The flooded forest

A giant landslide in 1911 submerged a series of trees in Kazakhstan. But below the surface, the forest is still intact.


They look like the masts of ghost ships, relegated to the lake floor since hundreds of years ago, abandoned in some deserted valley. They are the dead trunks of trees flooded with water around a century ago. The Kaindy Lake is relatively unknown among tourists, but many adventurers flock here; not because of the sights on show above the surface, but because of what lies beneath it.

In 1911, a 7.7-magnitude earthquake shook south-eastern Kazakhstan. It became known as the Kebin earthquake. Nearly 800 brick buildings were erased. People died. Fractures and large landslides were observed across an area spanning 200 kilometres (125 miles) in length. Among them were a limestone landslide on the slopes of the Kungey Alatau mountain range. The masses of rock created a natural barrier just by a forest, which became submerged. The Kaindy Lake was created.


Today the lake is 400 metres long and has a depth of up to 30 metres. It lies south-east of Almaty, the former capital of Kazakhstan and still the country’s largest city. The old forest is made of Schrenk’s Spruce trees, though that is difficult to notice for most visitors. That is, for those who do not know how to dive.

The special thing about the Kaindy Lake is that, below the surface, the trees are still preserved. They are green and rich in growth, just like any other forest. The difference being: they are surrounded by water. Why have these trees, submerged more than a decade ago, not died out? The explanation is based on the water temperature: the lake is located at an altitude of 2,000 metres, and reaches a maximum of 6˚C in the summer. Divers are advised to whip out their thickest wet suit.


For these divers, the forest is a mystical adventure worth exploring. Even when the lake freezes in winter, they gear up, dig through the ice and float in between the trees. It is a natural ghost town; a kind of graveyard for trees. Their branches do no longer sway with the wind, but are drifting slowly with the water, like supersized algae dictated by the tide.

Even above the water, you can see the trees. The lake has taken on a distinct blue colour due to mineral deposits sweeping into it. But close to the surface, the lake is highly transparent. Despite its remote location in the mountains, and the modest quality of the nearby roads, many operators organise tours and accommodation near the lake. They also provide equipment for activities such as horseback riding, fishing – and diving.

Photos: Eduard Kim, Maxim Petrichuk [both via].