IssykKul :
An ecotax to save a jewel.

Issyk Kul

Kirghizstan is typically a country of mountains and lakes. Issyk Kul, the hot lake, is the most famous of them but much others, less large, deserve the displacement.

Located at an elevation of 1.600 m., with a total surface of 6.300 km², Issyk Kul is the second larger alpine lake of the world. By its volume, it is even the first. 180 km long and of 60 km broad, its depth reaches 668 m. Issyk Kul is a closed lake and its water is thus slightly salted. Its transparency is the same as that of the Caribbean Sea. In summer, its water is tepid along the beaches and it is thus very pleasant to swim there. The lake and its shores are the ideal spots for recreation, trekking, and watersports.

Like the majority of the bodies of water of Central Asia, Issyk Kul sees its level dropping. An increase in irrigation in the lake’s basin has contributed to a decline in the lake’s level of about 10 metres since 1850. However, this is not its first drop of level. In the past, its level was until to 30 m. lower than currently then it went up of forty meters.

Therefore, a city which had been built on its banks is found swallowed up when the level has increased.

It is now about fifteen meters of under water and constitutes an attraction of choice for the visitors. The bottom of the lake is a historical treasure which is covered with remnants of this ancient city. After a storm, which can heighten the waves up to 5m, people may find thousand-year old pottery on the shore.

But principal attraction is the immersed caves of the lake. Documents and many legends locate there the treasure of Templars and that of Gengis Khan. In the Nineties, one found there a stone covered with inscriptions and a gold hammer what seems to confirm the accounts and attracts a considerable number of treasure hunters.

Tour De Burana

The most worrying threat which weighs on Issyk Kul is not its drop of level; it is slow and much believe that it is possible to stop it. On the other hand, the area misses purifying stations and, in the medium term, Issyk Kul is likely to be irreversibly polluted. Temporarely, it is saved thanks to rebellious movements which move away the tourists but a constantly increasing number of "one day" or "one weekend" tourists come there from Almaty, the former capital of Kazakhstan. The shores of the Lake Issyk-Kul are noted for their health resorts, and sanatoriums and holiday houses abound.

In order to finance the construction of purifying stations and the maintenance of the lake, the authorities apply a toll to the vehicles circulating to the road surrounding Issyk Kul. This ecotax is of one dollar (or one euro) for Kirghizes and of five times more for the foreigners. In 2001, UNESCO officially recognized the area as a biosphere reserve.

By its nature and its climate, Kirghizstan is really pleasant to visit and it is a real pleasure of remaining there. From the Soviet time remains a valid touristic infrastructure even if it is sometimes a little bit dilapidated. It is the case in particular of some hotels and thermal spas.

Staying in guest rooms is possible and cheap and it is the occasion to meet Kirghizes and to appreciate their hospitality. It is an unforgettable experiment to share a Kirghiz meal with them of also making them taste a European speciality.

Kirghizstan is the country of predilection of for nature lovers and for the amateurs of pedestrian, cyclist or equestrian stroll.

Less esteemed than Turkmen Alka Teke, the Kirghiz horses count nevertheless among the best of the world. And, for those which do not suffer of sea sickness, one finds there also domesticated Bactrian camels but it is still possible to see them in the wild state.

To go to Tadjikistan, the road is better while passing by China. One loses with the customs the time saved on the road but Chinese Xinjiang is to be visited.

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