A Giant Salt Flat in Tajikistan? Welcome to Akhkon
Updated August 2023, A Giant Salt Flat in Tajikistan? Welcome to Akhkon was originally published in September 2021
Despite having been to Tajikistan numerous times over the last few years, this was a new one even for me. I couldn’t believe my eyes when my friend Alovaddin sat across a table from me, showing me photos of the Akhkon Salt Flat. More commonly you’ll hear it referred to as the Asht Salt Flat or the Buloq Salt Flat.
In the end, I opted to stay an extra day in Khujand in order to visit both the Akhkon Salt Flat and the abandoned uranium mines of Istiklol (formerly Taboshar).
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A Day Trip to the Akhkon Salt Flat and the Uranium Mines of Istiklol
I decided to make a day trip from Khujand to both Isitklol (formerly Taboshar) to visit the old abandoned uranium mines (more on the uranium mines in another post I’m planning to publish in a few days!) and then to Akhkon’s salt flat (despite one being north of the city and one being east), hiring a car from Abreshim Bus Station for the journey. Following our visit to Istiklol, we drove back toward Khujand before taking a turn east along the bumpy and pock-marked highway toward Asht, making an obligatory shashlik stop en route.
After about an hour and a half of driving from Khujand, we turned off at a giant sign for ‘АХКОН’ written vertically on the south side of the highway. From here we drove slowly down a dirt road that got rougher the further you went (still not bad by Tajik standards) to eventually end up at the blaring white Asht Salt Flat.
We arrived in the later afternoon, as the sun began to reflect golden hues off the geometric patterns of the salt pan with hellacious winds blasting us with burning mid-June Fergana Valley air.
Mahmud, the driver I hired on a whim from Khujand gave me a tour of the Akhkon Salt Flat, showing me the mud baths, a unique feature of this salt flat.
Taking a Mud Bath at the Asht Salt Flat
The eastern end of the Asht Salt Flat is separated by an isthmus of rock, with the northern end being for men and the southern end being the women’s mud baths.
Mahmud gave me a quick rundown on what to do before sending me off to the women’s side and explained that these muds hidden beneath a thick layer of salt had various health benefits.
Both the men’s and women’s sides featured a series of large holes that had been cut through the salt, exposing the mud beneath. Some were round and overflowing with mud while others had varying mixtures of mud and saltwater inside.
Visitors to the Asht Salt Flat first smear some mud on themselves and step their feet in the mud before they lie down in one of the round mounds and cover themselves completely with the black glittery mud.
Once you climb in, you’ll want to bury yourself in the mud, you know, to get the most health potential from this unique muddy spa. After a while, or I guess you’re bored or feel like you’ve received all the benefits of laying in the mud, it’s time to move onto the murky saltwater baths.
The saltwater baths seemed to all feature a line of several rectangular holes cut through the salt and go from most muddy to least muddy in regards to the clarity of the water. I climbed in the muddiest one first as I had been instructed, soaking myself in the salty water and using it to break up the mud I’d accumulated all over.
The water in each of the baths felt strangely thick because of the incredibly high salinity, almost feeling like it was scratching your skin lightly as you rubbed your hands on your arms and legs getting the mud off of you. I made my way down the series of pools to the clearest of them all, getting the final bits of mud off my skin.
Once finished, I went over to a small open-sided tent made of fabric and sticks to undress and wash the salt off my skin using a bottle of fresh water we had stopped along the way out to the Asht Salt Flat to collect from a spring.
No amount of the freshwater I had on hand would have successfully removed the crusty salt layer formed on my skin. So I put my dry clothes on after letting myself dry in the wind and subsequently feeling like I was exfoliating the outer layer of my skin right off.
Looking for other places to check out in the Tajik Fergana Valley? Don’t miss fascinating Istaravshan
Walking across and hiking above the Asht Salt Flat
After bathing in the mud-and-salt baths, I decided to walk across the salt flat- which proved to not have been one of my best ideas. Toward the middle of the salt flat, the top salt layer was quite wet, meaning you would break through the top layer with every step, scratching your ankle bones as you stepped into a wet salty layer below. So you can imagine the nearly unbearable stinging of each step as the salt crept into your cut ankles.
But alas, I was dead in the middle of the salt flat, my destination equidistant from me as the mud baths I started my walk from, so I trudged on- and I now have some nice scars on my ankles as a permanent reminder.
I finally did reach the other side though where I located a good spot to climb up for some epic aerial views of the Asht Salt Flat below. I thought the wind below as I sat in the mud baths and as I walked across the salt flat were bad, but up above it was like being pummeled with a hairdryer while balancing atop a crag (I sat down to take most of the photos up here as it was so windy I though I may get blown back down the hill).
Make sure and add the uranium mines at Taboshar to your Tajik Fergana Valley visit
If you’re curious to see more photos of the Asht Salt Flat, you can check out my friend Alovaddin’s photos on Facebook below.
How to get to the Asht Salt Flat
To get to the Akhon Salt Flat, you first need to get to Abreshim Avtostanitsa. You can reach Abreshim Station by marshrutka #33 and marshrutka #55, as well as several others- most marshrutkas will have a list of their stops posted in the window, though if you’re not sure just peek your head in and ask “Abreshim?“. The marshrutka should cost 1.50 TJS per seat.
Once to Abreshim Avtostanitsa, you’ll want to look for Asht-bound marshrutka and shared taxis. The easiest way to find them is to just ask. Simply just saying “Asht?” to drivers or passersby will get you pointed in the right direction.
You will have a couple of options for reaching the salt flat from here. The cheapest option is to board an Asht-bound (or Buloq-bound) marshrutka (20 TJS). The downside of this option is that you’ll get dropped along the main Khujand-Asht highway at the sign for Akhkon and then will need to walk approximately 6 km to the salt flat.
Another option is to find a shared taxi headed to the Asht Salt Flat, though it’s more likely that you will find them on the weekends. You can expect a seat in a shared taxi to cost around 40 TJS, though you could opt to charter the entire car for around 150 TJS (300 TJS return). If you want to clearly communicate that you want to go to the salt flat, say “Asht Namak?” as namak means salt in Tajik.
Finally, as the Buloq Salt Flat is a popular place for local Khujandis to chill on the weekend, you could try your chances at hitchhiking out there with a family or group of friends.
If you don’t want to deal with the arrangements of getting out here to the salt flat yourself, you can get ahold of my friend Alovaddin. He owns and operates Paramount Journey, based out of Khujand, and can create a custom trip to Asht Salt Flat and beyond in Tajikistan.
Where to Stay near the Asht Salt Flat
On the dirt road leading from the highway to the Asht Salt Flat, there are several small buildings that function as “spas”. More or less, you can sleep at them as they all seem to have a room or two, shower there after taking a mud bath, or just grab a quick bite to eat at them.
Have any questions about visiting the Asht Salt Flat?
Ask in the comments section below.