In the far north east of Kyrgyzstan lies an enormous lake. It’s called Issyk-Kul, which means “hot lake” because it never freezes, owing to geothermal currents and endorheic salinity. Issyk-Kul is both the second largest salt lake in the world and the second largest alpine lake. It is fed by countless valleys, carved into the Tian Shan (‘Heavenly Mountains’) range, which hugs the lake (geographical, that is) surrounding it from the north, east, and south. The wind blocked by this cuddling mountain range, combined with the moderating lake effect of Issyk-Kul, creates a unique micro-climate here amidst a country famous for its harsh landscapes.
One of the dozens of valleys which lead up from Issyk-Kul to these dizzying Heavenly Mountain peaks is called Jeti Oguz (‘Seven Bulls’). It’s named for tremendous red limestone cliffs that guard over the only village. Locals tell tall tales that these cliffs were once wild bulls, immobilised by the gods to stop them terrorising local yurt dwellers.
Following this narrow valley up past the village reveals unexpected geological delights, and small camps of alpine shepherds, grazing their flocks on idyllic summer pastures called jailoos.
Despite the 1930s Soviet campaign to de-nomadize the Kyrgyz (by making them into good proletarians, working in rural collectives or urban factories) many Kyrgyz families still spend summers in the jailoos, living much as their nomadic ancestors did (at least, if they’d had Ladas).
These juxtapositions – of ‘part-time’ nomads, lush valleys amidst harsh peaks, horses vs cars, and red rocks jutting from green grass – act as a microcosm of today’s Kyrgyzstan. Welcome to Jeti Oguz.
[Click photos to view full-screen with captions. For some historical context from this amazing region, read “Where the Heck is Kyrjikistan? (A Fingerful of Central Asian History)” ]