Kolsay Lakes National Park is located on the north slope of the Tian Shan Mountains, southeast Kazakhstan (10 km from the border with Kyrgyzstan). Often referred to as Pearls of Tien Shan, the park’s main feature are the Kolsay Lakes located between the Raiymbek District and Talgar District of Almaty Region. The scenic Lake Kaindy is also within the park. The park boundary is 120 kilometres (75 mi) southeast of Almaty. Lakes of landslide-tectonic origin, approximately formed in 1887 and 1911 on the Kaindy and Kolsay rivers.
Nature conservation is an important part of the park’s mission, with 72% of the territory under strict protection, and 13% set aside for tourism and recreation. UNESCO includes the park to the World Network of Biosphere Reserves.
The park’s lakes are strung along the Kolsay River, which flows south-to-north out of the Tian Shan. Two ranges of the Tian Shan contribute: the Küngöy Ala-Too Range and the Trans-Ili Alatau. The major lakes include:
There are guest-houses and campsites in the nearby village of Saty. There is a 25 km hiking route that begins at the lower lake, progresses by the Kolsay lakes, and moves over the Sary-Bulak pass (3,278 m). The route takes three days by foot, or one day by horse. Kolsay Lakes are a popular mountain tourism destination in the region. Hiking trails to Kolsay Lakes are relatively accessible for beginners. Popular activities in the area include picnics, horse riding, and mountain biking. April to late September are standard periods for camping in the area.
The protected area of the Kolsay lakes became open to everyone who wants to visit it only a few years ago, so here the nature is preserved in its pristine state. The park is located the Tian Shan montane steppe and meadows ecoregion (WWF #1019), which covers the middle and upper altitudes of the Tian Shan mountains of Central Asia. The area experiences enough rain to support meadows and forests. Also, because of its isolation, it nurtures many rare plants and animal species.
The climate in the Kolsay Lakes region has been described as a “Humid continental climate, cool summer subtype” (Koeppen Classification Dfb). The region’s climate is characterized by large swings in temperature, both diurnally and seasonally, with mild summers and cold winters. In July, temperatures can range from 30 °C (86 °F) during the day, to −5 °C (23 °F) at night.
The area is ecologically clean and rich in wild plants, many of which are medicinal. Rare local plants include: apricot, ili barberry, hawthorn, and Alberta iris. In the entire area of the Kolsay lakes, in coniferous forests after heavy rains, various mushrooms appear. Scientists have recorded 704 species of plants in the park (12 of which are classified as rare). For animals, the park has recorded 50 species of mammals, 197 species of birds, 2 species of reptiles, 2 species of amphibian (green toad and süyirtumsıq frog), and 2 species of fish (rainbow trout and Tibetan bare kökbas). Six mammals found in the park are classified as rare in Kazakhstan, including the Tian Shen brown bear (U. a. isabellinus), Central Asian river kamşatı, Turkestan lynx, Snow leopard, Tien Shan argali, and the stone marten.
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