Cholpon Ata is the largest town (village) on the Northern shore of Lake Issyk Kul, about half way along, some 250 kilometers from Bishkek. Summer has always seen large swarms of travelers descend upon the north shore for a stay in one of the nearby sanatoria or resorts (Cholpon Ata boasts one of the two Presidential residences on the lake), and Soviet athletes used to come here to train at altitude. Although there are still large numbers of summer visitors, the region has lost some of it's appeal, as it has failed to keep pace with the competion. Most holiday visitors these days are wealthy residents of Almaty, Kazakhstan from across the border.
Cities and places in Kyrgyzstan
There is a small market for everyday necessities, a yacht club, (it is possible to take boat trips on the lake), a hippodrome and a major stud farm. There is also a museum displaying archaeological finds from around the region and the Chui valley, musical instruments, traditional craftwork, and exhibitions devoted to the Manas Epic, Akaev and Chinghiz Aitmatov. The town also hosts a museum dedicated to the Kazakh writer Auezov.
Just to the North of the town lies an "open air art gallery" - containing a fine display of petroglyphs which date from the sixth to the first century BC.
In the Canyon above the town are forests, the Kyzyl Beirel waterfall, and the Chon Koi canyon.
As well as the sanatoria, accommodation is possible in a number of homestays.
Slightly offshore is the sunken village of Chengu - "red valley" - the capital of the ancient Usun State in the second century B. C. - and as the waters of the lake recede it is thought that the village will soon emerge from the depths. Referred to by early Russian explorers to the region, diving expeditions were undertaken in 1956. The divers found several baked bricks, fragments of ceramic dishes, a piece of ceramic pipe (which suggests a high level of local civilization), bronze arrowheads, iron knives, and the bones of both people and animals. Offshore, opposite the villages of Korumdy and Temirovka and near Grigoryevskaya harbor, archaeologists found fragments of ancient pots dating back to the Bronze Age.
Unfortunately, only a few such articles have been preserved, because the majority were taken by local residents and travelers as souvenirs. The knife handles are topped with large figures of horses or sheep. The horses look very realistic: with large heads, long tails, and well-developed leg muscles - typical of steppe horses. One of the most interesting finds from the bottom of Issyk-Kul is a sacrificial table of almost square shape. It has four legs shaped like a woman's body, 22 cm high. These figures are well preserved: slant eyes, wide nose, oval chin, and a short and strong neck; scholars believe these figures suggest how ancient residents of the Issyk-Kul region looked.
Another find was a large hemispheric sacrificial pot with two horizontal handles and a relief tamga (the seal of a master) resembling a crescent, with the points directed downwards. Such pots were widespread in this region in the 2nd half of the 1st millennium, and more than 10 such pots have been found at Issyk-Kul - but this pot was the largest. It is thought that such pots were used only on holidays and special occasions. The large size of these pots testify to the huge feasts of ancient cattle breeders in honor of their gods.
Legend of Cholpon Ata
There is a legend associated with Cholpon Ata which is often quoted by locals as their favourite of the Kyrgyz legends:
Once upon a time, so long ago that the people have forgotten exactly when it happened - under a high mountain sat a city. Above the city towered the fortress of a powerful Khan. The Khan was famous for his riches, but more importantly - for his cruelty. Each day, some citizen was killed and his body thrown into the ground.
The old Khan was lecherous and he heard that one poor peasant had a daughter of inexpressible beauty. The Khan decided that he must have this beautiful girl.
The girl and her father lived in small village, in a velley in the mountains, on the banks of a river. Many young men from all around (Dzhigits) tried to win her heart, but she did not pay any attention. To offers of love and marriage, from even the most courageous Dzhigits, she always answered that she loved another.
Who was this beloved? - nobody knew, and neither did she…
It came to pass - one day, when the sun peeped over the top of mountains, a Dzhigit on a white steed came and together they rode off into the sky. A whirlwind blew and took them to a mountain top covered with eternal snow. The strong Dzhigit embraced her, kissed her, then removed from his hand a ring and gave it to her. Placing it on her finger, he said: "I will soon return! Never remove this ring, and unhappiness will not touch you!"
Many days passed, but the Dzhigit did not return.
When the Khan's matchmakers arrived in the girl's village with gifts and offers - she rejected them all, saying: "I love another and I shall not be another's wife!"
The girl went up into the mountains, hoping to find once more the Dzhigit. In vain she called his name, only the echo of her own voice returned to her. The girl began to cry and started to make her way back home. She had not yet reached her village, when when she was surrounded, seized, tied up and blindfolded by a gang of youths. When she was released and the blindfold removed she realized what had happened, that she was a prisoner in the Khan's fortress, from which it was impossible to escape. It is better to die, she decided, than to become the wife of the Khan.
Her beauty and youth surprised the old Khan. He showered gifts upon her. But no gifts could win her over and make her change her mind. "I love another and I shall never be yours!", was always her answer.
This "stubborness" displeased the Khan, and he decided to take by force what he could not win with gifts. He again came to the girl, promising her love, everything, … even freedom.
"I love another!" - she repeated. The Khan rushed at her like a wild animal and she ran to a window. "I shall not be yours!", she cried and threw herself from the window onto the ground below.
From where she fell at the foot of the high and mighty walls of the fortress, caves opened up and water gushed from them. From them flowed water which was light-blue, pure, clean, crystal clear, and as hot as the maiden's heart, which formed the mountain lake which the people called Issyk Kul.
It is said that if you stand on the shore at Cholpon Ata ("Cholpon's Father") you can see in the mountains opposite the face of the girl's father, whose tears flow down the mountainside to add to the salt waters of the lake as he weeps for his beautiful daughter who threw herself from a window high in the Khan's citadel, rather than succumb to his evil advances and betray her true beloved. And, on quiet summer evenings, when the sun sets, the ruins of a fortress appear under the water and the voice of the girl can be heard.