Lake Kaindy in Kazakhstan. The sunken forest.

Tales of the sunken forest of Lake Cainda

What do we know about the natural sights of our country, how often do we get out of the stone jungle to really relax and admire the creations of nature? But we really have something to look at and something to show to tourists. In this article the well-known Kazakhstani blogger and musician Alexander Tsoy will tell and show you how to visit one of the most beautiful places in Kazakhstan and learn to love the nature of your native land.

Lake Kaindy is distinguished from others by its history and its youth. By geological standards Kaindy in general is still very young object – kindergarten, nursery group. It was formed very recently, in the early XX century. In 1911 the town of Vernyi and its surroundings was shaken by a very powerful earthquake, and in the Kaindy gorge there was a tectonic collapse. Simply put, a large dam was formed at one point on the river Kaindy, which flowed through the gorge of the same name. The water flooded part of the gorge, calmed down, and some time later a beautiful lake with a flooded forest inside turned out in place of a giant dam.

For those who like numbers – a bit of dry statistics. The lake is 130 kilometers to the east of Almaty, at the height of 1800 meters above the sea level. Its length is 400 meters and width is about 100 meters. The maximum depth of the reservoir as of 2018 is just over 20 meters. The water is exceptionally clear and clean, but very cold, only +6 degrees. Previously, until the mid-1980s, the lake was much deeper, up to 40 meters, and slightly wider. But a strong mudflow that happened at that time washed away part of the lake and made it half shallow. But what happened after the natural disasters, impresses with its beauty and all year round attracts tourists.

How to get to Lake Kaindy?

In principle, Lake Kaindy is not far from Almaty. If you look at the map and measure the distance with a ruler, it is only 130 kilometers. It’s not far. But you are unlikely to get through the mountains, so the road to the lake will have to bypass the normal heroes. And there is almost 300 kilometers of the route for sturdy car to bypass, to be exact along the roads.

Total length of the route is 284 kilometers. From them 204 kilometers you drive along Kuldjin highway with the turn after Shelek to the highway A6 in a direction to Kegen. Another 77 kilometers you drive along R-16 highway, which leads to Kolsai lakes.

You will see the turn into the gorge, which is Kaindy gorge, before you reach Soty village, around 1 kilometer. Here you will not be able to pass your Priora and Camry – you will have to drive on not very good unpaved road, wading through the river twice. There will be the whole set “joy of a jeeper”: steep descents, steep rises, washed out road.

When you get to the forester’s lodge with the barrier (not the forester with the barrier, but the lodge with the barrier), be sure to stop and pay the ecological fee for visiting the national park “Kolsaisky Lakes”. Once paid, drive on. When you pass a grove, leave your car on a glade with yurts (they are always there): then you have to walk 20 minutes on foot through the forest to the lake, then go down by the path to the lake – and there it is, beauty!

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The whole road will take 5-7 hours, depending on the car, your driving skills and weather conditions. Naturally, it is best to go to Lake Kaindy in warm sunny weather, after the rains the road to the gorge is strongly washed away.

And what to do if you don’t have a car, but want to get to Kaindy? Of course, you must deal with travel agencies. They will pick you up, take you by bus to the gorge and offer you to take a 15-kilometer long foot-trip to the lake, it is beautiful! Beauty! And also you can be offered a complex program: to go not only to Kaindy, but also to look into the neighboring gorge and to visit the three beautiful Kolsay lakes.

The beauties and legends of Kaindy

The word “Kaindy” in translation from Kazakh means “birch” or “overgrown with birches”. But there are no birches around the lake: its shores are covered with dense spruce forest. Where does such a name come from? A little lower down the river there is the biggest birch grove in the whole Tian Shan, which gave its name to the gorge, the river and the lake.

Landscapes that open from different points when looking at the lake are amazing and unique, and it is for this beauty that people go to Kaindy. Many people call Kaindy and the neighboring Kolsai Lakes “Little Switzerland” for the absolutely alpine views. The lake itself has a deep blue or turquoise color, which changes depending on the weather. After the rains, the lake takes on a brown hue because of the lime sediment.

Well, the main feature of Lake Kaindy is the flooded forest. When in 1911 the lake was formed and the water flooded the firs growing in the canyon, their trunks remained in the water and towers above the smooth surface of the lake as huge poles or masts of submerged sailing ships. Under the water you can even make out the spruce branches, which have not rotted away only because the water in the lake remains cold all year round. Even on hot summer days, the lake is not heated above +6 degrees.

It is because of these miraculously preserved underwater spruces that this place attracts divers. Yes, fans of deep diving and underwater beauty often appear here. Divers come here not only from all over Kazakhstan but also from neighboring countries. You can dive and swim in the lake if you have a certificate with a group and an instructor or with your own equipment.

So, if you have not been to Kaindy, you need to urgently correct this unfortunate mistake, because it is a true wonder of the world, which can boast of no other country in the world!

The flooded forest of Lake Kaindy

Fabulous and unique in its beauty lake Kaindy attracts with its mysteries not only inhabitants of Almaty, but also tourists from other countries. Who ever visited this beautiful lake, be sure to ask the question: “What is under the water? Vox Populi journalist Alyona Miroshnichenko was lucky enough to be there, where the way is open only to experienced divers. We offer our readers a photo excursion into the amazing underwater world of Lake Kaindy.

Sunrise

We go towards the rising sun, where the rocks and sky cherish the amazing creation of nature, which is one of the fifteen most beautiful lakes on the planet. Lake Kainda is 280 kilometers east of the southern capital. Travel time takes more than five hours.

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Birch grove

The road to the lake passes through a caressing grove of birch trees. These graceful trees and on the slopes of the gorge neighbors with evergreen spruces. Obviously, this is what gave the lake its name. Kaindy is translated from the Kazakh language as “birch”.

View of the lake from the slope

Back in 1911, on January 4, there was a major earthquake in the Kungei Alatau Mountains. A huge landslide created a dam and blocked the mountain river. The gorge and the age-old Tangshan firs growing on its slopes were flooded with water. So nature created this beautiful lake at an altitude of 1,800 meters above sea level.

The surrounding nature defies description. Here on a calm day, despite the singing of birds and barely audible wind blowing, one realizes what real silence, harmony, peace and tranquility are. Kaindy seems to communicate on a subconscious level with anyone who comes to see this majestic lake.

Calm emerald smooth surface of the lake, which shimmers with mystical light, and towering over its surface trunks of spruce giants just breathtaking. Resembling the masts of sunken ships, they draw you deep into the lake with their mystery.

Who first discovered the lake, history is not known. Old-timers say that some hunter stumbled upon it. Initially the depth of the lake was about 40 meters, but after another natural “shake-up” in 1980, the water disappeared. In winter, the water mirror is completely covered with a thick layer of ice, encasing dry trunks.

Kaindy river after mudflow

In 2010, nature did not spare the lake again – a powerful mudflow of rocks and mud descended into it. On its way it absorbed rock debris, picked up giant boulders and uprooted centuries-old fir trees growing in the gorge.

The mudflow destroyed the natural dam, the lake began to “go away,” and the water level dropped by more than two meters. This can be clearly seen now by the gray marks on the rocks and trunks of firs. Moreover, the branches have fallen off the part of the trunk that was under water before.

The mud flow had shaken the lake so much that there was no visibility in the water for a distance of 30 centimeters. The water was so muddy that it resembled milk. Before the mudslide, the depth was 23 meters. Now the instruments recorded a maximum depth of only 17-18 meters in the center of the lake.

Tourist group from France

It is a dream to plunge into the gentle and clear waters of Kainda! True, it is a dream only for those who know very little about the lake. The thing is that the water here is not heated even in summer above 6 ° C. Therefore, to swim in Kaindy and see the mysterious underwater world through the crystal-clear water is possible only in a special wetsuit.

Despite the low water temperature, the lake enjoys great success with fans of diving. Not without reason, many divers who have explored this lake look forward to returning to this amazing world, which is over a hundred years old.

In 2004, diving instructor Vasily Kalashnikov and a group of like-minded people “paved the trail” into the underwater kingdom of Kainda. From now on this lake is included in the rating of twenty-five best freshwater reservoirs for diving. In fact, that’s what we came here for.

Vasily Kalashnikov

Diving instructor Vasily Kalashnikov told us about the first dive:

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– The guys suggested: “Let’s go, there is an interesting place, no one has dived there”. We pulled ourselves together and drove off. We got there – it’s beautiful! There were logs sticking out of the water. We decided that it would be fun to go for a swim around them, because none of us knew what was under the water.

– The first time we went in the water, we made a big mess. You couldn’t see anything beyond your flippers. So right away we were disappointed that the body of water was muddy. And then when we got closer to the trees, we saw that it was something. It was fantastic.

Diver Max

– Less than a hundred people have dived into the lake so far, and not all of them were able to see this beauty. Because visibility is not always good. Our divers can come here at any time, but for fans of diving from other cities and countries, a trip to the lake may not always be successful. But this does not upset anyone. Even just the opportunity to admire the magical creation of nature will be an impressive experience.

Vasiliy prepares equipment

– We have come here many times, not only in summer and fall, but even in winter, and realized that there is no visibility in the water. The lake is very whimsical, and sometimes everything looks very beautiful from the outside, the bright turquoise color of the water – and there is no visibility. But sometimes I dived in the rain, and visibility was great.

Getting ready to dive

So, Vasily, Max and Alyona are getting ready to dive. For a mountain lake with icy water, a dry wetsuit is preferable. In order to dive in such a suit, you need diving experience. My diving experience was the main prerequisite for becoming the first girl journalist to dive the bottom of Lake Kaindy.

The dry suit is made of a dense material – neoprene. It provides good insulation, giving you back your warmth. The thicker the layer of neoprene, the better the insulating properties of the suit. To stay longer in cold water, warm clothing is worn under the suit, which remains dry during the entire stay in the water.

In a dry wetsuit it is harder to move underwater, which makes a long swim more tiring. In addition, it’s harder to regulate buoyancy than a wet suit, and such a wetsuit will require more weight to keep buoyancy neutral. To be honest, getting into a dry wetsuit is not easy. A weak girl couldn’t do it on her own without the help of two men.

While we were getting dressed Vasily told us about the specifics of high altitude diving.

– There are some specific peculiarities of high-altitude diving. You cannot dive to a great depth and spend a long time in the water. Because the air in the mountains is rarefied and nitrogen bubbles accumulated in the human body lead their destructive activity, you can easily earn decompression sickness.

– There are no fish and no animals in Kaindy. This is one of its peculiarities. But the presence of fish in the lake, most likely, would not preserve the pristine beauty of the lake. It’s good that there are no fish – there are no nets. After all, fishermen would have damaged the underwater branches of the spruces with their nets. Thin kapron nets cling to snags and fishermen throw them into the lake. Fish get entangled in these traps and begin to rot. It’s terrible. We have seen rotten fish in Kolsai Lake more than once, and we held a “Clean Up Day”. We pulled out hundreds of meters of abandoned nets with rotten fish and trash from under the water.

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Ready to Dive

I carry 12 kilograms of lead weights on my belt. I needed it to compensate the high positive buoyancy of the dry wetsuit. Full or even partial loss of weight can lead to changes in buoyancy, respectively, barotrauma, or even decompression sickness. Therefore, it is necessary to monitor the integrity and reliability of the cargo belt fastening.

The total weight of complex equipment together with the cylinder and weights is about 45 kg.

Vasiliy in full readiness to dive

– Previously, before diving into a high mountain reservoir, you had to make special calculations according to tables for safety, but now everything is much easier – modern computers allow you to control the depth and time of being in the water. They record not only the depth and time, but also the height above sea level. The diver tracks the data on the computer and dives without any risk.

The underwater journey begins with a control dive to check their equipment and the optimal amount of weight.

Another main feature of high-altitude diving is the cold water. In these lakes in the summer water temperature will always be no higher than 6-7 degrees, and in winter under the ice is only 2 degrees of heat. Therefore, the usual wet wetsuit will not save from the cold, and in the dry too long will not hold out – you will freeze.

Bottom of the beach

The water in the lake is fresh. It practically does not contain dissolved salts and is identical to the water undergoing multi-level purification in the laboratory. Tea from this water was very tasty.

Coastal algae

Sometimes the lake is so transparent that in some places it is possible to see the bottom at a depth of seven meters from a boat in minute detail. Such transparency can be seen at a time when the water turns bright green.

In summer, when the water a little warm, it begins to develop in small quantities of microplankton: of course, at this point it is quite difficult to distinguish the bottom at depth, but transparency at this time of year is striking. However, its color changes: it does not turn into a murky green, but, on the contrary, becomes gently turquoise.

Deeper and deeper we go under the water, and we can see the marvelous submerged forest of Kainda, which is awe-inspiring.

Majestic green giants stand like guards of the lake. It seems that time just stopped here. The pine needles have all crumbled, but the branches have remained in place, as if frozen. The new, watery environment has preserved them in a completely unique way.

How did nature create all this splendor? According to Vasily, the lake is in the river bed, the lake is running and the water does not stagnate. The river carries the silt and small particles of rock, and coniferous giants act as filters. These particles are deposited on the branches and they hang in beautiful garlands. To some, this picture is reminiscent of stalactites.

A walk through the mysterious underwater forest will impress even the most experienced diver, and for the novice diver it is an inexplicable fear and indescribable delight.

Any careless movement of the hand or flippers, even a touch of air bubbles – and the branches just scatter. We try to swim very carefully, do not swim close to the trees, and in every way to protect the fragile beauty.

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Vasily has dived in many mountain reservoirs of Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan, but he has never seen such beauty in any lake. Everywhere there are sunken trees at the bottom, but they just lie there, covered with green, slimy algae, silt and moss.

Bottom of the lake

The bottom of the lake used to be depressions and rocky ledges, but since the last mudflow it has risen and flattened out. If you throw a stone to the bottom, the soft layer of silt will create a real “dust storm”.

According to Vasiliy Kalashnikov and his associates, if no measures are taken now to strengthen the dam, the next natural disaster may just ruin this unique lake, and it will turn into a muddy puddle.

How long all this splendor will stay under water – no one knows. We should be rightfully proud of the fact that there is no other lake like this in the world, and we must save it for our descendants.

The hour and a half spent in the cold water flew by unnoticed. It wasn’t without its little mishaps. When checking my gear at the beginning of the dive, my weight belt was at the bottom of the lake. But it did not affect the underwater excursion into the submerged forest. Vasily proved to be an underwater archaeologist, and the belt was found among the silt.

The incredible combination of the three elements – mountains, sky and water – create this unique and inimitable picture created by the hand of an artist named Nature. What can be more beautiful than these mountainous landscapes, where between the majestically towering peaks of rocks the mountain lake is peacefully situated, and the sky is sunk in it?

We decided to stay overnight at Kaindy to enjoy the beauty of the starry sky. The view of the starry sky in the mountains is undoubtedly able to amaze a city dweller. Here, far away from large settlements, in the clear mountain air, and even at an altitude of a couple of kilometers above sea level, everything is completely different than in the city. If down there the stars were dim, their light barely penetrated through the haze and was lost against the background of urban lighting, here on a clear night the sky is dotted with myriads of the brightest lights.

It turns out that the Milky Way is not an astronomer’s invention at all. Here it is, right above our heads! And of course we wanted to have a better look at all this beauty, to find familiar constellations, to find planets and distant nebulae among stars. And we were lucky to see a comet which strayed from the depths of space, to see hundreds of shooting stars, and to make a wish – to come back to Kainda to the flooded forest next year and to see how it is under water.

Vox Populi team would like to thank the diving instructor Vasiliu Kalashnikov for his help in preparing the report, for the equipment, photo and video materials provided.

Everyone who wants to master skills of diving and make the trip to the lake Kaindy with us next year for more information we recommend to visit website divers.kz.

And for now, we offer our dear readers to watch a video, which we made especially for this report.

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