alaQol State
Natural Reserve

Alakul State Natural Reserve

Alakul (or the Alaqul) State Natural Reserve is located at the border of Almaty and East Kazakhstan regions, in the Eastern part of the Balkhash-Alakol basin. Alakol is a large nature reserve that lies in halfway between Ust- Kamenogorsk and Almaty quite close to the Chinese border stretching 60 km wide and about 300 km long. The reserve is known also as Alakol Depression and Alakol Biosphere Reserve. The region is dry and largely flat monotonous landscape of steppe, and only sparsely covered with wormwood. 

The scene in the reserve is pretty windy, the breeze comes from the Zhungar Gate side which is a valley at the border zone of Kazakhstan and China Southwest from the reserve. The valley was named Zhungar Gate because it was the base of the feared and famous Zhungar tribes, whose war hosts attacked Zhetysu for centuries. Kazakh tribes used to warn each other by lighting fires on mountaintops, whenever the enemy marched in. The remains of a city dating from the 10th- 13th centuries AD near Koktuma imply that long before the Zhungar invasions began, a branch of the Silk Road passed through this point. 

Four lakes chain up in the Alakol Depression. In earlier times, there were only two lakes, Sasykkol (Stinking Lake) and the Koshkarkol (Ram’s Lake). Both were fed by the River Tentek, which forms a swampy delta here. These waters are wild, with reed luxuriously rampant, and surrounded by ponds, pools and puddles-in all, a bird’s paradise. Dalmatian and great white pelicans nest here, as well as little and Macqueen’s bustards, gulls, cranes, herons and divers in all, more than 200 species of bird, can be observed on the lakes. A small lake of six by nine kilometers is situated directly on the Chinese border. It is called Zhalanashkol (Naked Lake) and strong healing powers are attributed to its mineral-rich water. Finally, there is the vast lake of Alakol (Multicoloured Lake), 104 kilometers long, 54 kilometers wide, and up to 54 meters deep. It can barely be called a lake, for even in clear weather the opposite shore is not visible. Only an island, Ulken-Araltobe (Great Island Mountain) sticks out of the water like a landmark.

Alakol Lake

Lake Alakol translated from Kazakh means a “motley lake”. If a breeze is blowing and the water appears grayish, if the sun is shining, a soft blue color will be shown from the lake surface. If it will rain then the lake turns to reddish and if a storm is coming the lake can get ominous tones. The water of the lake is clean but salty like a teardrop. The water is so transparent that you can see the fish scurrying between the algae at a depth of 2-3 meters. During the summertime, the water in the Alakol warms up to 24-26 degrees Celsius and a lot of locals arrive to spend their summer holidays at the shoreline, especially at the Eastern part of the lake. Otherwise the lake area is almost empty from human activity.

The northern shore of Lake Alakol is known as the healthy one. The water is famous for its mineral content, and curative mud attracts psoriasis patients. The pear-shaped Alakol Lake and neighboring hot springs have been popular since ancient times. Healing powers are also connected to the black shingle on the shore. Luckily, its remoteness means the lake is not yet crowded by masses of patients and tourists at health resorts along the shore in many places, the lake’s banks are still pristine. According to legend, the water of the lake was the best solution to overcome tiredness, anger and pain. Some people still believe that the legendary Chyngyz Khan used to stay here with his army to treat wounded soldiers. About 15 km East of the lake where the hills start, there is the health resort of Barlyk-Arasan. For centuries, nomads have used the scattered hot springs here, and now there is also a sanatorium. 

The Southern coast belongs to the Almaty region, where tourists often stop at accommodation facilities located in the villages of Akshi and Koktuma. On the East coast, you can find many recreation centers next to the Kabanbai village formerly named Zharbulak. The South shore of Alakol is gradually being built up as a recreation area and the services are improving. Most hotels and sanatoriums have their own equipped beach, outdoor pools, playgrounds. There are also cafes, bars and restaurants. Some offer their guests additional medical and cosmetic procedures, as well as various entertainments like discos and concert programs.

Today the Alakol nature reserve is home to more than 250 species of birds, including rare relict gull, North African houbara, Pallas’s gull, Caspian tern, great white pelican and many other rare and endangered waterfowls with desert and mountain birds. The fauna of the reserve is represented mostly with 27 species of rodents such as gopher, dormouse, jerboa, and hamster. The most typical representatives of mammals in the reserve are the wild boar, roe deer, lynx, fox, wolf, weasel, ermine, mink, badger and otter.

How to get to Alakol Lake

By public transport, you can get directly from Almaty or Taldykorgan to the South area Koktuma. From the North, there are direct busses from Semei and Ayagoz to the touristic villages on the Northern shore. If you are planning to swim the best time is July since the season is quite short there. The distance from Almaty to Koktuma is about 650 km making the average travel time 9-11 hours. According to the tourist’s reviews in some places, the road is in poor condition which can extend the travel time. 

Page last updated 10.9.2020

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