyk-Kul Region; this district occupies most of the lake’s north shore. To the west along highway A363 is Tamchy and to the east, Bosteri.

The town contains numerous large and small sanatoria, hotels and guesthouses to accommodate the many visitors who descend upon the lake in summer. During the Soviet era it was much frequented by vacationers brought here in organized mass tours from other parts of the USSR. Holidaymakers now usually visit on their own or in small groups and originate mainly from Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan. Attracting more demanding foreign tourists will require substantial upgrading of the existing facilities, but the location is certainly attractive. The view of the imposing alpine ranges of the Tian Shan across the lake is impressive. There is a local museum and an open-air site with about 2000 petroglyphs dating from 800 BC to 1200AD.

The Legend of Cholpon Ata (and another reason for Lake Issyk-Kul)

Many, many years ago, before Lake Issyk Kul existed, there was a city where a rich and powerful Khan lived. Not only was he rich and powerful, but he was excessively cruel. Almost every day a local peasant who has displeased the khan was cast from the heights of the city walls onto the rocks below.

In a valley next to a stream lived an old peasant and his only daughter, Cholpon. Her beauty was legendary and all the local djigits (young men in their prime) had tried to woo this girl but she always spurned their advances and told that she had another whom she loved. But who was this person? It seemed that even she did not know. Then one day as the sun peeped over the mountain tops an unknown djigit appeared on a white steed and carried her off into the mountians where a whirlwind caught them and carried them high to the snow-capped peaks.

There he embraced her and kissed her. He gave her a ring and told her if she never took it off unhappiness would never affect her. Taking her back down the mountain he promised to return soon.

The Khan, as well as being cruel, also had a lecherous streak. One day he heard of this peasant’s daughter and decided that he had to have her and so he sent his envoy to request her presence but she refused the advance. This did not please the Khan.

After many days the daughter’s djigit did not return so she ventured up into the mountains to try and find him.But as hard as she searched and wherever she looked she could not find him. Filled with sadness she started to come back down the mountain when she suddenly found herself surrounded by the Khan’s men who blindfolded and kidnapped her.

When the blindfold was removed she found herself in the Khan’s palace before the Khan. He attempted to woo and entice her. He showered her with gifts and promises, even offering here freedom if she would only give herself to him. But she decided that it would be better to be dead than to give herself, and so told the Khan that she loved another and would never be his.

This greatly angered the Khan and he decided that he would take what he wanted if it was not to be given. Like a wild animal he rushed at her but she ran to the window and saying “I shall never be yours” threw herself from the window.

The ground where she fell suddenly started to crack and holes opened up. From these caves clean, pure, crystal-clear, light blue water started to flow and continued to flow until the Khan, his palace and all his followers were drowned and submerged.

It is said that if you stand on the shore of Cholpon Ata (Ata means father in Kyrgyz) and look across the lake then you can see the face of the father in the mountains opposite and his salty tears flowing down his cheeks and adding to the waters of Issyk Kul. 

And on calm quiet summer evenings, as the sun sets, they say it is possible to see the ruins of an old fortress under the waters of the lake and to hear Cholpon’s voice blowing in the breeze.