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In total, there are almost 2000 lakes in the Kyrgyz Republic, with a combined area of 6836 sq km. Most of them are small mountain lakes, located at altitudes between 2500 and 4000 meters above sea level and were formed as a result of glaciation. Only 16 of the lakes have a surface area of over 1 sq. km.
In Kyrgyz, the word for lake is “kul” – as in Issyk Kul, Son Kul and Chatyr Kul.
The major lakes are (more detailed descriptions can be found in the “Places Around Kyrgyzstan” section):
Issyk Kul – The pearl of the Tien Shan – the name means “warm lake” because it never freezes over. This is because, lying at the bottom of a draining basin, it has no outlet and evaporation means that the water is salty – lowering the freezing point. Actually, the very north eastern corner which is shallower and narrower may sometimes develop a thin covering of ice.
The lake lies at 1600m a.s.l. at the bottom of a depression, ringed by mountains. At about 180km long, 60 km wide and a maximum depth of about 700 m. it is the world’s second largest mountain lake (after Lake Titicaca in South America). It is also claimed to be the world’s second most transparent lake (after Lake Baykal) with a visibility of about 20 m.
The water level varies and is currently receding – partly as a result of the diversification of rivers for irrigation – and possibly as a result of climatic changes.
Son Kul – the second largest lake in the Kyrgyz Republic, and as such the largest freshwater lake. It is located at 3016 m. a.s.l. on a treeless plateau which provides lush meadowland for summer pastures. The waters flow out through the Kajyrty river and into the Naryn River.
Chatyr Kul – The highest lake in the republic at 3530 meters, fed by the Kok Aygyr river and with no outflows. There are no fish in the lake.
The Merzbacher lakes – a strange geological feature – lakes that appear and disappear each summer. The lakes at their greatest extent measure about 4 km by 1 km and can vary between 40-80 meters in depth.
Sary Chelek – a flooded mountain valley in the south west of the country, surrounded by wooded slopes and fed by many mountain streams, this freshwater lake is often thought to be the most beautiful. It is the centre of a National Park and access is (supposedly) strictly controlled.
Lake Issyk Kul
"Pearl of the Tien Shan" From Bishkek the lake is approached through Boom Gorge, and it is possible to cut into the mountains here to the Chon Kemin valley, birthplace of President Akaev. The lake lies at the bottom of a drainage hollow, or depression and has no outflow.Mountains ring ...
Lake Son Kul
Son Kul is a mountain lake in the Central Tian Shan range, virtually in the centre of Kyrgyzstan. One translation of the name is “The Last Lake”. At an altitude of 3016m a.s.l.; 29km long and 18km wide and a maximum depth of 13.2m - it is Kyrgyzstan’s second largest lake.The average temperature is about ...
Lake Sary Chelek
Some 500 km from Bishkek and 300 km from Osh is The Sary Chelek biosphere reserve, which lies in the Arkit Gorge, a relatively small mountain hollow in the Chatkal Mountains. It was founded in 1959 to protect and research the pristine natural landscapes - lowland steppes and ridges with snow-capped ...
In the North-Eastern corner of Kyrgyzstan, two ridges of the Tian Shan converge and some peaks rise to over 6000m. The Enilchek glacier snakes down from the clouds, nestling at the foot of Khan Tengri (“Prince of Spirits” or “Rider of the Sky” – 6995m) on the borders with Kazakhstan in the North and ...
Lake Ala Kol
Ala Kol lake is on the popular trekking routes between Altyn-Arashan and the Karakol gorge at an altitude of 3532m. It is often the first overnight stop on the route between Altyn Arashan to Djety Oguz, but it can be reached in a (long) day from either of the Alyn Arashan or Karakol valleys - but only ...
Myortvoye Ozero - Salty Lake
Kyrgyzstan's "Dead Sea"For most of the way, the road which runs around the southern shore of Lake Issyk Kul hugs the coast quite closely. About 30km from Balykchy, however, if veers inland and at Bokonbaeva swings back northwards, towards the shoreline.About halfway alonog this ...
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