Chatyr Kul is a salty lake at about 3500 m altitude in Kyrgyzstan not far from the border to China. The lake is part of the Karatal Japaryk State nature reserve and a lot of especially migratory birds visit the lake and the nearby wetlands. Other animals in the region are big marmots living in their holes and running away from the cars driving in the road and yaks that only live in the altitudes more than 3000 m from the sea level. If you are interested in seeing rare mountainous birds or birds migrating between Siberia and the South then Chatyr Kul definately is your place to come to. Not to mention it is of course a very beautiful and unspoilt endorheic alpine lake with arid nature around it. Chatyr Kul is also part of the Ramsar wetland network.
Negative water balance to the lake has been causing the decline in the lake water level and size during the last decades and you can also see the soil around the lake being salty from the white spots on the ground. The lake is surrounded mostly by swampy area and the bottom of the lake is quite muddy so this is not your destination for swimming.
You also need to walk quite far to swim as the lake is very shallow at the shores with abundant invertebrate life as there are no fish in the lake. At the North side of the lake the shoreline is more steep and swimming could be more pleasant, though water might not be very warm as it originates from the nearby glaciers.
The lake is about 23 km long and 10 km wide.
Chatyr Kul water & mineral spring
There are numerous rivers feeding water to the lake, the main one being the Ak-Sai river but there is no river for the water to leave the Chatyr Kul meaning the water only evaporates further increasing the salinity of the lake. There are also some cold mineral springs in the area most likely originating from the mountain range towards China.
The water from the mineral springs has a strong mineral taste to it and colors the soil reddish around in on its way to the lake. The taste somewhat resembles Narzan or Borjomi. Have a go and judge by yourself, the mineral springs are located not far from the road, on the southwest side of small chatyr kul lake, which is 1,5 meters higher than the actual Chatyr Kul and therefore it runs into the actual Chatyr Kul through a small brook.
Chatyr Kul area and & nomad life
The area near Chatyr Kul is very desolate, only few yurts now and then show that the area is populated by nomad animal herders and their families in the summer time with sheep and yaks mostly. There are no trees in the area so the animal herders collect and dry the dung of the animals and use it as a fuel.
In the Torugart customs area just nearby the lake there are few buildings but otherwise there are no permanent buildings in the whole plateau. The nearest settlements are At Bashi and the other villages nearby on the North side of the At Bashi mountain range which is on the North side of the lake itself. The lake is also surrounded by mountains on the South side by the Torugart-Too mountains and on the other side there is already China and the road to Kashgar climbing through the Torugart pass.
There are also reports of old caravanserai ruins in the Chatyr Kul area but we have not been able to confirm their location. The area is anyway part of the silk road network that used to pass through this area, meaning there have mostly like been some buildings during the history.
The Ak-Sai valley towards east rises even higher to more than 4 kilometers meaning that in many places even grass does not grow. There are some mountain lakes in the area but the area is not populated by people at all. The area is known for wildlife like marco polo sheep, yaks and other animals that live in high areas.
How to reach Chatyr Kul
Chatyr Kul is located at the Southeast part of Kyrgyzstan. It can be only reached from Naryn and driving further Southwest towards At-Bashi. The trip from Naryn will take at least 3-4 hours. Remember that Chatyr Kul is inside the border zone of China that Kyrgyzstan shill upkeeps from the Soviet times, which means that you need to obtain a permission to enter the border zone. Any travel agency will be happy to help with the permission. Don’t try to come without it, there is a military check point on the way. There is also an Eastern road from Naryn to Chatyr Kul but the road is considerably worse. There is no public transportation available to Chatyr Kul.
You can rent a car or a car with a driver from Bishkek or Naryn. Many travel agencies arrange trips to Chatyr Kul from both. There are also horseback groups going to Tash Rabat and Chatyr Kul from At-Bashi and some of them continue all the way to Chatyr Kul. Further East from Chatyr Kul there is another emerging famous destination called Kel-Suu (Kol Tetiri), a famously beautiful mountain lake surrounded by huge cliffs, from where the water also sometimes fully disappears. There are also organized horseback tours from Tash Rabat to Chatyr Kul over a mountain pass.
Chatyr Kul is worth a visit only for the short summer time when there are birds migrating in the lake. Winter here is very harsh due to the height and the lake is frozen from October till April.
Other destinations and sights near Chatyr Kul
Page updated 25.12.2020