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 3016 m a.s.; 29 km long and 18 km wide and
a maximum depth of 13.2 m - it is Kyrgyzstan's second largest lake.
The average temperature in summer is about 11°C - but unlike Issyk Kul
(Kyrgyzstan's largest lake) it does freeze over in the winter. It is
situated on a treeless, high mountain plateau, and is surrounded by lush
mountain meadows (jailoo). As such it is used by the shepherds of the
Kochkor, Naryn and At-Bashi regions for summer pastures for their flocks.
In fact there is evidence that it has been used for pasture from very ancient
times. (There are some strange arrangements of «standing stones» and stone
circles - nothing on the scale of Stonehenge - but they provide an interesting
stimulation to speculation about how they got there and what was their
The shepherds drive the livestock (sheep and/or horses) up into
the mountains, establish a camp where they will live for the summer
months - setting up their yurts.
Yurts, round felt tents over a wooden frame are the typical nomadic
dwelling found throughout Central Asia, are you will see several scattered
throughout the plain. Many shepherd will be happy to welcome tourists
and serve a cup of Kumyz - fermented mare's milk - and even to let visitors
sleep overnight, (usually on mats on the floor), but it may be best to
make arrangements beforehand. There are several camps (or «Yurt Inns»)
established during the summer months to accommodate tourists … with kitchens,
toilets and washing facilities. It is also possible to arrange horse riding
and trekking lasting anything from an hour to a day.
There are four roads up from the valleys. One from Sary-Bulak
in the North East; a second passing through a dramatic sequence of over
thirty serpentine, hairpin bends towards Naryn in the South East (if
you have time you can take a detour to a beautiful waterfall surrounded
by woods); the third goes to Ak-Tal in the South West and the fourth goes
past the coal mines of Kara-Keche towards Chaek in the North West. It is
also possible to trek on horseback up from some of the surrounding valleys
such as form the Salt Mines at Chong-Tus.
In the winter, however - and often in Spring and Autumn months
too - these roads are closed by snow. (Even so, it is sometimes amazing
to see what vehicles do try and make the journey.) There are no buses up
The beauty of the lake has enraptured both locals and tourists
alike. There is a story that when one of the local Khans, Ormon Khan,
saw it for the first time he imposed a fine of forty horses, (no small
sum - then or now), on the local tribe - because they had hidden such a
miracle from him!
It is possible for the visitor to feel that they are experiencing
«pristine nature». Even though there are no trees on the plain … there
is abundance of herbs (such as chamomile, sagebrush, lichen, friar's cap
and golden root) - many of which are prized for the medicinal qualities,
and flowers are plentiful in the spring (especially Edelweiss. There are
some 66 different species of waterfowl that make their homes on the shores
of the lake or in the surrounding area - about two thirds of all the varieties
found throughout Kyrgyzstan. Amongst the ones that a luck tourist might
see are: several different species of gulls and ducks; cranes, storks,
mergansers, bald-coots, plovers, falcons, golden eagles, shags and the
very rare Indian mountain goose. Animals that you might be luck enough
to see on the plain include deer, foxes, marmots, Marco Polo Sheep, lynx,
leopards and wolves. Fish were specially introduced into the lake and now,
(even in the dead of winter), fish from the lake can be found on sale in
the markets of Naryn and Kochkor.
(It is not the same thing as seeing the real thing in the wild
- but you can see a small selection of stuffed specimens of wildlife in
the museums in Naryn and Kochkor)