Lake Issyk-Kul is 6,236 km2 in size, more than twice the size of Luxembourg. At its greatest extent, it is 178 km long and 60 km wide. On average, it is 278 m deep, with a maximum depth of 668 m, giving it almost twice the water volume of Lake Titicaca, which is larger in area.

There are 118 tributaries in total, but no outflow. The lake is therefore endorheic. However, some researchers assume that the Chu River, which flows through northern Kyrgyzstan and southern Kazakhstan, is fed by the Issyk-Kul through an underground system.

issyk kul lake, Kyrgyzstan
Issyk-Kul lake

Legend has it that a kingdom existed on the site of the lake long ago. By a freak of nature, the king was born with donkey ears. He was so embarrassed that he covered his ears under a cap. He had every barber killed after his work was done to keep his secret. One barber, however, managed to call the secret into a well before he died. As a result, the water in the well began to rise and continued to rise until the whole kingdom was flooded. Another legend says that there are at least four sunken cities at the bottom of the lake.

Archaeological excavations indeed show that there was at least one settlement of an advanced civilization at the bottom of the lake. The settlement is said to be 2,500 years old and to have extended over several square kilometres. It must have been abandoned due to the rise in the water level, which is said to have risen by at least eight metres since the Middle Ages. At the moment, however, the water level is falling again by an average of about 5 cm per year.

Despite its location in the Tien Shan Mountains and temperatures of -20 degrees in winter, the lake does not freeze. On the one hand, this has to do with the current, which mixes surface water and warmer deep water relatively quickly. On the other hand, the salt content is relatively high for a freshwater lake, which makes freezing even more difficult. There are also said to be warm springs at the bottom of the lake.

Since the Soviet era, the lake has been used for tourism. This is evidenced by several sanatoriums and holiday homes, which are mainly located on the northern shore. Recently, some new hotels have been opened, which meet western standards. The lake is visited by many Kyrgyz tourists. Foreign tourists come mainly from Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan and Russia.

In 1948, Issyk-Kul became Kyrgyzstan’s first nature reserve. Since 2000, the lake has also been on the UNESCO list of biosphere reserves. The fish fauna consists mainly of fish from the carp family. In the 1970s, the Sevan trout, which originally comes from Lake Sevan in Armenia and is considered endangered there, was successfully released. However, due to overfishing, four endemic species, among others, are considered endangered.

Air connections: The Issyk-Kul International Airport is located in Tamchy, on the northern shore of the lake. However, the airport is only served seasonally and offers flights to Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan and Russia in summer. Most tourists arrive via either Bishkek or Almaty in Kazakhstan.

Railway connections: The town of Balyktchy, in the very west of Lake Issyk-Kul, has a railway station with connections to the capital Bishkek and from there on to Kazakhstan and Russia.

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