Thursday, August 5, 2010

A visit to Lake Issyk Kul

A watermelon chills in the icy waters on a hot day.
Soon after arriving in Central Asia I realized that Kyrgyz people base their entire summer around one trip. Visiting Lake Issyk Kul.

I had the great fortune of visiting Kyrgyzstan's most popular attraction with some friends recently. Issyk Kul (113 miles long, 37 miles wide), the world's second largest mountain lake, was a favorite getaway for big shots during the days of the Soviet Union and now draws anyone and everyone to its cool blue waters. Old and new hotels line the northern shore while the south shore has remained relatively untouched by development due to its uninviting rocky beaches.

Woman selling warm mare's milk out of her car. My friend Ulan insisted that it was time I try this treasured tradition. I did. One word: sour.
For the most part, three days with my Kyrgyz friends on the shore seemed very similar to visiting any lake in the western world. But, as with everything in Kyrgyzstan, things here are just a little different. Take for example the variety of snacks and food that can be purchased from your beach towel. Kids passing all the time with a dozen smoked fish hooked on a stick all lined up for inspection by hungry customers, who I found out with my local friends love nothing more than their smoked trout, cold beer and warm sun overlooking the lake. Or homemade fruit rollups, or small bags of sunflower seeds, or meat pies, or then there's the non food items, the necklaces, the tattoo artists who paint on images that last for about a week, or the guy that walks back and forth on the beach, pitching photos next to his camel.
Kyrgyz boy "poses" for the camera. I didn't see who instructed him to make this hand gesture, but I believe, after taking the photo, it was his father sitting next to me.
 All in all it was a great cultural experience which now allows me to speak with some authority when ask if I have been swimming in Lake Issyk Kul.

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