Photo of WHY GO TO ALAKOL LAKE? by Mike Hammelton

What does the average citizen of Kazakhstan know about Alakol? That this is a large lake in the middle of the desert somewhere near the Chinese border. Some have heard of the mysterious Bird Island, which is home to flocks of pelicans, flamingos and obscure relic gulls. But every second one will certainly express without hesitation that a terrible road leads to those places, at the end of which there are a minimum of conditions for recreation and everything is expensive.

Last weekend we visited the southern shore of the Motley Lake, which is closest to Almaty - this is how Alakol is translated from the Kazakh language. Ten years ago, entry to this territory for individuals was closed. And only in the last five years, tourists began to actively visit the coast. Therefore, the very concept of "infrastructure" in these places is just beginning to take root and make sense. The steppe is not yet full of plastic bags and plastic bottles, and the locals are open and good-natured, as in all remote villages, not spoiled by civilization. At the start of the next swimming season, we tried to determine the main pros and cons of resting on Alakol.

     Healing power (+)

     The water in the lake is soft, velvety and slightly salty in taste. Swimming in it is a pleasure. In our case, the water was still cool, but in the coming days its upper layers should warm up to 24 degrees. This is the average temperature in Alakol in summer.

- You probably know that Alakol , like Balkhash, is the remains of the ancient Khankhai Sea, - says the doctor of the highest category Pavel Vydrin. – Which partly explains the unique composition of its water. We've been doing research. Almost the entire periodic table is here. Swimming in the lake gives a good healing effect for arthritis and other joint diseases. There are noticeable improvements in psoriasis, a beneficial effect on the central nervous system, the overall tone of the body rises. Therapeutic mud, for which people come here, is a concentrate of all minerals dissolved in water. Here you have to be more careful. Mud baths can be taken for 20-30 minutes, no more.

     It is widely believed that Alakol stands on shungite, but this is not entirely true. In places, shungite is also found here, but the bulk of the black pebbles that replace the sandy beaches are ordinary stones. They absorb the heat of the sun well. They are very pleasant and useful to warm up after leaving the water. Experienced people say that these stones have proven themselves in baths and saunas - 1:0.

     It's far (-)

     The way to Alakol is really long, and planes don't fly there. The train runs 24 hours a day, but tickets are no longer available during the high season. Remain own cars and tourist buses.

     The distance from Almaty is 650-670 km, depending on the point on the coast that you choose to stop. The bus takes ten hours, and if it is adapted for long-distance transportation, there is no problem. By car, you can get there in 7-8 hours. The road is not at all as scary as they say about it.

Impassable pits and potholes, with which a couple of years ago those who wanted to relax on Alakol intimidated each other, are now gone. After Ucharal there are two segments of a quite decent gravel road with a total length of 30-40 kilometers. Well, the entrance to the lake itself, of course, no one even thought of asphalting. But you can drive - 1:1.

     A safe harbor (+)

     For those who know how to appreciate the pristine beauty of wild nature, who are able to enjoy the splashing of waves and gusts of steppe wind, Alakol will seem like a paradise on earth.

     There is silence here. Some distance from the coast stretches the picturesque ridge of the Dzungarian Alatau, which is not at all like the usual Almaty mountains. This valley - between the lake and the mountains - has seen many great battles between nomadic peoples. There is a special energy here. And surprisingly clean dry air.

     There is a cellular connection. It is not entirely stable, but you can usually call home and tell that everything is in order with you - 2:1.

     Vouchers are too expensive (-)

     According to the estimates of travel companies, six recreation centers operating on the southern coast of Alakol can simultaneously accommodate about seven hundred people. Conditions are different - from luxury rooms to yurts. Prices, respectively, are also - from 3.5 thousand tenge per day and up to 15,000.

     “We have been selling tours to Alakol for three years now,” says Inna Dorosh, Kompas travel agency manager. - The season is short. Two and a half, maximum three months. There are strong winds, because of which stationary piers, gazebos, umbrellas cannot be installed - they will simply be blown away. The number of tourists due to circumstances is also limited. In general, given the specifics of Alakol, I believe that the service offered there is very good. As well as value for money. You can choose options according to the wishes of the client.

     At the recreation center "Alasu", where we lived, the employees pointed out to us such a pattern - expensive wooden log cabins are practically never empty during the season. There is less demand for cheaper places in yurts - 2:2.

     You can negotiate with private traders (+)

     Those who cannot afford recreation centers, at their own peril and risk, come to the coastal villages of Akshi or Koktuma and already on the spot seek shelter from private traders. In the summer season, almost all rooms are rented here. This year, the average cost of living per day per person is 3,000 tenge. This amount includes three meals a day, and sometimes delivery by the owner's car to the beach and back. If there are many of you and you are going to cook yourself, you can negotiate cheaper. Gas, refrigerator and TV will allocate. Basic goods and products are sold in shops.

     Walking around Koktuma, we met a woman from Almaty who bought a house here and also rents out rooms. Four thousand tenge per person. Unlike local residents, she has a cook, and almost all the products are brought from the city. She said that in the summer they hardly steal in the village, but in winter it is a disaster. So that they would not get into the house, before leaving, she clogged all the windows and doors with metal shutters, and when she returned in the spring, she missed ... the outhouse. Cut down and carried away - 3:2.

     No leisure (-)

     If you want drive, shopping and ultra-modern discos, choose other directions. The main entertainment on Alakol is Alakol itself. Of the entertainment at some bases, you can rent motorcycles and ATVs, excursions to the mountains, walks on catamarans and ferries. You can play volleyball, table tennis and badminton. Fishing! They say that perch is well caught - 3:3. You may also enjoy your holiday on Issyk-Kul

     And yet you have to go!

     You should definitely visit Alakol at least once. To form your own impression of him. Breathe in the purest air, plunge into the entire periodic table at once and lie on the blue-black pebbles. The lake is not accidentally called Motley. Its surface shimmers with a huge number of different shades. She is always different. This effect is created by many underground keys and uneven depth. Just don't forget to stock up on sunscreen. And just in case, mosquitoes. They didn't bite us, but, they say, it's just that "their" season hasn't started yet. But a little later...

     You will probably see birds. They nest on an archipelago of three islands that make up the Alakol State Nature Reserve. You won’t be able to get there - the rest of the unique relic seagulls is carefully guarded. However, on the last day of rest, four handsome pelicans themselves flew to our base and circled in the sky right above us for a long time.