One of the most visited regions in Kyrgyzstan is Issyk-Kul, a beautiful region full of natural wonders which are usually accompanied by many Kyrgyz legends. Issyk-Kul is a lake located in the Northern part of Kyrgyzstan of more than 170km long and 70km width, making it the second-largest alpine lake after Lake Titicaca in South America. This lake is a little salty and the story goes that this is because the lake is filled with tears from a girl who was crying to make two boys stop fighting over her. Unfortunately that didn’t work out so the valley was filled with endless tears of sadness. Issyk-Kul means hot lake but when you enter the water you soon realize this is a legend too because the lake is far from hot.
From Bishkek to Issyk-Kul
On the way from Bishkek to Issyk-Kul there are a few stops worth taking. First one is Boom Gorge, which is one of the most important roads connecting the southern with the northern part of Kyrgyzstan. Here you can see an impressive chain of mountains and take a break from the long drive. In Cholpon-Ata you will find the open air petroglyph museum with petroglyphs dating all the way back from 1500 BC! It can be a bit hard to figure out all the drawing but if you look well you can see the long-horned ibex several times. At the shore of Issyk-Kul is culture park Rukh Ordo where you can learn about more Kyrgyz myths, important figures such as famous writer Chinghiz Aitmatov and about five different world religions.
A good way to spend the night is in a traditional yurt guesthouse, for example in Altyn Ordo. Because of the complete darkness at night you are able to do some amazing star gazing. In the morning a good way to wake up is to walk to the nearby natural hot springs and have a bath in the hot waters alternated with the freezing cold mountain water to get your blood flowing. From Altyn Ordo you can make a nice day trip to Grigorievka located in Chong Ak-Suu Valley where you will find a big light blue river running through the alpine forest. There is also the possibility to have lunch or bring your own and eat it at the side of the river.
Another important place to visit in this area is Jeti-Oghuz, an area with striking red rocks and pine forests and again filled with myths. The most famous rock formation here is the Seven Bulls which therefore the whole area is also named after (Jeti-Oghuz means Seven Bulls). This rock formation is divided into seven red-stone cliffs and form an amazing view once you hiked up. It’s called the Seven Bulls because the story goes that a grieving Khan who lost his wife killed one bull per day during seven days, the blood colored the mountains red. From the back you can only see one of the seven cuts and looks heart-shaped. For this reason it is also called Broken Heart. Of course there is also a tragic legend connected to this. Once there was a Khan who fell in love with a young girl but she was already engaged to someone else. The Khan decided to kill the boy and have the girl for himself, the girl died from grief and here grave turned into the Broken Heart formation. It is nice to do some hiking to the top of the mountains and afterwards you can camp at the foot of Seven Bulls. It can get pretty cold so if you plan to do so prepare yourself with warm clothing and sleeping bags! Close to Jeti-Oghuz in the middle of an amazing mountainous area there is a hidden waterfall you can walk up to from jailoo Kok-Jaiyk. Not only the waterfall itself is worth the stop but also the breath taking views on the way there are an attraction for sure.
The Skazka Valley, with its hot temperatures and more dessert like landscapes, is completely different from the previous valleys in this region and definitely worth a visit. The rocks here show every shade of red, orange and yellow and give you the feeling that you have entered a completely different world. Because of this fascinating landscape the valley is also called the Fairytale Valley. If you go all the way up there is a pretty amazing view on the southern part of the Issyk-Kul lake.