FANN MOUNTAINS AND HIKING AND MOUNTAINEERING PLACES IN WESTERN AND NORTHWEST TAJIKISTAN

ROADS IN WESTERN AND NORTHWEST TAJIKISTAN

Roads links Bishkek (Kyrgyzstan), Tursunzade (Tajikistan), Dushanbe (Tajikistan) and Termez (Uzbekistan). Traffic includes farm equipment and many heavy goods vehicles. The road passes through several cities and agricultural areas, but bypasses Tursunzade, an industrial center. Traffic is often congested near the Dunshanbe exit. Traffic levels drop before Tursunzade and are light from Tursunzade to border crossing in Kyrgyzstan. [Source: Association for Safe International Road Travel (ASIRT), 2009]

M-34 Between Dushanbe and the Uzbekistan Border: is a heavily traveled, two-lane and in poor condition. Road crashes involving fatalities occur frequently. The road is part of two international corridors: European corridor E50 and Asian Highway 65, and is the main road linking Dushanbe and cities in Gissar Valley to Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan.

M-34, Bratstvo Border Crossing: is of the most important border crossings between Tajikistan and Uzbekistan. Located on the Dushanbe—Tursunzade—Termez Road. The crossing handles heavy car, truck and pedestrian traffic daily. It has been upgraded to international standards.

M-34 Between Dushanbe and Khujand is sometimes blocked by avalanches or landslided or heavy snow the in winter. The tunnel built near Anzob Pass in the Fan Mountain Range opened in July 2007. According to ASIRT: “The tunnel lacks lighting, ventilation and adequate drainage. Except in the center of the tunnel, deep water may cover the road. Tunnel lining is incomplete, allowing ground water to seep into the tunnel. Rocks or pebbles can fall from the ceiling. Guards often close the tunnel, but some will accept payment to allow travelers to pass. Traveling through the uncompleted tunnel is not recommended. Work on the tunnel was suspended due the global economic crisis. When completed, the tunnel should keep the M 34 open all year. Using it shortens travel from Dushanbe to Khujand by four to five hours. The tunnel’s name may also be translated as Istiqlol, Esteqlal, Anzub or Anzab..

Fann Mountains

Fann Mountains (also spelled Fan Mountains) lie within western and northwestern Tajikistan but can also be easily reached from Samarkand in Uzbekistan. One of Central Asia’s most appealing trekking destinations, these mountains are rocky and barren but punctuated by valleys with lovely lakes, towering cliffs and pastures used by Tajik shepherds. The region was unaffected by fighting in the Tajik civil war.

The Fann mountains were nominated to be a UNESCO World Heritage site in 2006. According to a report submitted to UNESCO: Situated within the mountain ranges of the Pamir-Alai, the Fann Mountains are the most significant mountain massif among the whole system of Zerafshan and Hissar mountain ridges. This relatively small but high mountain junction is represented by group of short but high ridges. The orographical scheme of Fann massif are as the follows: the Zerafshan ridge ranges from west to east as irregular arc and crossed by two meridional ridges— west, connecting Zerafshan and Hissar ridges, and East — beginning from Pasrud river on the South and going up to the Iskanderkul Lake. In the crossing places of these ridges are the higher mountain tops, including Chimtarga (5487 meters) and Ganza (5415 meters). There is a concentration of seven peaks over 5000 meters high here and several dozen peaks over 4000 meters.” [Source: State Committee on environment conservation and forestry of the Republic of Tajikistan, UNESCO]

By some reckoning the Fann Mountains include the ridges of the Gissar and Turkestan mountain ranges on the southwestern of the Pamir-Alay. By other reckoning there are separate. Among the most beautiful and interesting peaks in the Fann Mountains ffrom a mountaineer’s point of view are Chapdara (5,050 meters), Bodkhona (5,138 meters), Zamok (5,070 meters), Maria (4,970 meters), Mirali (5,120 meters), Energiya (5105 meters) and Zindon (4,800 meters). Both the good and the ordinary routes on the south and west sides of Chimtarga (5,487 meters), the highest peak of Fann Mountains, lead to its top. The Fann Mountains also contains ancient, historical and cultural sites. [Source: Tourism Information Portal of Tajikistan]

The Fann Mountains embrace a beautiful and unique mountain landscape with glaciers a sort distance away from deserts and wonderful mountain lakes such as Chapdara and Alaudin. There are juniper forests and groves. Rare species of plants recognized by the Red Book of the Republic of Tajikistan include Sumbul ferule, Persian unium, Vavilov’s almond, waterfall poplar and Nevskii honeysuckle. There are more than 2,000 species of plant in the Fann Mountains, including many medicinal herbs. Up to 2,200 meters there are many orchards where walnut, poplar, birch, sallow, hawthorn, sea-buckthorn, barberry, dog-rose, and currant bushes grow. Above 3,200 meters the trees disappear and the mountain slopes are covered by alpine meadows. Wild animals include snow leopard (ounce), white-claw bear, mountain goat (teke), argali sheep, wild boar, wolf, fox, rabbit, marmot, ermine (mustela) is just a small sample of this mountain area’s wildlife. As for birds, there are bearded eagles, golden eagles, Turkestanic desert falcon, Asian moufflon and Tetraogallus himalayensis. mountain geese, snowcocks, partridges, pigeons, eagles, gryphons, hawks, and many others.

Visiting the Fann Mountains

The Fann Mountains are a popular tourist destination and are convenient for visiting. The area can be reached by car: 1) from Dushanbe via the Anzob Pass; 2) from Panjakent in the direction of Aini; and 3) from Khujand via the Shahriston Pass. It can also be reached by helicopter.

A paved road from Dushanbe goes goes to Lake Iskandarkul in the Fann Mountains via 3,372-meter-high Anzob Pass. Another paved road runs from Panjakent. One more road from Khujand runs through Istravashan (formerly Uroteppa) via 3,351-meter-high Shahriston Pass. [Source: Tourism Information Portal of Tajikistan]

Situated in the Sughd region, Aini and Panjakent districts, the Fann Mountains are bordered to the north by the Zaravshan range, the Hissar range to the south, the Yaghnob and Fan Darya Rivers to the east and Marguzor lakes valley to the west.. The Fann Mountains area road system includes both paved and unpaved roads. There are many hiking trails. It is possible to spend several days hiking: going from one valley to another, form from one beautiful lake to another, checking out rocky outcrops, the occasional hanging glaciers, and snowcapped peaks along the way

You can also reach the Fann Mountains from Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan. There are places where you can can cross the border where there is no border guard. If you do this it is a good idea to check the situation before you try and have a Tajikistan visa. Sometimes people are allowed in with an Uzbekistan visa. Check the Lonely Planet books, websites or forums.

Since ancient times, the Fann Mountains’ valleys have been populated by highlanders. When you look at some villages on the steep slopes, it appears that the whole mountain is one high-rise building. Flat-roof houses go up the slope step-by-step in such a way that the roof of those living below serves as a courtyard for the people living above. Some homestays and guest houses are available in some these houses. You can also camp and stay at a mountaineering hut or lakeside hostel. Besides hiking and mountain-climbing, you can enjoy whitewater rafting, mountain biking, paragliding, downhill skiing and snowshoeing.

The best time to visit the Fann Mountains is between mid June and October when the weather is usually dry and warm, and the sun shines brightly the whole day. Sometimes, even at the relatively low altitude of the Kulikalon lakes (2,800 meters) it can suddenly snow, even in midsummer. In November — May there is a high risk of avalanches on mountain slopes and numerous mountain passes become impassible.

Lakes of Fann Mountains

There are also about 30 clear lakes of a variety of colors and sizes in the Fann Mountains fed by streams that originate in the range’s snow fields and glaciers. One small lake located by Iskanderkul is called Zamin Mulla (of a snake) because of abundance of eels in the water of this lake. Kulikalon, the second biggest lake in Fann Mountains, is located in the southern edge of the big Kulikalon kettle at the height of 2800 meters. Its name in Russian is “Bolshoe Ozero” (Big Lake).

The entire Kulikalon kettle is a grouping of moraine lakes. The highest one is Dyushaka (3000 meters). Descending from the debris path of an old moraine, one reaches Lake Bibi-Jonat, surrounded by forests. This lake overflows into wide Kulisiyoh (Black Lake). There are three distinctive lakes in the Chukurak gorge: Chukurak, Beliy (White), and Ziyorat. Alaudin Lake is considered one of the most beautiful.

Ascending upwards on the Ang River one comes to the Lake Ankatad, a tranquil body of water whose banks are covered with dense green grass. The Lake Maliy Allo is located on the right bank of the Zindon River. Sometimes light blue and sometimes emerald green the lake is nestled among birch and willow trees and sea-buckthorn.

Bolshoi (Greater) and Allo Lake (3,360 meters) in the Zindon Valley have been formed relatively recently. In 1916 there was a msssive landslide on the southern slopes of the main range of the Fann Mountains, which blocked the valley and formed a dam from which the lakes were created. “Allo” means “echo” in Tajik. On the right and left sides of the lake are sheer cliffs, on the north, among giant boulders, is narrow passage, where the Levy (Left) Zindon River emerge from the mountains, which includes Moscow Peak (5,183 meters) and three other 5,000-meter-high peaks — Mirali, Chimtarga, and Energiya. Over the Bolshoi Lake there are abandoned fluorite quarries in which it is possible to find beautiful gemstones.

Lake Iskanderkul

Lake Iskanderkul lies in the heart of the Fann Mountains and has been called the gem of Tien Shan. The lake is triangular in shape, cover 3.5 square kilometers and has a maximum depth of 70 meters. The fast-flowing river Iskanderdarya that flows out of the lake forms a lovely 38-meter-high waterfall called “Fanskaya Niagara”. Around the lake are towering snowcapped peaks.

Iskander is the Central Asian name for Alexander the Great. According to legend, Alexander the Great passed via the Fann Mountains with his army and stopped, where his favorite horse — Bucephalus — drowned. Another legend says that when Alexander invaded of this area, the freedom-loving mountaineers who inhabited the region revolted and harassed Alexander’s army with frequent attacks. This infuriated Alexander who ordered to dam built upriver from the main city of Sogdians, flooding it. That city now sits, according to the legend, under Iskanderkul.

Situated to the south of the main range, Lake Iskandarkul is 2.5 kilometers long and one kilometer wide and sits at an altitude of 2,255 meters. It was created several thousand years ago as the result of a landslide. The water in the lake is bluish-green, slightly turbid and very cold, so few swim in it. There is a hostel on its shore. The Serima River flows into the lake from the north, the Saritag River flows into it from the west and the Hazor-Mech River flow in from the south,. Only one river — the Iskandar-Darya — flows out of the lake. It has a waterfall which can be seen after short hike. Almost no fish live in the lake because of the lake’s high mineral contents. Only small loach (similar to catfish) survive in such water.

Next to the lake is Chulboi Mountain (3,358 meters), also known as Dozhdemernaya (Rain Gauge) Mountain. It was called this after a precipitation gauge was set up near the mountain top. There are good paths leading to the top, which is flat and covered with grass. A panoramic view of Lake Iskandarkul and its vicinity is visible from there. Iskandarkul’s flora is not particularly abundant but it is exceptionally diverse. You will come across forest, steppe, meadow and high mountain flora (everything from apricot-trees to moss and lichens) there. Near the lake one can sometimes see rabbits, foxes, wolves, red marmots, black and brown bears, mountain goats and their companions — palang (snow leopards) and other animals. As for birds, mountain turkeys (snowcocks), stone partridges, griffons, and quails are also found here. [Source: Tourism Information Portal of Tajikistan]

Alauddin Lakes

The Alauddin Lakes are located in the Pasrud valley. All the lakes are situated on the steps of ancient and modern moraines. Pure, clear water pours from one step into another and the level of water in the lake remains constant. There are no fish in the lakes. The water is very cold. It is possible to camp beside the lakes. Along all of their shores there are juniper forests and clif faces of the reddish two-kilometer-long Chapdara Wall. If you climb up to the Alauddin Lakes Pass you will see the lakes in their various shades of blue: from light-blue near the shore to dark-blue in the middle with clear borders separating the various shades. Higher up the Chapdara River there is a beautiful view of the valley with majestic rock faces on both sides. [Source: Tourism Information Portal of Tajikistan]

The difference in altitude between the upper and lower lakes is 692 meters. All the lakes, except for Hazorchashma Lake, were formed by the creation of landslide dams. Marguzor Lake, the largest lake of the “Seven Beauties”, is 4.5 kilometers long, 45 meters deep, with brilliant blue water. The lake sits at 2,200 meters above sea level. Near the lake you can see petroglyphs on limestone outcrops. There are also the remains of an ancient mine where it is easy to find unusually-coloured stones. The northern slope of Marguzor Lake dam is a dense grove of high trees and fragrant herbs, and creeks running through the the natural dam. Lake Nofin is two kilometers and 400 meters wide and has greenish water. There are deep caves near the harsh and cold Hazorchashma Lake. In one of them you can also find minerals such as malachite, rock crystal, and antimonite.

The water in Lake Soya is an astonishingly beautiful colour. The water fades through all the shades of blue and sometimes even appears purple. At the bottom of the lake you can see stones through water which change colour according to the position of the sun. Nezhigon Lake is the pearl of the whole Marguzor Lakes chain. It is not very big and is surrounded by cliffs. The turquoise water which fills the deep hollow appears frozen. An overhang from the snow-topped mountain above the lake shines like a halo and is very pleasing to the eye. The water in the lake is warm enough to swim in.

Rock Climbing in the Fann Mountains

According to the Tourism Information Portal of Tajikistan: Chapdara Wall (next to the Alauddin lakes) “faces northwest and hence reflects an astonishing gold colour during sunset. On the opposite side of the valley is the Adamtash (Stone Man, 4,940 meters) massif with vertical bulwarks on its northwest face. From the mountaineers camp a route leads along the northern ridge directly to the top. If you climb up from the lakes along the valley then within two hours you will reach the beautiful Mutnye (Muddy) Lakes (3,490 meters), located in the circle between the slopes of two mountains — on the western side Zamok and on the eastern Chimtarga. The vertical bulwarks of Bodkhona and then Zamok, riding one after another, appear to your left as you cover the two last steep ascents. [Source: Tourism Information Portal of Tajikistan]

“The northeastern Chapdara Wall rises from a side valley located a lot lower than the base camp. This is a 1,500 meters, almost vertical, smooth, rocky cliff-face. It ends with a huge semicircle and opens up the to the whole Fann Mountains region — a wonderful sight for those who have braved the 10—12 long hours of snaking mountain roads built along the tops of cliffs hundreds of meters deep. A very pretty view begins at the Kaznok Pass (4,000 meters) on the incredible south and west cliffs of Chimtarga Peak with a formidable sub-peak bulwark, through which a number of complex rocky routes run in parallel. Mutnye Lakes is a good base camp from which to attempt these cliffs. There is no vegetation in the lakes area; all that exists is rubble. The grand northern cliffs of the Adamtash (with a 1,000 meters cliff-face), Maria and Mirali (with 1,500 meters clifffaces) enclose the valley, hanging over the scenic Dushokha Lake each with its formidable magnificence. There are actually two lakes — the Upper and the Lower with a narrow strip of land between them. The two-hour climb up from Lake Kulikalon will take you to the grand northern cliff of Maria Peak, which has a complex combination of routes and its own cold microclimate with a cliff-face of more than 1,500 meters.

“Alauddin Peak (4,237 meters), rising to the west of the Alauddin lakes, serves as a good point from which to view the area and can also be used for the first part of the climb from Alauddin Pass (3,730 meters). It is practical to camp here overnight to acclimatize (it is 2—3 hours walk from the lakes). The Pravy (Right) Zindon Valley, the northern cliff of Zindon Peak (“Prison Peak” — 4,800 meters), encloses the surrounding area, making the scenery gloomy. The one kilometersvertical cliff with an ice “ceiling” at the top can be very intimidating. Climbing becomes hard here since the rocks are always damp-water flowing down leaves black marks on the cliff. The Marguzor Lakes are small reservoirs including Nezhigon, Soya, Gushor, Nofin, Khurdak, Marguzor, and Hazorchashma. They are situated in the southwest branches of the Zaravshan range, 2-3 hours drive from Panjakent”.

Turkestan Range

Turkestan Range is a region of mountains along the Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan. One of the northern extensions of the Pamir-Alay system, the Turkestan Range stretches for a total length of 340 kilometers from the Alay Mountains on the border of Kyrgyzstan with Tajikistan to the Samarkand oasis in Uzbekistan. It runs in the east-west direction, north of the Zeravshan Range, forming the southern boundary of the Ferghana Valley in Tajikistan and Golodnaya Steppe in Uzbekistan. [Source: Wikipedia]

The Turkestan ridge area is poorly surveyed because of its length and inaccessibility. This area has many walls and peaks which have not been explored. The highest elevations are in the east, near the border with Kyrgyzstan. The maximum elevation is the Pik Skalisty at 5,621 meters (18,442 ft). Glaciation occurs especially in the east. The southern slopes are bare cliffs and mountain steppe; the northern slopes are covered with forests. A highway through the Shakhristan Pass at 3,378 meters (11,083 ft) connects the capital Dushanbe with Khujand in Northern Tajikistan (Sughd Province). The Turkestan Range is where the Japanese geologists were abducted (See Below). .

Zakaznik Kusavlisay (north of Shahristan pass of Dushanbe- Hodjent road) is a botanical zakaznik (reserve) situated on the North slopes of Turkestan mountain ridge. Nominated to be a UNESCO World Heritage site in 2006, it is contiguous with Republic of Uzbekistan on the west. True altitudes in the pass points reach 2700-3000 meters. The north steep slope is very stony. According to a report submitted to UNESCO: “The main of establishment of the reserve is conservation of juniper forest massif. Its vegetation is represented by three species of juniper: zerafshan, turkestan and semigloboza. The fauna of the zakaznik is very rich. Juniper forests are the place of habitat of tolai hare, bears, wild boars, mountain sheep, goats and others.” [Source: State Committee on environment conservation and forestry of the Republic of Tajikistan UNESCO] .

Ak Suu Valley

Ak Suu Valley (120 kilometers to the south of Khujand city, on the Tajikistan-Kyrgyzstan border) in the Turkestan Range is known as "the Patagonia of Central Asia" among rock climbers. Ak-Suu area is distinguishes by its beauty of its rugged nature, unusual gorges and passes. Among the that exceed 5000 meters are Ak-Suu (5355 meters), Block (5239 meters) and Iskander (5120 meters). These mountains are formed from compact granite with minor “hooks” and cracks. The walls have heights drops up to 1500 meters. The main attraction, 5359-meter-high Ak Suu Peak is a pyramid-shaped peak with a spectacular two-kilometer-high rock face. Independent hikers can reach the foot of the wall.

Ak Suu lies within Kyrgyzstan trekkers approach it from Uzbekistan through Tajikistan. This makes the visa and trekking permit situation tricky and there isn’t much public transport to the starting points of the hikes. Thus it advisable to do the trip with a travel agency that specializes in doing the trip.

Treks to Ak Suu Valley begin from the Tajik village of Ozergeryosh, which can be reached by minibus or shared taxi from Isfana, which has a military check point and can be reached by bus from Khujand. The Ak Suu base camp can be reached in a long day of hiking from Ozergeryosh. The route follows the Lyailyak Valley and then the Ak Suu (“White Water”) river and valley.

From the base there are hikes to the rock wall of Ak Suu peak and the surrounding glaciers. Destinations of longer treks include 4390-meter-high Ak Tyubek Pass, the Karavshin Valley, the Ashat Valley and the glaciers around 5282-meter-high Sabakh Peak. For more detail check the Lonely Planet guide.

Karavshin: a Rock Climbers Paradise

Karavshin Gorge is situated in the Turkestan Range. This marvelous piece of nature contains rocky mountains, fast flowing rivers, clean spring waters, and green meadows. It much resembles the South American Steppes, giving itself the nickname "The Asian Patagonia," as deemed by lovers of the outdoors.

According to the Kyrgyz Alpine Club: The canyons are located on the northern slopes of the Turkestanskyi range and administrated by Lyalakskyi raion of the Batken oblast. This is “paradise” for climbers. Rocks of the region are similar to Southern Patagonia by its structure and composition. It’s sometimes referred as Kyrgyz Patagonia but unlike the original weather is much warmer here and extent of walls is much longer. For example, the northern wall of Ak-Suu peak is 2,000 m high. Rocks are composed with solid, monolith granites, limestones and sandstones. Great opportunity for technical climbs on the known routes as well as first ascents and new routes are at climber’s disposal. Warm weather settles from mid June till September. Major precipitation is in autumn.

“The first climbers visited area in 1936 during geological expeditions. Their names are well-known: Vitalyi and Eugenie Abalakovi, Maleinov, Austrian mountaineer Lorenz Saladin and the others. Then they unsuccessfully endeavored to ascent the highest peak of the region Piramidalnyi (5,509m). Since that time the region has been forgotten for almost 50 years. The modern exploration started in 1982 with the Russian expedition under leadership of Leonid Trochinenko to the Lyalak gorge. Later in 1986 Karavshin gorge was chosen as the ground for Climbing Championship of the USSR.

“This one region has more extremely difficult routes of grade B than in all Kyrgyzstan (more than 100). There are more than 50 grade 2-5 routes in the area. The region is accessed by road from Osh and Batken towns. Beside main road there is also air service connecting Bishkek with Osh and Batken. If you go to Laylak, you should first drive to Katran village and from there one day hike or horse riding to the climbing start. If going to Karavshin, you should drive to Vorukh village and from there one day walk or horse riding. The rout to Karavshin lies through Tadjik enclave Vorukh. For each crossing it’s required to have Tadjik visa (if your country has visa system with Tadjikistan). However, this issue can be “solved” right at the spot though there is no guarantee. Usually to deliver loads from the end of the road to base camps horses are used and can be rented right in the villages. Fresh fruit and vegetables of good quality are available here and even cheaper than in Bishkek or Osh. Other supplies, petrol for primus stoves and gas is better to stock in Osh or Bishkek. The region is in the border area and special permit is required.”

Problems with Islamic Groups in Northern Tajikistan and Southern Kyrgyzstan

In mid-August of 1999, Islamic militant entered Kyrzgzstan from Tajikistan and kidnaped 120 people and captured five villages in the Pamir mountains in the Batken region around Osh. Most of the hostages were soon released but four Japanese mining engineers and two other men were held hostage. The four Japanese had been by the Japan International Cooperative Agency. During the hostage ordeal the Kyrgyz government launched air strikes and a firefight broke out between the militants holding the hostage and Kyrgyz troops. The Japanese were reportedly freed after a $2 million to $6 million ransom was paid.

Garth Willis of alpinefund.org wrote: In the summers of 1999 and 2000, localized skirmishes erupted along the southern borders. The well-publicized kidnapping and subsequent escape of four American climbers in Karavshin projected the image that all of Kyrgyzstan was a dangerous place. These events, followed by the attacks of September 11 and then SARS in 2003, almost ended tourism. During these years the few expeditions in the region never saw a soul. <> [Source: Garth Willis, alpinefund.org, July 2004 <>]

“In 1999 when Islamic fundamentalists crossed the border over an unguarded mountain pass and kidnapped a large group of Japanese geologists. This event was followed in 2000 by more kidnappings of Americans, Germans, and Ukrainians. The government dispatched troops to rescue the remaining hostages and turn back the incursion, but during the ensuing battles and rescue of the hostages, 32 Kyrgyz soldiers were killed. All hostages were released or escaped unharmed. The government removed the local shepherds who inhabited the high pastures and prohibited outsiders from entering. To prevent further incursions the governments of Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan have placed land mines in the high mountain passes in border areas. Due to border disputes, there is debate where the borders are drawn, creating confusion as to where these mines were laid.” <>

“ The U.S. government recommends not traveling to this area due to the political instability and the existence of land mines. For these reasons potential climbers should go only to the area with reputable local companies and be accompanied at all times by local guides. The specific climbing area described here has no reports of mines, but climbers should be aware of potential dangers in the region. Independent travel to this region is strongly discouraged, but a well-organized expedition can safely visit the granite walls of the Karavshin. In 2003 Czech climbers visited the region and had no problems.” <>..

Image Sources: Wikimedia Commons

Text Sources: Tourism Information Portal of Tajikistan traveltajikistan.tj, Tajikistan government websites, UNESCO, Wikipedia, Lonely Planet guides, New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, National Geographic, The New Yorker, Bloomberg, Reuters, Associated Press, AFP, Japan News, Yomiuri Shimbun, Compton's Encyclopedia and various books and other publications.

Updated in August 2020

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