After spending a few days in the Kyrgyz capital, it was time to take on a new city. Karakol is a city with 75.000 inhabitants, located near the Issyk Kul Lake in the easternmost corner of Kyrgyzstan. Karakol is a top destination for travellers in Kyrgyzstan due to the amazing and diverse nature found in the area, and because of this, we decided to spend four nights there, which was the longest amount of time that we spent in any place in Central Asia.
We caught a shared taxi from Bishkek in the morning, which took about 6 hours to arrive in Karakol. It was a beautiful and sunny day, so it was perfect to see our first views of the stunning Kyrgyz nature on the drive. After about 3 hours, we finally saw the Issyk Kul Lake and followed it for the remaining time until we reached Karakol. Issyk Kul is an endorheic lake in the northern Tian Shan Mountains and it’s the 10th largest lake in the world by volume. It’s also the second largest saline lake after the Caspian Sea and the second largest mountain lake after Lake Titicaca. The name “Issyk Kul” means “warm lake” in Kyrgyz, which was given to the lake because it never freezes despite being surrounded by snow-capped mountains. Issyk Kul is at an altitude of 1,607 metres and reaches 668 metres in depth.
When we got to Karakol, we checked in to a really nice hostel (Duet Hostel), which we ended up staying at throughout our time in Karakol. It was the perfect base for our explorations in the area. Anara, who owns the hostel, is lovely and really really helpful! She made our travels in the area so easy, as she knew a lot about places and how to get there, and if she didn’t know, she would simply call someone to find out. She’s a legend!
We went exploring in the afternoon and saw two really beautiful buildings: The Russian Orthodox Cathedral and the Dungan Mosque.
The Russian Orthodox Cathedral was originally built of stone in 1872, but an earthquake destroyed it 18 years later in 1890. In 1895, the current cathedral was built out of wood on a brick base. The church has had a colourful history and due to hostility towards Russia and Christianity, it has been used as an educational center, a sports hall, a theater, a dance hall and a coal store at different times in history. In 1916, the monks of the church were murdered during an anti-Russian uprising, but following the collapse of the Soviet Union and the Independence of Kyrgyzstan in 1991, the building was finally given back to the Russian Orthodox church.
I really loved the church; it’s a stunning structure with many details on the exterior and a beautiful and bright interior.
The Dungan Mosque was built in 1910 by initiative of Ibrahim Aji. The mosque was designed by the famous Beijing architect Chou Seu and decorated by local craftsmen. It was used as a storehouse during the Soviet era from 1929 to 1947, but was afterwards given to the Muslim community of Karakol.
When we were walking to the Dungan Mosque, we met a local man, who was wearing a traditional Kyrgyz hat. He was really friendly and gave us the hat to try, haha! It was the first time that we saw a Kyrgyz hat, but definitely not the last time! We saw them around everywhere after that, so much that I even decided to buy one as a souvenir, although only men are supposed to wear them 😉
The next three days were spent exploring three amazing places near Karakol: Jeti Oguz, Skazka Canyon and Arashan. Stay tuned for stories from those places!
Information on travelling to Karakol:
- To get from Bishkek to Karakol, you can catch a marshrutka from the West Bus Station in Bishkek, which leaves whenever it’s full (so get there early) for 350 soms per person. It takes 6-8 hours.
- To save time, a shared taxi is a good alternative, which takes 5-6 hours and costs about 500 soms per person. These can probably be found all over Bishkek, but we caught one from the West Bus Station.
- I recommend staying at Duet Hostel as it’s clean, cheap and very conveniently located. The owner is lovely and so very helpful with information about the area and how to get to places! It costs 7 USD per bed per night in a mixed dorm. There is no free breakfast, but free snacks, tea and coffee throughout the day. The beds are extremely comfortable; definitely the most comfortable that we found in all of Central Asia. There is cooking facilities and laundry service for just 100 soms. There is also a supermarket and a bar in the property.
- Anara will help to book taxis or get you on the right marshrutka to the places you want to visit in the area.
- Taxis around Karakol (in the city) should cost 70 soms (insist on not paying any more than that!).