Get Lost in an Underwater Forest in Asia’s Tian Shan

James Smart

In a remote corner of Central Asia, there’s a lush forest hidden beneath the waters of a turquoise lake.

Lake Kaindy would be a beautiful place even without its foliage. This strange natural phenomenon in the Tian Shan, near the border between Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan, is 30 metres (98 feet) deep and 400 metres (1,312 feet) long, its waters bright with dissolved limestone.

Once, this was a regular forested valley

Once, this was a regular forested valley. But in 1911, the enormous Kebin earthquake rocked Kazakhstan, almost levelling the capital, Almaty. The upheaval produced a landslide, effectively blocking off the valley. The rains came, and the forest was drowned.

A ghostly sunken forest

Now its bare trunks stand tall over the water, while below the surface, branches draped in algae reach like ghostly green limbs into the cold lake. The surreal effect is heightened by the blue waters and peaceful setting – while Lake Kaindy is only around 130 kilometres (81 miles) from Almaty as the crow flies, the winding and at times rough roads mean it’s an epic five-hour trip.

Thanks to its 2,000-metre (6,562-foot) altitude, Lake Kaindy is cold – its waters rarely rise much above 6C, even in the summer. That chill has helped preserve the tree trunks, which would otherwise have rotted. The lake freezes in winter, when increasing numbers of people visit for ice diving and trout fishing.

Visiting Lake Kaindy

A four-wheel-drive vehicle is recommended for the final stretch of the route, and while it’s possible to get here on public transport or with a private vehicle, most international visitors come on a tour. The route from Almaty is part of the fun of the trip – you’ll pass desert scenery, rock features and meadows before heading into the mountains.

Lake Kaindy is becoming more popular, but it’s a long way off the tourist trail. Many visitors looking for alpine lakes and fir forests in this part of Kazakhstan stop instead at the more accessible Bolshaya Almatinka valley and the lovely Kolsai Lakes – but they’ll miss this underwater forest.

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