Your Unofficial Guide to Kyrgyz Republic

Azamat Imanaliev: Lake Kel-Suu

Azamat Imanaliev: Lake Kel-Suu

The original post in Russian was published on Azamat Imanaliev's LiveJournal blog at azzzik.livejournal.com.

 

Lake Kel-Suu is justly considered as a one of the most beautiful mountain lakes in the Kyrgyz Republic. It is located in a remote area next to the western side of Kokshaal-Too mountains not far from the border with China. As lately as several years ago the lake was little known, but today it attracts tourists not only from the Kyrgyz Republic, but from the world.

I visited the lake only two times — back in 2013 and 2015. After publishing photos in my blog (here and here, for example), there were lots of questions in social media — about where and how far it was, how one can get there. In fact the notes about the road are not that large.

The Road

Bishkek — Naryn — Ak-Muz — Bosogo — Kynda — Ak-Sai — Kok-Kyia

The road from Bishkek to Kok-Kyia takes 12 hours in average, i.e. an entire light day. You can go on a light vehicle, but SUVs are more preferable because the second part of the road is entirely a dirt road and you will have to cross rivers. It would make sense to go on a trip in a group of 2-3 vehicles.

Everyone knows the road to Naryn. After that you will have to get to Ak-Sai Valley from the east through Kynda Pass (the pass is open only during 6 months in a year and is closed in wintertime).

Kynda pass is where you enter a border zone — it's the area of 'Kynda' crossing checkpoint. You will be stopped twice by border guards for documents and permits check (you have to get those in advance, at least two weeks before in Bishkek at the Border Guard Service; you will need your photo, a copy of your passport and an application or you can order a permit through any tour company).

Recently several companies interested in gold and other metals have started mining works at Kynda. The road is maintained by them mostly.

Once you get to Ak-Sai Valley, you have to cross Ak-Sai river through a large bridge (it used to be wooden till 2015).

The river is sometimes tumultuous and the bridge may be washed out because of floods. Yet it seems the bridge was repaired recently — a new large one was built. Before that the bridge used to be washed out every year. So before going check the condition of the bridge in tour companies or the Ministry of Emergency Situations +996 (3522) 50987, +996 (3522) 53307, here are some more contact details. Photo: Azamat Imanaliev

The river is sometimes tumultuous and the bridge may be washed out because of floods. Yet it seems the bridge was repaired recently — a new large one was built. Before that the bridge used to be washed out every year. So before going check the condition of the bridge in tour companies or the Ministry of Emergency Situations +996 (3522) 50987, +996 (3522) 53307, here are some more contact details.

Photo: Azamat Imanaliev

You have to cross the bridge and there is a part of the river for vehicle wading. There will be a fork in the road by the sheds on the other side. Your turn is the one to the right, to the west. In 10 km there will be a turn to the left. The road is worn, so you won't get lost. You can use a metal tower on the hill at the left as a landmark. In several kilometers you will reach a picturesque wooden bridge over Kuldzha-Bashy river. Follow the road and take no turns. Flood flows of Kok-Kyia river will follow in several kilometers. Once you see the houses of livestock farmers, you're there.

The Camp

From this point there are 3-4 km to the lake. And you have 2 options:
1) easy — stay with chabans (shepherds from Kyrgyz — GO KG) and rent horses from them;
2) difficult, but more recommended — to set up a camp at the lake.

Why is the second option more difficult? If the weather and the river allow, go ahead and take a risk wading the river. The water level can go beyond 50 cm. And there are no roads after, you will have to drive through a marshy area. If you get stuck, there is no one to help around, the chabans have no trucks and you will have to go back to Ak-Sai to the mining companies.

You can ask the chabans to be your guides. They will show you an easier route for horses. Just don't forget to thank them after.

You can set up a camp by large stones or lower next to the river. Some people go closer to the lake but it's colder there and scary too. Hiking to the lake takes 30-40 minutes from the large stones. There is a path so it's quite easy.

The Lake

Lake Kel-Suu is a dammed lake, a dam formed on its northern side (the path to the lake goes through this exact dam). The water level is not constant — you can find no water in autumn, winter and early spring.

The lake's length is 12 km and its depth is 5-10 m. The entire northern part is surrounded by high rocks. So you will definitely need a boat.

Every year there are more and more tourists. Local chabans have got used to that and brough several boats for rent including motor boats. Bur recently there are calls not to use the latter in order to preserve a fragile ecological balance. This is why it's up to you whether to use boats and/or motor boats.

ATTENTION: DO NOT USE BOATS WITHOUT LIFE JACKETS! 

There are no lifeguards and there is no one to hope for. You can count on yourself only. It can be windy at the lake and the wind can blow boats over if you don't know how to row.

What you see from the northern shore is only one fifth of the lake. It is 2.5 km from there to the rock wall on the other side. Further ahead there is a narrow crack, through which you can go further — canyons, fiords and two kilometers of unbelievable beauty!

The rocks split in the southern part of the lake. Professionals and locals do not recommend to spend a lot of time on the southern shore — the bottom and the shore are clayey, the area is untrodden (wild animals) and there is some gas blowing out from underwater (not confirmed officially, observations only, but just in case...). 

There is no fish in the lake at all. I have to warn that the area is wild and there can be wild animals including predators. There are numerous caves and grottos in those rocks around. The animals may live there.

What You Should Know and Take

Kok-Kyia valley is located at 3,000 m above sea level. The weather is not stable — if it's sunny, it's hot, but it can start snowing in half an hour. The temperature goes below zero at night and there's frost in the morning.

You will need good tents for staying. If you are renting those and sleeping bags, make sure your tent doesn't get wet and your sleeping bag is warm enough. Take 3-4 m of polyethylene film — you may need that if there's a long rain (to put under a tent or use as a cover).

It is assumed you will drive, so you can take a number of items (dishes, gas bottles, tables or a generator after all) and won't have to carry them.

If your group is large enough, you can rent a tent like this – it is quite comfortable to cook, have a dinner or just spend time together. Photo: Azamat Imanaliev

If your group is large enough, you can rent a tent like this – it is quite comfortable to cook, have a dinner or just spend time together.

Photo: Azamat Imanaliev

If your guide has agreed about food and stay with the chabans, it's great. Don't forget to take a first aid kit. Clothes — warm clothes (it's quite cold and wet at night), raincoats (it can rain and snow any moment). Life jackets if you plan to boat. 

There is no electricity or phone coverage in the valley. Take flashlights. The nearest power is 4 hours away — the mining companies and border guards. If you have a satellite phone, take it. GPS tracker? Sure. Also take batteries and power banks for cameras, phones and etc. Sometimes drivers allow to charge your devices using cars, but if your group is large, don't count on that.

Food

Have enough food for two nights at least. Assuming you're driving, don't limit yourself in food. Take some extra food, there can be emergencies and an extra day/night.

Day one — say, you have a lunch in Naryn and a dinner in the camp;
Day two — a breakfast, take a light lunch to the lake as you will spend a day there. A dinner;
Day three — a breakfast, a lunch in Naryn and a dinner in Bishkek.

You can take water for cooking from the river. Just make sure you boil it first. And the most important — no dumping. Collect your garbage and take it back, there's no one to clean up there.

P.S. I lost my phone there back in 2015 with amazing photos. If anyone finds a white Lenovo, I'll be really glad to have it back.

The bridge over Ak-Sai river, next to Chatyr-Tash Area. Photo: Azamat Imanaliev

The bridge over Ak-Sai river, next to Chatyr-Tash Area.

Photo: Azamat Imanaliev

In 2015 the bridge was reconstructed and now it's metal. Photo: Azamat Imanaliev

In 2015 the bridge was reconstructed and now it's metal.

Photo: Azamat Imanaliev

Chabans' houses in Kok-Kyia valley. Photo: Azamat Imanaliev

Chabans' houses in Kok-Kyia valley.

Photo: Azamat Imanaliev

Locals help all drivers to pass safely. Our target is that dam in front. Photo: Azamat Imanaliev

Locals help all drivers to pass safely. Our target is that dam in front.

Photo: Azamat Imanaliev

The area in Kok-Kyia valley is marshy. Vehicles easily get stuck. It is better to go in a group of several cars to help each other. Make sure you have cables, boards and jacks. Photo: Azamat Imanaliev

The area in Kok-Kyia valley is marshy. Vehicles easily get stuck. It is better to go in a group of several cars to help each other. Make sure you have cables, boards and jacks.

Photo: Azamat Imanaliev

The rocks at the dam are our camp site. We used to set up a camp there in 2013 and 2015. Photo: Azamat Imanaliev

The rocks at the dam are our camp site. We used to set up a camp there in 2013 and 2015.

Photo: Azamat Imanaliev

The lake is almost always turquoise or green. But it changes its color 50 times a day. It depends on sun and time of the day. Photo: Azamat Imanaliev

The lake is almost always turquoise or green. But it changes its color 50 times a day. It depends on sun and time of the day.

Photo: Azamat Imanaliev

Boating is the best you can do. Needless to say it was the reason we came here. You can find rubber boats (one or two-seat) for rent in Bishkek. They are light and one-seat ones can even be put in a backpack. Inflate your boat and go! Photo: Azamat Imanaliev

Boating is the best you can do. Needless to say it was the reason we came here. You can find rubber boats (one or two-seat) for rent in Bishkek. They are light and one-seat ones can even be put in a backpack. Inflate your boat and go!

Photo: Azamat Imanaliev

Check out the scale! I've used long-focus lens. Photo: Azamat Imanaliev

Check out the scale! I've used long-focus lens.

Photo: Azamat Imanaliev

We've been boating like this for around 2 km. Rowing is not as easy as it may seem. You get tired quickly. And it's windy on top of that. By the way, the water gets into a boat if you are not rowing properly. Pack you stuff (a camera, for example) in water resistant bags. Your boots will get wet though. Photo: Azamat Imanaliev

We've been boating like this for around 2 km. Rowing is not as easy as it may seem. You get tired quickly. And it's windy on top of that. By the way, the water gets into a boat if you are not rowing properly. Pack you stuff (a camera, for example) in water resistant bags. Your boots will get wet though.

Photo: Azamat Imanaliev

If you're good at kayaking, you are a rockstar! Photo: Azamat Imanaliev

If you're good at kayaking, you are a rockstar!

Photo: Azamat Imanaliev

Gigantic rock walls. You are just like an ant against them. Photo: Azamat Imanaliev

Gigantic rock walls. You are just like an ant against them.

Photo: Azamat Imanaliev

Igor is a professional kayaker. This is why he can afford kayaking without a life jacket. Photo: Azamat Imanaliev

Igor is a professional kayaker. This is why he can afford kayaking without a life jacket.

Photo: Azamat Imanaliev

I'm rowing here... As you can see, if you are not doing that properly, the water will be on your hat too. Photo: Azamat Imanaliev

I'm rowing here... As you can see, if you are not doing that properly, the water will be on your hat too.

Photo: Azamat Imanaliev

Makenova (Alina Makenova is Azamat Imanaliev's wife — GO KG) is taking selfies.  Photo: Azamat Imanaliev

Makenova (Alina Makenova is Azamat Imanaliev's wife — GO KG) is taking selfies. 

Photo: Azamat Imanaliev

The camp view. Photo: Azamat Imanaliev

The camp view.

Photo: Azamat Imanaliev

A brekfast. The hills behind are covered with the overnight snow. Photo: Azamat Imanaliev

A brekfast. The hills behind are covered with the overnight snow.

Photo: Azamat Imanaliev

Parents often send their children to the mountain pastures for summer holidays. These guys recently came from Naryn to help their grandpa and uncle. Photo: Azamat Imanaliev

Parents often send their children to the mountain pastures for summer holidays. These guys recently came from Naryn to help their grandpa and uncle.

Photo: Azamat Imanaliev

Alina and me went to Kel-Suu back in 2015. It was our first far way trip together. Photo: Azamat Imanaliev

Alina and me went to Kel-Suu back in 2015. It was our first far way trip together.

Photo: Azamat Imanaliev

And Alina has quickly found a horse for herself. As they say in our country, 'a Kyrgyz girl is waiting for a prince on a white and delicious horse'.  Photo: Azamat Imanaliev

And Alina has quickly found a horse for herself. As they say in our country, 'a Kyrgyz girl is waiting for a prince on a white and delicious horse'. 

Photo: Azamat Imanaliev

Coffee time at the Coin lake (it really looks like a coin from above). Photo: Azamat Imanaliev

Coffee time at the Coin lake (it really looks like a coin from above).

Photo: Azamat Imanaliev

When the water is gone. Photo: Azamat Imanaliev

When the water is gone.

Photo: Azamat Imanaliev

Winter view at Kel-Suu. Photo: Azamat Imanaliev

Winter view at Kel-Suu.

Photo: Azamat Imanaliev

And this is Kynda border crossing checkpoint. Photo: Azamat Imanaliev

And this is Kynda border crossing checkpoint.

Photo: Azamat Imanaliev

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