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Issyk-Kul | JetSettlers Magazine

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Issyk-Kul

When visiting Kyrgyzstan, locals seem stunned at first that any Westerner would make the trip to their country in the first place. Then they remember that Kyrgyzstan has Issyk Kul, which is undoubtedly the country’s most well-known tourist destination.

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Every guidebook and article about Kyrgyzstan will tell you that it’s the second largest alpine lake in the world. Thename means “warm lake” in Kyrgyz. It’s the closest thing this landlocked-country has to a coastline as the lake provides about 600 kilometers of beach.

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Don’t let the name fool you. It isn’t warm enough to swim in the lake during spring, when temperatures hover low enough during the day to remind you that summer weather takes longer to reach that altitude (1607 metres or 5272 feet).

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Spring in Issyk-Kul is beautiful nevertheless. Craving a weekend getaway in early May, friends and I rented a cottage in the relatively quiet town of Bosteri on the northern shore. The heavy tourist crowds (mostly from Russia and Kazakhstan) don’t arrive until the lake warms up, so I had free reign to wander around the empty shoreline and explore the deserted resorts. There was even an amusement park that seemed disproportionately large for the sleepy town that it was situated in.

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Bosteri seemed to be in the middle of renovations that started several decades ago. Half-finished hotels shared the land with structures that must be on their way to being demolished. Rusted metal umbrellas dotted the beaches, and an old lifeguard post sat abandoned, coated with broken glass and various dregs from too many unsupervised summer nights.

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Some things in town, like this painted wall, struck me as a mixture of Soviet-style kitsch and the East Coast boardwalk style that I grew up around.

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A few workers lazily hammered a new building behind the amusement park. They didn’t seem to mind an American girl poking around the Ferris wheel, climbing up the rafters unsupervised. I tried to resist being too intrusive, but I loved the eerie feeling of being alone on a beautiful, cool day with such a large machine.

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My pictures from that trip are some of my favorite from my entire time living in Kyrgyzstan so far. I still haven’t had a chance to swim in Issyk-Kul, but I’m almost hesitant to go back when it gets warmer. I don’t want to spoil these memories of calmness and solitude, but I suppose I’ll always have these photos to remind me of that day. 

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