Lake Issyk

Lake Issyk

Issyk Lake, which is also known as Esik lake, is a bright-colored alpine lake enclosed by beautiful mountain nature and lush forests together with vast flower fields and can be found just a bit south of the village Esik in Southeastern Kazakhstan. The lake is located at an altitude of 1760 meters above sea level in the Issyk gorge of Trans-Ili Alatau range and is located only about 70 km east from Almaty

The birth of Lake Issyk occurred about 10 000 years ago when a powerful earthquake caused a mountain side to collapse and a large amount of debris fell into the river valley, resulting in 300 m high natural dam. Issyk Lake is fed with water from the melting glaciers of the Zailiyskiy Alatau. The lake used to be a lot larger but in the summer of 1963, a gigantic mudflow destroyed the beautiful ancient lake. A stormy stream of stones, mud and other debris, descending from the mountains and the Issyk River, swept away the previous natural dam on its way. In just five hours, the lake ceased to exist. Before this natural accident, the depth of Lake Issyk reached 80 meters, the length 1850 meters and the width about 500 meters.

Current lake Issyk is a result of the Soviet-era restoration work that was carried out for many decades and only in the 1990s the construction of a new dam and the installation of spillways was completed. The current reservoir occupies about three quarters of the former lake. The lake is surrounded by rich flora and fauna and it is possible to see see Feathergrass, Adonis gold, Schrenk spruce and Edelweiss while hiking around the lake. 

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. 

Issyk lake near Almaty, Kazakhstan

During Soviet times, Lake Issyk became very popular among the residents of Almaty. They’re even used to be frequent buses between Almaty up to Esik and it was the weekend spot for locals. In 1959, the authorities took an eye on the lake and its surroundings become a park and a restaurant and hotel, that house up to 100 people, were built. And of course, a 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 Issyk lake is again one the most loved recreation areas of Almatians due to the nature and the a turquoise waters. Locals come here to prepare shashlik and to enjoy the surrounding nature. Nearby Issyk lake, you can visit a museum of the Golden Man, which houses the most important historical findings of the 20th century in the Almaty area. 

Lake Issyk in Kazakshtan in Autumn colors

The Golden Man was (Алтын Адам) found in Issyk area

The Golden Man was found in 1969 by a team of archeologists from the Kazakh Institute of History not far from the lake Issyk. They excavated a large burial mound or kurgan of the early Iron Age period near the Esik settlement. The central burial in the kurgan had been robbed of antiquity, but a second burial in the southern part of the mound had been missed by the early grave robbers. A corpse was found reclining on its back in a tomb built of fir logs, 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 and there are also several golden statues in different locations in Kazakhstan. 

Many researchers believe the Golden Man to have been an 18 year old Saka prince, however some believe that the corpse is actually female as 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. 

Esik Issyk Turgen Gorge Picturesque View of Sakian Soldier Golden Man and Snow Leopard Statue on a Sunny Blue Sky Day

Travel to Lake Issyk

Lake Issyk is located in the gorge of the same name, at 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 until 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 at the point where you should start walking from. If you want to drive all the way until behind the lake you need an off-road vehicle. 

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 south along the valley. 

Sights and destinations near Issyk lake

Page updated 30.12.2021

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