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Issyk Kul is a large lake in northeastern Kyrgyzstan, not very far from the cities of Bishkek and Naryn and the border with Kazakhstan. It is the tenth largest lake in the world and the second largest saltwater lake. Issyk Kul means "warm lake" in Kyrgyz, named because although it is often surrounded by snow-capped mountains, Issyk Kul never freezes. Issyk Kul is an important area environmentally, historically, and commercially. Archaeological excavations in and around Issyk Kul have revealed the presence of an ancient advanced civilization from about 2500 years ago, including what are thought to be the world's oldest surviving coins. Issyk Kul was a stop along the Silk Road, like many other Central Asian cities such as Bishkek and Jalal, and in the 1300s an Armenian monastery was founded on the shores of the lake. Today, Issyk Kul is a major tourist destination and local beach spot in Kyrgyzstan, popular for its beautiful beaches surrounded by rugged mountains.
Issyk KulMany towns surround Issyk Kul, including Balykchy, Koshkol, Tamchy, Cholpon-Ata, Karakol, Tyup, and Barskon. Balykchy ("fishing place" in Kyrgyz) is a major trade and production center for wool and food and is on a rail line. The main highway between Bishkek and China goes through Balykchy, as did the historic Silk Road. Koshkol offers travelers a resort area on Issyk Kul, including the colorful Ak Jol pleasure pier. Tamchy is a haven for visitors who love nature, as it lies between Issyk Kul and a scenic desert plain stretching to mountains. Tamchy is covered with apple and walnut orchards and is a popular family destination that is not as commercial as other towns on Issyk Kul like Koshkol. Cholpon-Ata, in contrast to Tamchy, is a major resort area and is the administrative center of the Issyk Kul district. Cholpon-Ata is very popular in the summer, and besides beach resorts it also boasts fascinating ancient petrogylphs, a local museum, and a splendid view of the Tien Shan mountains across Issyk Kul. Tyup is a cute town at the eastern tip of Issyk Kul that is noted for its annual horse festival as well as access to the Karkara ("black crane") Valley.
Issyk KulThe city of Karakol is on the eastern edge of Issyk Kul, less than 100 miles from the border with China, and grew up through the many explorers who came to map the mountain ranges and the immigration of Chinese Muslims in the 1800s. Karakol today is a major center for travelers to Issyk Kul, and it boasts the enchanting green-roofed Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox Cathedral, a wooden mosque, and the Regional Museum, which houses archaeological artifacts from Issyk Kul. Russian explorer Przhevalsky's grave is in Karakol, and visitors can also see quaint Russian colonial gingerbread houses in the city.
Issyk KulBarskon is a city on Issyk Kul that is perfect for tours of the surrounding landscape, including hiking, climbing, and horseback riding. Barskon is home to a gorgeous waterfall at the mouth of the Barskon Valley, and is close to a natural area called Sytyr, which is a cold alpine desert. A nearby village offers an ancient Buddhist inscription dating from the 3rd to 8th centuries. Barskon is an old settlement and was once a major caravan crossroads to China and India. The southern road leading out of Barskon was a part of the ancient Silk Road and today leads to the Kumtor Gold Mine. Along the road travelers can see a Soviet truck and a bust of cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin, the first man in outer space and a frequent visitor to Issyk Kul.