Song Kul – Kyrgyzstan’s most beautiful lake?

As I write this in late January, we are in the midst of the coldest part of the year in Kyrgyzstan. The Kyrgyz even have a special word for this time of extreme cold: “чйлде” (Childye). The 3000m Song Kul plateau remains cut-off from the world for at least 3 more months. Snow blocks every access road and the region is left to wild animals. It won’t be until around mid May that the track from the south to Lake Song-Kul will be passable and (by the end of May) that yurts will begin to dot the landscape as the local villagers takes their horses, sheep, cows and the occasional camel up to the plateau to graze for the summer. In the middle of this plateau lies Song-Kul Lake (29km long by 18km wide), with its pristine water, ringed by mountains. If you travel up there soon after the snow has melted in June, the shores of the lake are carpeted with wild flowers.
Song Kul FlowersAround the Community-Based Tourism Yurt Camp run by a local guy named Bayish on the south shore, edelweiss flowers cover the ground in abundance. Nurgul, his wife, will cook fish caught from the lake for your lunch. It’s a busy job keeping the 4 or 5 yurts clean and ready for guests, as well as cooking for up to 20 on a large stove heated with dried animal dung. That’s the fuel of choice also to heat the yurt where you will sleep for the night – providing very welcome warmth as the temperature drops at night at this high altitude. The Kyrgyz nomads have been living like this for centuries staying in their “боз үй” (transliterated: boz üy) – the Kyrgyz term for yurt meaning “grey house” – summer after summer.
Song Kol Yurt Base CampThe route up into the hills behind the yurts doesn’t look too demanding until you realize that the vastness of the landscape around you makes it seem deceptively closer than you might think. The lack of oxygen also makes this into a challenging climb. Persevere and you will be rewarded with spectacular views across the plateau. Look carefully and you will see rocks with petroglyths, thought to be around 3000 years old, although you will probably need the help of a local guide to find them.
Rocky terrain to leave your markAway from the lake shore and the yurts one of the things that strikes you about this place is the absolute stillness. Stop to listen and you will hear nothing beyond the wind blowing through the grass and the occasional cry of a marmot. It’s as if time has stood still up here and you have left everyday life well and truly behind. It is this peace, the breathtaking beauty and the privilege of being in a landscape barely touched by humans that makes this my favorite lake in Kyrgyzstan. It is truly a special place.
Song Kul boz uy
By the beginning of October the snow starts to fall and the last of the yurts are taken down, bundled into trucks and humanity once more retreats to lower ground. In the snow the plateau takes on a bleaker, yet no less beautiful appearance. This is the last chance for tourists to be here for the year as well. As the setting sun casts an orange glow over the snowy landscape it is time to say goodbye to Song Kol Lake for another year. I’ll be back though.

First snow of the year at Song Kul

First snow of the year at Song Kul

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