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Legends of Issyk-Kul Lake

People say: “Without legends, there is no past , without the past there is no present”. Chinghiz Aitmatov wrote: "People love and willingly listen to the lively stories of old times. In legends there are truth and fairy tales of the past, geographical and historical comments concerning the local site. In the legends there is philosophy and fiction, poetry, symbols of their time. Legends are the national mark of a nation, its brand."


Fantasy covers the lake of Issyk-Kul with the veil of enigma. In every village here there is a person who will tell the story of the "sudden" appearance of Issyk-Kul, and everybody tells it a different way. There are plenty of legends. Here are few.

Legends of Issyk-Kul Lake

The Legend of Lake Issyk-Kul

A long time ago there was a rich and fruitful valley with numerous cities and villages. In the center of the main city there was a well with clear water. The well was always closed with a heavy cover so that the water would not run out. People were strictly ordered to cover the well after getting water, otherwise something terrible would happen.

One evening a girl went to the well where her groom was waiting for her and they forgot to cover the well. Water flowed out of the well and it plowed and flowed until it flooded all the nearest streets and all of the valley with its cities and villages. So the lake appeared and the reason was love.

Legend of Altyn-Chach

A long-long time ago in the mountains there lived a girl named Altyn-Chach (Golden Hairs). Her parents were poor but bright stars shone through the holes of the koshma (felt) covering of their yurt. The stars save an unusual tenderness to the heart of young Altyn-Chach At age 16 she fell in love with jigit Japar. But cruel manap Kylychbai had already noticed the beautiful girl and wished to make her his sevenths wife. Having learned about his plan, Altyn-Chach and Japar decided to run away together. But the servants of manap reached them and brought back to their master. By the order of Kylychbai, Japar was thrown in the lake from a cliff. Astonished by the death of her beloved, Altyn-Chach tore her chest open, took her heart out and threw it into the lake with the words: “I cannot live without my love!"... The waters boiled and waves crashed, washed away Altyn-Chach, the cruel manap and all his servants... The lake calmed down...

But still its waters are warmed by the burning heart of Altyn-Chach.

The Origin of Lake Issyk-Kul

A long time ago there was an ancient city. Over the city, at the top of a high mountain, an old castle stood that belonged to an old and mighty khan (governor), who was well known not only by his wealth, but also by his cruelty. There was not a single day in which someone was able to escape his cruel jokes. In spite of his old age, the khan liked young girls even though he knew no love and no passion.

One day he heard of a girl of unbelievable beauty and he decided to get her. Many jigits lost their heads fighting for this beautiful girl, but for all the offers of marriage she answered that she loved another man.

No one knew who the man was that this girl loved; she did not know it by herself. She could only remember that one early morning a handsome and strong man appeared on the white steed. He took her on his steed and they rose high into the sky.

Later, she could only remember how they flew very high and he took a ring off his finger and giving it to her said: "I will be back soon and you should never take the ring off. While you have it, no trouble will touch you".

When the servants of the khan came to her with rich gifts she refused them and said: "I love another one, and I will be no one’s wife but the man I love!" Having said this, the girl went away to the mountains trying to meet the beloved rider and ask him for protection, and only then she noticed that her ring had disappeared. She started crying and decided return home. On the way armoured riders surrounded her, took her and quickly entered the dark castle.

When they removed the blinfold from her eyes, she found herself in a high tower among numerous beautiful and expensive things. She quickly understood that she had been captured by the khan and decided it was [better to die than to be his wife. Khan surrounded her with the most expensive things, but it did not change the girl’s mind. At last khan decided to take with strength everything that he could not get with presents. He came to the girl again with promises to give her everything for her love, even freedom. The answer was the same: "I love another one.” Khan began to reach for the beautiful girl, but she ran quickly to the open window, over the high precipice, "I will never be yours, Khan!” she cried and jumped down into the precipice. The same moment the old walls of the tower rocked and the dark castle of the old khan fell down and water from the surrounding gorges started to flow. Soon the ruins of khan's castle were covered, but the water continued to come, and it flowed until it flooded the huge valley. And this is how the lake of Issyk-Kul appeared.

Legend of Issyk-Kul, Ulan and Santash

...Somewhere in these lands there lived a beautiful girl named Issyk- Kul. Two strong men Santash and Ulan fell in love with her. Santash lived in the east and Ulan lived in the west and the strong men protected their lands from conquerors.

Santash and Ulan started to quarrel because of the beautiful girl. Each man wanted her to become his wife. Wishing not to give her to the competitor, the men started to fight to the death. Having seen that the two friends were^ fighting for her, the girl decided to die and stabbed a knife into her heart. The Earth cracked below the dead girl and the lake appeared. The two strong men Santash and Ulan turned to the winds, which are still fighting and forming the waterspouts on the lake's surface.

Legend of Kungey and Terskey

Two thousand years ago there were no mountains here. Instead, there was a huge fruitful valley with a big river, called Chon-Su. All around it was a peaceful Kyrgyz cattle herders were living. On the right side of the river lived the tribe of Bugu and on the left side lived the tribe of Sarybagysh.

On a small island in the Chon-Su River lived Saule, a beautiful girl. Rumors of her beauty reached the heads of both tribes: Kungey at Bugu and Terskey at Sarybagysh. At the same time, having gathered their armies, they moved to the riverbanks of Chon-Su to ask beautiful Saule to become the wife of one of them.

At the shores of Chon-Su competitors and their armies met and understood that this could not be solved without a struggle. The armies got ready for battle, and Kungey and Terskey prepared for the competition.

Three times Saule sent messengers to the tribes of Bugu and Sarybagysh, wishing to solve the problem in peaceful competition, but the men did not want to hear anything. At noon the armies started to attack, but Saule’s cry stopped them. From the top of the hill she shouted: "Kyrgyz people! We were always strong by the unity of our tribes! There should not be any further competition. Let peace be and I will die!" And the girl stabbed herself with a knife. The thunder roared and the hot blood of Saule splashed into Chon-Su. The river enlarged and divided the struggling tribes. The soldiers and commanders, astonished by the girl's behavior, k turned into stones at the place they stood and became the mountain chains m that we see today.

Since then they stand opposite of each other and they are named after f the chief of each tribe - Kungey and Terskey.

Legend of the Khan with Donkey's Ears

Once upon a time at the place of modem Lake Issyk-Kul there was a large city. The governor of the city was a mighty khan. Every Friday he called a young man to his palace; this man shaved khan's beard and I moustaches and was then killed by khan's servants.

When it was time for the only son of a certain old woman to shave the khan, she cried because she could not find a way out of the situation. As she cried, she took milk from her breast, baked bread from it and said to her son: "When you shave the khan, give him a piece of this bread". Her son agreed and went to the khan.

As khan took off his big chalma, the young man saw that the khan had donkey's years, which is why he killed the people who shaved him. He did not want anyone to know his secret.

As his mother had advised, the son took the pieces of bread and gave them to the khan. When he finished shaving, the khan asked:

- This bread is not like any of bread I've eaten. It is quite delicious. Who baked it?

- The young man answered:

- This bread was baked with my mother’s own milk.

Then the khan understood that they had become milk brothers and so he did not kill the young man. The young man continued shave khan and cut his hairs.

But all this time the young man had a great wish to share his secret with somebody. So his mother gave him one more piece of advice: "If you keep the secret you will always long to tell it. Listen to me: go to the well in the night and tell to the well everything". Son agreed and went to the well at night. He started telling of the khan and his donkey's years but the well started to laugh so that water flowed out of it. There were so much water that it became a lake, sinking the city, the khan's palace and all the citizens of the city.


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