Issyk Lake also known as Esik lake, is a bright-colored alpine lake enclosed by beautiful nature and lush forests together with vast flower fields South of the village of Esik in Kazakhstan. The lake is settled at an altitude of 1760 meters above sea level in the Issyk gorge of Trans-Ili Alatau. The lake is located about 70 km east of Almaty Southwest from the Enbekshikazakhsky district.
The birth of Lake Issyk occurred about 10,000 years ago when after a powerful earthquake a mountain collapse happened and a large fragment of rock fell into the river blocking it. The resulting 300 m high natural dam was the beginning of the mountain lake Issyk. The depth of Lake Issyk reached 80 meters, the length 1,850 meters and the width about 500 meters. The reservoir was fed with water from the melting glaciers of the Zailiyskiy Alatau. However, in the summer of 1963, a gigantic mudflow destroyed the beautiful ancient lake. A stormy stream of stones, mud, the debris of rock, descending from the mountains from the Issyk River, swept away a natural dam on its way. In just five hours, the lake ceased to exist.
Current lake is a result of the Soviet-era restoration work that was carried out for many decades, and only in the 1990 s the construction of a new dam and the installation of spillways was completed. The volume of the lake has been returned only recently after forty years and it has occupied just half of the former area. The lake is surrounded by rich Flora and Fauna. If you hike around the lake you can see Feathergrass, Adonis gold, Schrenk spruce and Edelweiss. There are also various animals: Several types of fish, lynx, mountain goats, wolves, Caspian red deer, bears, and a rare possibility (an unlikely though) to have a glimpse of the elusive snow leopard.
During Soviet times, Lake Issyk became very popular among the residents of Almaty. They’re even used to run frequent buses between Almaty up to Esik and it was the weekend spot for locals. In 1959, the authorities set the lake and its surroundings become a park and was built a restaurant and hotel, that house up to 100 people. And of course, Lenin’s head was carved into the local rocks around 1958. The head still remains today and you can see it while driving up to the lake.
Nowadays the lake is again one the most loved recreation areas of Almatians and it is surely is a turquoise paradise. Locals come here to make a shashlik and enjoy nature. Nearby Issyk lake you can visit a museum of Golden Man, which houses the most important historical findings of the 20th century in the Almaty area.
The Golden Man (Алтын Адам)
The Golden Man was revealed in 1969 by a team of archeologists from the Kazakh Institute of History nearby the lake Issyk. They excavated the large burial mound or kurgan of the early Iron Age period near the Esik settlement. The central burial in the kurgan has been robbed in antiquity, but the archeologists found a second burial in the Southern part of the mound that the early grave robbers had missed. In a tomb erected of fir logs, a corpse was found reclining on its back, dressed in a jacket of red-colored material that was covered with triangular pieces of gold like a suit of armor. A tall helmet and leather belt bore gold figures of animals and more gold adorned the figure’s boots, sword and dagger. In total, about 4000 gold items were discovered.
The Golden Man has become one of the symbols of post-independent Kazakhstan and copies of the artifacts have appeared in the museums around the country. Many researchers believe the Golden Man to have been an 18 year old Saka prince, however some believe that it is a women since the objects found in the tomb were more alike to a woman than a male burial. In addition the tall hat along with items of jewelry including earrings and necklaces suggested a female figure.
how to get to Lake Issyk
Lake Issyk is located in the gorge of the same name on the border of the Ile-Alatau National Natural Park and the Almaty Reserve. The nearest settlement, the city of Esik is located 30 km North of the lake.
The best way to get to Lake Issyk by a private vehicle. You can drive the Kuldzha route to the town of Esik. From the town, you need to go towards the market and pass a bridge before turning at the second light to the right and proceed up the mountain valley. There is a small boutique at the entrance where you will be charged a small entrance fee to the park. You can drive straight to the lake and there will be parking. If you want to drive all the way until behind the lake you need an off-road vehicle or walk.
You can easily take a marshrutka from Almaty to Esik from Sairan bus station. Upon arrival, you will need to find a taxi driver to take you to Lake Issyk. To get to the gorges and river behind the lake, you need to walk for about 3 kilometers.