Chatyr Kul (also Chatyr Köl – Chatyrkol – Kyrgyz: Чатыркөл) is an endorheic alpine lake located in the Tian Shan mountains in the At-Bashi (Horse’s Head) region of the Naryn Province, in southeastern Kyrgyzstan. The lake lies in the lower part of Chatyr-Kul Depression near the Torugart Pass border crossing into China. The name of the lake means “Celestial Lake” in Kyrgyz (literally “Roof Lake”). The lake and 2 kilometer buffer zone around it is part of the Karatal-Japyryk State Nature Reserve. To go camping near the lake, special permits have to be processed in Naryn City as this is a sensitive area due to the unique biodiversity and proximity to the Chinese border.
The lake is a Ramsar site of globally significant biodiversity. It is primarily fed by glaciers. Lake Chatyr Kol is 23 km (14 miles) long at its maximum length and 10 km (6.2 miles) wide at it maximum width covering 181 km2 (70 sq mi). It reaches a depth of 16.5 meters (54 ft) and is estimated to be 58km (36 miles) around. Chatyr-Kul Lake is one of the biggest inland water bodies of Kyrgyzstan. The basin occupies the lowest part of the tectonic hollow located between the ranges of At-Bashi and Torugart-Too at the altitude of 3530 meters (11,600ft) above the sea level. The lake hollow is situated in permafrost area at the depth of up to 100 m, where thermokarst formations are common such as water funnels. The maximal temperature in summer is +24 degrees centigrade (75°F), in winter it can go below –50°C (-58°F); however, even in winter there is little snow as it remains arid year round. Between July and August the water temperature is between 6°C (43°F) and 16°C (60°F) so only brave polar bear swimmers will want to jump in for a quick swim on the right day.
A hike from Tash Rabat Caravanserai to the panoramic view of the lake takes approximately 7 hours round trip and a horseback ride to the lake itself takes around 6 hours. A horse and a guide can be rented at the yurt camp’s Tash Rabat base-camp. Along the way you will be enchanted by all the shy but squealy marmots that duck into their holes as they allude your pics (bring a big zoom lens if you want to photograph one). The climate of the Chatyr-Kul hollow is severe and acutely continental. This is reputedly the coldest place in all of Kyrgyzstan (relative to elevation).
Among 24 rivers that flow into the lake only one has a year round flow – Kek-Aigyn that is 45 km long. In winter the river beds totally freeze up. As a result the water level in the lake decreases permanently due to high water evaporation from its surface. The water is clean and transparent. The shores are marshy in the south-eastern side but in the north side the shores are high because the rocks come close to the water. Depending on the date of the trip and the recent weather, Chatyr Kol Lake can take on very different appearances as the waters rise and recede significantly throughout the year. You can walk way out over crunchy dry ground and then start wading through marshy mud and seaweed a few meters later. The lake water is low mineralized (0.5 G – 1.0. G/L). There is seaweed in the lake at the depth of up to 10 meters. Dead seaweed stems build picturesque islands from pressed stems. They are beloved places for nesting among numerous Indian geese and ducks.
On March 11th, 1859, the famous traveler and researcher of Central Asia, Chokan Valikhanov, became the first foreign traveler to visit this beautiful lake. After hearing many stories and legends about it, he recorded it for the world to discover as you may do again on this special tour! People believe that the color of the lake and landscape has changed over time. This trek follows along the traditional Silk Trade route and the path of many ethnic Kyrgyz who traveled over the mountains into China during periods of Russian oppression. Two kilometers to the south from the Torugart-Too range lies the lake Small Chatyr-Kul that is connected to the main lake by a winding channel. The level of this small body of water is about one and half a meter higher than it is of the surface of the Chatyr-Kul lake. Not far from it there are mineral springs that resemble famous Caucasian “narzan” by their taste and a mausoleum.