Issyk Kul is Kyrgyzstan's largest lake and at about 180 km long by 70 km wide and 668 meters deep at the deepest point, (the average depth is about 300 meters), it is the world's second largest mountain lake and the fifth deepest lake in the world. The lake has been held in high regard by the Kyrgyz; it is known as the 'pearl of the Tien Shan' and in 2004, the government declared the lake as the 'property of the nation'.
One source even suggests that, at one time, it was even forbidden to swim in the lake. The area relishes in some 2900 hours of sunshine a year. Because of the effect of the mountain ranges North and South, it does not suffer from extreme Continental climatic conditions. Summer temperatures are usually around 25-28 degrees, but as the lake lies at an altitude of some 1606m, it can get quite chilly, especially at night. Winter temperatures can be around C5 degrees. Due to its size it sometimes appears like an inland sea, and it has a fair number of beaches. Most of these are on the Northern shore and have long acted as a magnet for tourists.
There are a large number of hotels, sanatoria, guesthouses and homestays at various points around the lake, many of which can make arrangements for services to the neighbouring mountains. Some of the sanatoria have hydrothermal springs and offer mud baths. The tourist season usually runs from June until September, but the peak season is from about 25th July until 25th August and it may be difficult to find places and prices are at a premium. A number of the sanatoria, hotels, guesthouses and homestays around the lake operate all year round, although some are open only during the summer season. The area was basically unknown to the Western world until Russian explorers like Tianshansky Semeyenov ventured into the mountains nearby.
There was greater contact with the East, however, and the Chinese traveler Jan Chan Tzan reached the lake in about 128 BC as part of a 6-year journey of exploration (132-126 BC). The first written account of the lake comes from another Chinese traveler, Suan Zsan, when describing his 16-year journey of exploration. The first written example of the use of the name, Isi-kul, dates from an anonymous work: 'The boundaries of the world from East to West' written in Tajik in 982 AD. It also accurately states the size of the lake.
From Bishkek the lake is approached through Boom Gorge, and it is possible to cut into the mountains here to the Chon Kemin valley. The lake lies at the bottom of a drainage hollow, or depression and has no outflow. Mountains ring the lake and there are several valleys worth visiting, Gregorievka and Simeonevka on the North, Barskoon on the South and numerous others around Karakol.
To the North are the Kungei(Sunny) Ala-Too mountains and are criss-crossed by trekking routes including ones that connect the lake with Almaty; while to the South lie the Teskei(Shady) Ala-Too mountains. These mountain ranges protect the Issyk Kul hollow from winds bringing either extreme cold or extremly hot winds.
Legends of Issyk-Kul lake >>>