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After a military garrison was established at nearby Teploklyuchenka (Ak-Suu) in 1864, and it dawned on everybody what a fine spot the area near the lake was – mild climate, rich soil, a lake full of fish, and mountains full of hot springs – the garrison commander was told to scout out a place for a full-sized town. Karakol was founded on 1 July 1869, with streets laid out in a European-style checkerboard, and the garrison was relocated here. The town’s early population had a high proportion of military officers, merchants, professionals and explorers.

It was called Przewalski in Soviet times, after the explorer Nikolai Przewalski, whose last expedition ended here, and who is buried on the lakeshore nearby. The town didn’t escape a trashing by the Bolsheviks. Its elegant Orthodox church lost its domes and became a club; only one small church on the outskirts was allowed to remain open. Of nine mosques (founded by Tatars, Dungans and various Kyrgyz clans), all bar the Dungan’s were wrecked.