Karakul (Kyrgyz: Karakul; Russian: Kara-Kul; alternatively transcribed as Kara-Kulʼ, or Kara-Köl) sometimes Google even mentions it as Karakol (Which is a larger city in Issyk Kul area). It is easy to get confused with the name of the town as there are several Karakuls in Central Asia, for example a well known similar named lake in Tajikistan and in Kazakhstan as well. The Karakul we are talking about this time, is a small city in the Jalal-Abad Region of Kyrgyzstan, located at the foot of the Ferghana Range at an altitude of about 1000 meters.
Kara-Kul city lies on the banks of the Kara-Suu River meaning the “Black River”, which joins with the Naryn river just a little below the town. The city is situated about 400 km from Bishkek, and 260 km from Osh along the Osh–Bishkek highway. The smaller rivers of the Kaindy and Chon-Tash also flow through the city.
Kara-Kul was founded on in 1962 as a settlement of hydropower station builders for one of the largest hydroelectric complexes in Central Asia, the Toktogul hydroelectric station. Presidium of the Supreme Council of the Kyrgyz SSR gave it the name Kapa-Kul, referring to the urban-type settlement. Area of Kara-Kul is 1050 square kilometers with the population of about 20 000 people.
There are still few Soviet founded industrial enterprises in Karakul such as the Cascade of Thermal Power Plants, Factory Dostuk that produce toothbrushes and other mostly plastic consumer goods. More than 80% of the electricity in Kyrgyzstan is generated by hydroelectric power, the main share of which is in the Cascade of Toktogul Hydroelectric Power Plants.
During the last 30 years, a lot of residents of Kara-köl have left the country, especially people of different ethnicities like Russian, Tatars and today more than 90% of the population of Kara-Kul are Kyrgyz. In 2018 there was an event gathering of fellow countrymen where the majority of people who moved to Russia and other countries as well as to the capital, came back to meet each other.
Within the city, there are two artificial lakes (Pionerskoe and Komsomolskoe) where locals go swimming and have picnics during summertime (The lakes don’t look very tempting for swimming as they have not been taken care of and are green from algae and submerged plants).
There are couple of hotels in the city but we recommend that you should stay in a homestay or guest house instead as the quality of the hotels is really below almost any standards unless you are looking for the authentic dilapidated Soviet experience. Having said that, we have heard that the new hotel Altyn in the town is a big improvement to the situation. Kara-Kul is a place where you can see the authentic small town life of Kyrgyzstan with a more industrial twist as the town has very little agriculture. One could say it is the true Kyrgyz lifestyle as most of the people still live in rural towns and villages.
From Kara-köl You can visit the Toktogul reservoir which is one of the most popular leisure destinations within the locals. Another picturesque destination is the Kara-Suu lake which is an excellent place to enjoy nature and to relax without many people or tourists. Young people also visit the Kayindy river for picnics, which is located in the south part of Karakul town and further up the mountain valley. There is also a summer camp for kids that still operates during the summer holidays.