The crystal-clear waters and beautiful surroundings of Kyrgyzstan's Issyk-Kul Lake
in the Tian-Shan Mountains have long been a mecca for tourists.
It is particularly popular with wealthy visitors from Russia and neighboring Kazakhstan who flock to the saltwater lake in hordes every year.
Although the resort's tourism trade initially took a hit after the breakup of the Soviet Union, it has recovered rapidly to become one of Central Asia's most popular holiday destinations.
It is little surprise, therefore, that the area has become a hub of development.
This has seen many formerly state-owned hotels become privatized as entrepreneurs rush to get a slice of the area's lucrative tourist pie.
It's a process that has been causing some controversy, however, with many locals reportedly describing the privatizations
as nothing more than glorified "land grabs."
Under the previous regime of President Kurmanbek Bakiev, local resentment was stoked by the fact that many properties ended up in the hands of Bakiev's friends and family.
More recently, people living beside the lake were irked when the popular Aurora state-owned spa was transferred to the Ministry for State Property, which then announced that the facility was going to be privatized.
According to Eurasianet.org
, the ministry's control of the property had many locals crying foul because it is answerable to Prime Minister Omurbek Babanov, who publicly backed Almazbek Atambaev's successful run for president late last year.
Their suspicions that the privatization may have been Babanov's reward for supporting the president gave rise to a wave of public protests, which eventually resulted in the plan being shelved.
Now, local anger has been focusing on some Kazakh-run resorts, whose murky ownership status
has given rise to allegations of backhanders and backroom deals.
These perceived shady dealings, as well as some clashes between security guards and locals who were denied access to privately owned beaches, have fanned fears that antitourist feelings might be on the rise in the area.
Such a development could spell disaster for the local economy, which is heavily dependent on holidaymakers.
These concerns were compounded by the brutal murder
of a Kazakh tourist near Issyk-Kul last summer.
Local council member Bulan Sogottu has sought to play down such fears, however, although he does admit that private hotel and beach owners could do more to engage constructively with the local population.
“There isn’t so much aggression towards the Kazakhs [tourists] -- they bring money into the region," he told Eurasianet's Chris Rickleton
. "But when some company director tells us we can't walk down to the shores of our own lake -- that causes a problem."
PHOTO GALLERY: Kyrgyzstan's Lake Issyk-Kul