Alpine, deep-sea, salty lake, the Blue Pearl of Kyrgyzstan
At 1,600 metres above sea level, it is the world’ssecond-largest mountain lake. 182 kilometres long and 60 kilometres wide, and in places over 700 metres deep.
Issyk Kul means ‘warm lake’, so named because even in the most severe winters, surrounded by toweringsnow-capped mountain peaks, the lake never freezes. Butyou won’t be surprised to learn that swimming in the lake before June is a truly invigorating experience!
Over 110 rivers and streams flow into the lake, but none flow out. The level varies, but it is maintained at a sustainable level by water diversion and evaporation. Although often described as saline, the lake is only about 20% as salty as normal sea water.
The south shore has the Terskey Ala-Too Range of the Tian Shan Mountains as an incredibly beautiful backdrop. The northern shoreis more developed for tourists, while the south shore is an amazing area that demands exploration.
The level of the lake is now about 8 metres higher than in medieval times, and villages have been found under the waves. Lake Issyk-Kul was a stopping point on the old Silk Road, and there have been reports of a large city at the bottom of the lake.
The Legend of Lake Issyk-Kul
Lake Issyk-Kul is sometimes referred to as “The Pearl of Kyrgyzstan”.
It seems that once upon a time there lived a cruel ruler who fell in love with a girl of celestial beauty. He ordered his men to kidnap the girl from her native village and bring her to his palace.
However the girl loved a common shepherd and so she rejected the Khan’s love. The young djigit (youth) managed to save his sweetheart and rode away with her. Upon hearing this khan sent his best warriors after them. They were caught and the girl was brought back.
This proud beauty declared that she preferred death to captivity and threw herself from a tower window. The khan, however, did not escape punishment for his evil-doings. At the moment of here death clean mountain water rushed down to the valley where his khan’s palace was situated and completely filled the valley and created lake – Lake Issyk-Kul.
A point of interest – amongst the flooded buildings in Lake Issyk-Kul are the ruins of a monastery. Whose monastery, and why and by whom it was destroyed are still unknown, but over time there have been many different religions in this territory including Shinto, Christianity, Islam and Buddhism.
How Issyk-Kul was created (another legeng)
Visiting Kyrgyzstan without seeing Lake Issyk-Kul is like going to the barber’s shop and forgetting to have your haircut. But how was Issyk-Kul formed? Yes, there are many eminent geologists who can give you no end of explanations as to the formation of Issyk-Kul, but what is the truth?
The creation of Issyk-Kul goes back to the time of Alexander the Great. Many people are surprised when they find out he reached Central Asia, but yes he did get here and enjoyed the walnuts, but that is a story for another time.
One of Alexander’s adversaries was a Persian called Rustem who was the ruler of Andijan, and whose lands extended as far as the area around what is now Lake Issyk-Kul. Unfortunately Rustem and his army were no match for Alexander and his hordes. However, he did put on a good show and Alexander was much impressed.
As a last request Rustem asked that his body and those of his people who had been slain in battle and the remains of his ancestors be put somewhere where they would never be found and would stay inaccessible and undisturbed for all eternity.
Alexander moved inexorably eastwards and soon took over the lands around what was to become Lake Issyk-Kul. Being something of a decent chap Alexander decided to grant Rustem’s last wish. Following his conquest of the region a local girl had fallen in love with Alexander and she told him of a local well that was powerful enough to flood the whole valley if the lid was left off.
Upon Alexander’s instructions the bodies of Rustem and his followers were placed in the bottom of the valley. Alexander then removed the lid from the well and the whole valley was flooded ensuring that Rustem would lay undisturbed forever.
So next time you are up at Issyk-Kul and enjoying a quick swim and a lakeside picnic just think, Alexander the Great may have just been there before you.