Issyk-Ata Gorge, Kyrgyzstan
Issyk-Ata is a gorge 77 km (48 miles) from Bishkek, which cuts into the Kyrgyz Range to the south of the city at 1,775 m (5,823 feet) above sea level. The slopes of the mountains have numerous alpine meadows and fruit trees, but what has attracted visitors for centuries is the water. For centuries, the hot springs at Issyk-Ata were a place of pilgrimage, and in the 19th century, villagers expressed their gratitude for the healing properties of the water by spreading it on a large rock with an etching of Buddha on it, which dates from the 10th century. The Tibetan inscription is on the face of a boulder with a sculpture of an eagle on top, but it is now also joined by modern graffiti.
There is a legend about a young woman who bathed every day in the river. The magic force of the mountains kept her young and preserved her youthful beauty, so that even when all the other women of her age were so old and wrinkled, she still looked young and beautiful. Another story tells about an Uzbek shamaness who lived nearby, who was famous for her healing prowess and isolated lifestyle, until her husband and son were both killed for being rebels. Turkic nomads worshipped the springs, and early Russian colonists used to come here to be treated for medical problems. The first visitors had to stay in yurts - the first permanent building was only built in 1928 by the Soviet Union.
The river is famous for its trout, and poaching is a big problem, as is illegal logging. The upper reaches of the valley are covered in rich vegetation and are home to herds of horses.