Son-Kul Lake, Kyrgyzstan
Son-Kul is a mountain lake in the central Tian Shan, virtually in the center of Kyrgyzstan. The name translates from Kyrgyz as “the last lake”.
Son-Kul lies at an altitude of 3016 m (9895 feet) above sea level. At 29 km (18 miles) long and 18 km (11 miles) wide, and maximum depth of 13.2 m (43 feet), Son-Kul is Kyrgyzstan’s second largest lake. The average temperature is only -3.5° C (26° F), though in summer the average temperature is 11° C (52° F). In winter, temperatures fall as low as -20° C (-4° F), and there are around 200 days of snow a year. This means that in winter, it is often impossible to reach the lake. Unlike Issyk-Kul, Son-Kul freezes in the winter, and remains frozen from September to June.
Surrounded by high mountain plateau, Son-Kul has no trees. The meadows are rich, and therefore are used by shepherds from Kochkor, Naryn and At-Bashi as summer pastures for their flocks. During the summer, visitors can find plenty of people and animals, plus several yurt camps. In fact, there is evidence that shepherds have been coming here since ancient times. There are small arrangements of standing stones and stone circles - nothing as big as Stonehenge, but it is interesting to speculate how they got here and what their purpose was.
Many shepherds will be happy to welcome tourists and serve a cup of kumis, and even let visitors spend the night on mats on the floor, but it is still best to make arrangements beforehand. There are several yurt camps set up in the summer to accommodate tourists, complete with kitchens, toilets and washing facilities (though they certainly aren’t luxury). It is also possible to organize horse riding and trekking trips from Son-Kul, lasting from an hour to a day.
There are four roads leading to Son-Kul. One is from Sary-Bulak in the northeast; the second, from Naryn in the southeast, crosses a dramatic sequence of over 30 switchbacks, and there is a detour to a beautiful waterfall surrounded by woods; the third goes to Ak-Tal in the southwest; and the fourth goes past the coal mines of Kara Keche towards Chaek in the northwest. In the winter, however, and often in the spring and autumn too, these roads are closed by snow.
Visitors come to Son-Kul to experience Kyrgyzstan’s pristine nature. Though there are no trees on the high plains, there are plenty of herbs, including chamomile, sagebrush, lichen, friar’s cap, and golden root, many of which are prized for their medicinal qualities. Flowers are particularly plentiful after the snow melts in the late spring. There are some 66 species of waterfowl that live around the lake or in the surrounding area, which makes the area relatively ecologically diverse. There are several species of gulls and ducks, plus cranes, storks, mergansers, bald coots, plovers, falcons, golden eagles, and shags. Lucky visitors can see deer, foxes, marmots, Marco Polo sheep, lynx, leopards, and wolves on the plains. There were no fish in Son-Kul until 1959, when they were specially introduced. Now, fish from the lake can be found in markets in Naryn and Kochkor.