Issyk-Kul is an endorheic lake in the northern Tian Shan Mountains in eastern Kyrgyzstan. It is the tenth largest lake in the world by volume (though not in surface area) and the second largest saline lake after the Caspian Sea. Issyk-Kul means "warm lake" in the Kyrgyz although it is surrounded by snow-capped peaks, it never freezes. Issyk-Kul Lake is 182 kilometres long, up to 60 kilometres wide, and its area is 6,236 square kilometers. It is second largest mountain lake in the world behind Lake Titicaca in South America. It is at an altitude of 1,607 metres (5,272 ft), and reaches 668 metres (2,192 ft) in depth.
About 118 rivers and streams flow into the lake; the largest are the Djyrgalan and Tyup. It is fed by springs, including many hot springs, and snow melt. The lake has no current outlet, but some hydrologists hypothesize that, deep underground, lake water filters into the Chu River. The lake's southern shore is dominated by the ruggedly beautiful Teskey Ala-Too Range of the Tian Shan mountains. The Kungey Alatau of the Tian Shan runs parallel to the north shore. The lake water's salinity is approx. 0.6%— compared to 3.5% salinity of typical seawater— and, although the lake level is still currently some 8 metres (26 ft) higher than in medieval times, its level now drops by approximately 5 cm per year due to water diversion.
Administratively, the lake and the adjacent land are within Issyk-Kul Region of Kyrgyzstan. Issyk-Kul Lake was a stopover on the Silk Road, a land route for travelers from the Far East to Europe. Many historians believe that the lake was the point of origin for the Black Death that plagued Europe and Asia during the early and mid-14th century. The lake's status as a byway for travelers allowed the plague to spread across these continents via medieval merchants who unknowingly carried infested vermin along with them.
The lake level is some 8 metres higher than in medieval times. Divers have found the remains of submerged settlements in shallow areas around the lake. In December 2007, a report was released by a team of Kyrgyz historians, led by Vladimir Ploskikh, vice president of the Kyrgyz Academy of Sciences, that archaeologists have discovered the remains of a 2500-year-old advanced civilization at the bottom of the Lake. The data and artifacts obtained suggest that the ancient city was a metropolis in its time. The discovery consisted of formidable walls, some stretching for 500 metres and traces of a large city with an area of several square kilometers. Other findings included Scythian burial mounds eroded over the centuries by waves, and numerous well-preserved artifacts, including bronze battleaxes, arrowheads, self-sharpening daggers, objects discarded by smiths, casting molds, and a faceted gold bar that was a monetary unit of the time.
Articles identified as the world's oldest extant coins were also found underwater with gold wire rings used as small change and a large hexahedral goldpiece. Also found was a bronze cauldron with a level of craftsmanship that is today achieved by using an inert gas environment. Specially protected areas. The first nature reserve in Kyrgyzstan, Issyk-Kul State Reserve was established in 1948 to protect unique nature landscapes and waterfowl at Issyk Kul. Biosphere Reserve Issyk Kul covered by UNESCO World Network of Biosphere Reserves was established in year 2000 within the administrative borders of Issyk-Kul Region.
Fish. The lake contains highly endemic fish biodiversity, and some of the species, including four endemics, are seriously endangered. In recent years catches of all species of fish have declined markedly, due to a combination of over-fishing, heavy predation by two of the introduced species, and the cessation of lake restocking with juvenile fish from hatcheries. At least four commercially targeted endemic fish species are sufficiently threatened to be included in the Red Book of the Kyrgyz Republic: Schmidt's dace (Leuciscus schmidti), Issyk-Kul dace (Leuciscus bergi), marinka (Schizothorax issyk-kuli), and sheer or naked osman (Diptychus dybovskii). Seven other endemic species are almost certainly threatened as by-catch or are indirectly impacted by fishing activity and changes to the structure and balance of the lake's fish population. Sevan trout, a fish endemic to Lake Sevan in Armenia, was introduced into Issyk-Kul in the 1970s. While this fish is an endangered species in its "home" lake, it has a much better chance to survive in Lake Issyk-Kul where it has ravaged the indigenous species.
Issyk-Kul Mountain Lake does not freeze? Yes, Issyk-Kul Lake never freezes because it is salty. But you cannot swim in - the water is icy. However, there are such people - walruses that swim in the lake at minus temperatures for the New Year. My friend swims in the lake every New Year - exactly January 1. This is a kind of tradition.
What else can you do at the lake in winter?
In winter you can calmly, quietly relax, and most importantly to undergo treatment in sanatoriums of the coast.
In total there are 5 sanatoriums on the coast: Aurora, Kyrgyz Seaside, Blue Issyk-Kul, Tamga Military Sanatorium and State Residence.
All the sanatoriums were built in the Soviet times and the spa treatment facilities are wonderful. Once upon a time only the heads of USSR could rest there. To date, many have been renovated and new services have been added to the treatment list, but living conditions still leave much to be desired. The most important thing is that in some sanatoriums there are springs of radon water that favorably influence the whole body. Baths with radon water, mud treatments, Charcot's shower, massage and other services can be easily obtained during stay at the sanatorium.
Resorts on Issyk-Kul are like Karlovy Vary, only a Soviet type and at an affordable price.
Many families come to the sanatorium during the winter holidays and on New Year's Eve to have a rest, to undergo treatment, to enjoy the silence and pure mountain air.