Located in the Western Tian Shan mountain range, the Chatkal River flows 189 kilometers through a remote valley in the extreme West of the country. It is flanked by the 120km long mountain range of the same name and the Chandalash range. Walnut groves, along with Semyonov's maple and less frequently ash and tree-like hawthorns are spread along the lower slopes of the Chatkal River, which flows into Uzbekistan.
Traces of early human habitation have been found in cave sites (such as the Obirakhmat and Khodjakent grottoes) where hunting tools, stone processing sites and petroglyphs from the Neolithic period have been discovered. Minerals were extracted from various sites during the Bronze Age (about 3,000 BC); first non-ferrous, then ferrous metals were extracted. Huge burial mounds with bronze vessels have been found dating to this period. Archaeologists have discovered evidence of nomadic cattle-breeding in the area, dating from the early Iron Age. On the lower reaches of the Chatkalriver, over 2,000 burial mounds, 30 "tepe" and 3 ancient settlements have been found.
During the Kushan-turk period (dating from the 4th to the 7th centuries), the region was already densely populated. In addition to the nomadic herdsmen, pastoral agriculture and settlements developed - towns developed. Some of the main trade routes of the Silk Road passed through the region. A number of local products were exported far and wide, including silver from the Talas and Chatkal river basins, Sal ammoniac and mercury, and cattle and walnuts from the Aslanbob region.
Slightly southwest of Djani Bazaar is the site of an ancient settlement, Changar Khan, dating from the 10th and 12th centuries. Nearby is the gumbez (mausoleum) of IdrisBaygambar - dating from the 19th century.
To the northeast lies the site of the town of Arlankent, which dates from between the 7th and 12th centuries and was the main town of the region - which at that time was known as Djydguil. The town is mentioned in several chronicles dating from the Middle Ages.
Also to the North, in the gorge of Kuru-Tegerek, archaeologists have discovered ancient mining excavations and the site of the ancient settlement of Kurbes Kan. The Besh-Aral Zapovednik (Bio-diversity Reserve) is situated in the Chatkal Valley of the Jalal-Abad Province, 340km from the Province center of Jalal Abad, and 25km from Kanysh-Kiya, the Chatkal Area center.
The Chaktalriver is often used for rafting expeditions (although border problems with Uzbekistan have limited recent expeditions), the mountains are used by athletes from the former Soviet countries for "high altitude" training, and the mountain slopes are frequently enjoyed by skiers.
Inilchek Mountain River
In the Northeastern corner of Kyrgyzstan, two ridges of the Tian Shan converge and several peaks rise to over 6,000m. The Enilchek glacier snakes down from the clouds, nestling at the foot of Khan Tengri ("Prince of Spirits" or "Rider of the Sky" - 6,995m) on the borders with Kazakhstan in the North; and Peak Pobeda (Victory Peak, 7,439m - the second highest mountain in the former Soviet Union) on the border with China in the South. Stretching for 60 kilometers and covering an area of over 583 square kilomenters with ice, some of it as much as 540 meters thick - this glacier is one of the most famous in the world.
Sandwiched between the Northern and Southern branches of the glacier lies the mysterious Merzbacher lake, which forms every summer and sometimes in August bursts through its icy banks, its waters flowing into the Enchilekriver. Actually, only part of the lake drains - the lake, which is 6 kilometers long and one kilometer wide, is in fact divided into two by a bridge of ice, and whilst the lower half empties regularly, the upper part is always full of water. Also, the lakes empty twice a year - once in the summer and once in the winter - but most people only know about the August event.
In 1903 the German geographer and mountaineer, Gottfried Merzbacher, first discovered the lake while leading an expedition into the Tian Shan mountains aiming to reach the summit of Khan Tengri. Forced back by the ice, from their originally intended route through the Byankol Pass and along the Semyenov and Mushketov glaciers, they attempted a different approach - along the Enilchek glacier. Once again they failed, but they had shown that Khan Tengri was in fact on a ridge and not in the center of that particular knot of the Tian Shan mountains as had been thought. The expedition will be better remembered, however, for the discover of the mysterious lake that now bears Merzbacher's name.
The expedition came across a clear lake, trapped between the two branches of the glacier, with the surface studded by floating icebergs. While the group was still in the vicinity - the lake suddenly drained. Another group of explorers, some 28 years later, experienced the same event. To their astonishment, the lake emptied before their very eyes, leaving huge blocks of ice stranded on the now dry lake bed. Their graphic accounts tells of how the water gushed from crevasses in the ice in various locations, accompanied by a great roar which frightened the horses, and how the end of the glacier seemed to threaten to break away and tumble downstream destroying everything in its way. Some of the party returned the next year - only to find the lake full once more.
Although this may be the most famous of the "vanishing lakes" - there are other similar occurrences around the world: in Iceland, Switzerland and Greenland - but each one is unique and only Merzbacher seems to be so regular in its timing. There are several theories about what is happening - some scientists suggest that the water level reaches a critical level so that the potion of the glacier that dams the lake begins to float - allowing the water to drain away beneath it. Another theory suggests that the pressure of the water actually causes deformations in the ice dam - that opens cracks which allow the water to escape. Yet a third theory links the drainage of the lake with a canyon-like feature in the Southern glacier, (known as "The Crack"). It is thought that when the Crack fills with water, this then drains away through tunnels under the ice - creating a suction effect which draws water out of the lake. Unfortunately, no one really knows exactly why the lakes drain as they do.
There are several trekking routes in the area, but as it is part of the border zone special permits are required. Several local firms can organize adventure trps to the region, including helicopter flights, and can arrange for accommodation at the Yak Farm at EchkiliTash. In the lower valley in a spectacular setting is the Khan Tengri camp, an ideal base for acclimatization and exploring the surrounding area.
starts in the Kyrgyz Ala Too, and is formed by the confluence of the rivers Koch Kor and JoonAryk, after the Boom canyon the Chon Kemin river flows also into the Chuy river and many small rivers. Total length is 221 km, also forms the border with Kazakhstan and flows into Kazakhstan.
starts in the KungeyAla Too, total length approx. 80 km, flows in the Chuy river.
is formed by the confluence of the rivers Suusamyr and West Karakol, some smaller rivers in the area flow into the Kekemerin river, which flows itself into the Naryn river. Length approx. 80 km.
Naryn, starts in the TerskeyAla Too, and is formed by the confluence of the Big and Kichi (small) Narynrivers. With 535 km it's the largest river of Kyrgyzia and the water of many of the rivers from the territory in central Kyrgyzia flow into the Naryn river. In the west of the country it flows into Uzbekistan, where its name changes into the wellknownSyr-Darya River.
SaryJaz, starts in the TerskeyAla Too range, and has many tributaries in the area. Flows into China.