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Balykchy Kyrgyz for 'fisherman' is the largest settlement at the western end of Lake Issyk-Kul, and even a cursory glance tells that it is no longer the prosperous town that it once was.
Originally named Kutmady, this town of around 40, was renamed kiybachye during the Soviet era, the Russian equivalent of its present-day name. The railway station still bears this name today, but it is not alone in echoing the name of a bygone age. Following independence in , the town was known for a brief time as Issyk-Kul, but for obvious reasons this caused considerable confusion, and so a couple of years later the Kyrgyz equivalent of its earlier name was settled upon.
Fishing was one of the first industries to develop here in the late 19th century, when Russian colonists settled here and started working the lake on their doorstep. Unfortunately for Balykchy, fishing has not played much of a role in the town's fortunes since independence, and over the past two decades the town has steadily declined to the sorry state it finds itself today.
In Soviet times the town developed as an important transport and industrial centre, with shipping, fishing and shipbuilding all contributing to its economy; now, with the loss of the industrial base that the Soviet Union provided, all of these industries have virtually disappeared, and those who remain face unemployment and little promise for the future.
Consequently, it is hardly surprising that depression, heavy vodka consumption and prostitution are pervasive in the town, given Balykchy's current unhappy lot. The town's main function today is simply as the terminus of a railway line from Bishkek, and as a junction town on the road south to Naryn and China, and the roads to the east that skirt the north and south shores of the lake.