Kol Suu is a mountain lake formed as the result of an avalanche which fell across and blocked up the Korumduk River (a tributary of the Kack Kiya which flows into the Takshan River that then crosses the border into China). The avalanche was likely caused by an earthquake. It is because it is a flooded river valley (long and narrow, meandering as the river snaked its way between the mountain slopes) that it has the look of a fjord.
After having seen some friend’s summertime pics like this:
and hearing their amazing stories of an alpine lake near the Chinese border, I was determined to go this place for myself. Just as impressive is this youtube video here of the green-blue aquamarine water. Little did I know the opportunity would present itself during the coldest part of the year! So after applying for $20 border permits from the police department, our four brave drivers loaded up 10 guys into their SUVs with winter tires for the 8 hour trip.
The border checkpoint went fairly smooth and the young guard who checked our documents actually even smiled and spoke a few words in English. Another 30 minutes later and we were back on the road rounding Chatyr Kul Lake as we skirted by miles and miles of fence that was the beginning of the Chinese border (probably a lot more heavily guarded during Soviet times).
It was so bright from the sunlight’s reflection off the snow I really regretted forgetting my sunglasses and sunscreen! Check out the village here called “New Cultural Center” (Kyrgyz: Жаңы Куль-центр) which is at least 3 hours from any store or civilization and had only 6 families living there despite having around 40 buildings.
This isolated town was very proud that they have electricity and they still have a hospital. The second building is an old Soviet motel, could it be a newly renovated tourist hotel for Torugart border travelers and Kol Suu adventurists?
The guys had to show off all their bravado with their four wheel drive maneuvers on the ice and across dilapidated wooden bridges.
After meeting our hosts/guides and sharing hearty meals of sausage, cheese and meat bone soup to satisfy our manly hunger, we rolled out the sleeping bags on the shyrdak carpeted floor.
We all stayed for two nights in this quaint little house that has been used as a hunting lodge. Other than a few alpine shepherds that braved these winter pastures, we were the only ones for miles and miles. The stove that heated this little home and provided us with hot water for coffee burned animal dung since there was so source of electricity or coal anywhere near here.
The next morning we set out on rented horses with makeshift saddles climbing high into the mountains to get a distant view of China.
The real treat that afternoon was hiking up the very isolated lake, Kel Suu. Köl-Suu – Көлсуу in Kyrgyz – lies at 3,500 meters above sea-level and although there is a narrow dirt road that leads up to it, this time of year the snow made it impassible even with winter tires and chains on hefty 4x4s so we hiked about a kilometer up the steep mountain pass.
The clear lake was frozen all the way through which made for interesting ice formations below the surface.
We eventually determined that the surface of the lake freezes first and over time the water underneath drains out into streams leaving the whole lake to sink to the bottom. This forms all the cracks in the ice, multiple ice layers, and the seeming waves or waterfalls of ice instead of a nice flat surface that you would expect of a frozen lake.
Kelsuu is actually 16 kilometers (10 miles) long so even after skating across the frozen surface for a long ways, I was only actually viewing maybe a fourth of the narrow lake before it went around a rocky bend. Approximately two kilometers away, between the steep canyon walls, you can see a rock island about fifty meters high. The rocks are made of strange background of grottoes, caves and depressions. To get the full view and enjoyment of the lake, you need to go on a boat during summer months or prepare for a long hike this time of year.
We also ventured into an icy cave that during the summer month fills with water. The main cave has a narrow entrance and is hiding in the rocks on the right side of the hillside. First, you get into a large, tall hall with an “altar” and then the cave descends and splits into two narrow passage ways. There are no stalactites, but the walls of the lower corridor are covered with an interesting texture similar to a coral reef and decorated with water crystals.
Check out some of these larger images and decide for yourself about capturing some amazing pics here anytime of year! Leave a note in the comments section or Contact Us if you’d like to arrange a special tour to this serene destination someday soon. Winter or summer, rain or shine – this place is absolutely stunning!
According to all the locals, the lake is actually named Kol Teskeri which means Reverse Lake. The lake is about four and a half square kilometers in area and is estimated to hold almost 340 million cubic meters of water, making it the country’s fifth largest lake (after Issyk Kul, Son Kul, Chatyr Kul and Sary Chelek) so I’ve now visited four of the biggest five lakes in Kyrgyzstan!