Fann Mountains, Fann Mountains Guide, Tajikistan, Tajikistan travel, Tajikistan travel guide, Tajikistan guide, Fann Mountains, Iskanderkul, Tajikistan

Iskanderkul & Sarytag Travel Guide

Updated November 2023, Iskanderkul & Sarytag Travel Guide was originally written in December 2019

Iskanderkul is a massive mountain lake, easily reachable from Dushanbe or Panjakent. I’ve now visited Iskanderkul several times, typically at the end of a longer trek. But if you’re short on time, or just aren’t into trekking for days on end and want to get a taste of the Fann Mountains, a visit to Iskanderkul is the perfect solution.

Iskanderkul translates out to ‘Alexander’s Lake’, named after Alexander the Great, of course. Several legends surround the lake’s existence around Alexander the Great, but the reality is that Iskanderkul’s existence is owed to an earthquake.

A landslide, triggered by an earthquake, dammed the Sarytag River long ago and allowed the valley to fill with water. And though the water’s color looks straight from the Caribbean, it’s frigid, owing to the lake’s altitude at 2,195 meters.

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Read more about all the treks around the Fann Mountains


12 day Fann Mountains trek

Wanna join an epic trek in the Fann Mountains?

I will be leading a 12 day trek that takes in the best of Tajikistan’s Fann Mountains this summer! The trek will take place June 12-23, 2024, and begin and end in the Tajik capital of Dushanbe. Spots are filling quickly, so click here if you’d like to join or see the full Fann Mountains trek itinerary and details.

How To Get To Iskanderkul

No matter where you are in Tajikistan, you’ll first need to get to Sarvoda (more precisely nearby Zeravshan II) in order to get to Iskanderkul. Zeravshan II, which is only a couple of kilometers from Sarvoda is where the turn-off to Iskanderkul is.

From Dushanbe To Sarvoda

Shared taxis depart the Cement Zavod Taxi Stand, just north of the city to destinations north of Dushanbe. Most any car will take you for a fee of about 65 TJS per seat, but do expect to negotiate to get that price.


Plan your time in the Tajik capital with the Dushanbe Travel Guide


From Panjakent To Sarvoda

From Panjakent, you can usually find shared taxis departing toward Dushanbe leaving from out front the bazaar or from the bus station located about 2 km east of town. Plan to pay about 50 TJS per seat.


Spending a day in Panjakent? Read the Panjakent Travel Guide for ideas
Coming from Uzbekistan? Check out the Samarkand-Panajkent Border Crossing Guide for info

and plan your perfect trip with my two week Uzbekistan & Tajikistan itinerary


From Khujand To Sarvoda

Shared taxis will depart Khujand toward Dushanbe from Yova Bus Station for about 120 TJS per seat.


Going to the Tajik Fergana Valley? Check out my Khujand and Istaravshan guides


Sarvoda To Iskanderkul

Once to Sarvoda you’ll be dropped off at the bridge into town and accosted as soon as the door opens by drivers shouting Iskanderkul! and Alovaddin! It will take a bit of negotiating, but you can expect to get a car from Sarvoda to Iskanderkul or Sarytag for about 200-250 TJS. Finding others to cost-share with will likely take some time waiting around in Sarvoda, but you can expect to pay 50 TJS per seat if you wait for the car to fill up.

Should I Stay In Iskanderkul Or Sarytag?

If you want to wake up lakeside for epic sunrise views of Iskanderkul then I recommend staying in one of the guesthouses on the shores of the lake, otherwise, Sarytag is a lot more lively than Iskanderkul. Neither is a bad option and I have stayed in both Sarytag and in Iskanderkul several times.

Things To Do In Iskanderkul

Iskanderkul, Chulboi, Tajikistan, Fann Mountains

Relax On The Beach

You’ll find a few pebbly beaches along Iskanderkul’s shores, perfect for relaxing or having a picnic.

Take A Boat Out On The Lake

From the Turbaza, popular with local weekenders it’s possible to go on a boat ride around Iskanderkul for about 50 TJS.


Start planning the rest of your Tajikistan trip: The Ultimate Tajikistan Travel Guide


Iskanderkul, Fann Mountains, Tajikistan, Chulboi
Note dome-shaped Chulboi Peak

Hike To The Top Of Chulboi

The iconic dome-shaped mountain you see in many of the photos online of Iskanderkul is nicknamed ‘Dozhdemernaya’ meaning rain gauge after a precipitation gauge was set up on top, but its real name is Chulboi. The summit is at 3,343 meters and can be reached in about 4 hours from Iskanderkul. Ask locals around Iskanderkul how to get to the trail, as many shepherds will know the trail.


Looking for more hiking ideas? Check out the 10 best treks in Tajikistan


Snake Lake, Zmenioe Lake, Tajikistan, Fann Mountains
Zmeinoe Lake

Walk To Zmeinoe (Snake) Lake

A short walk from the Turbaza on Iskanderkul will bring you up a hill and eventually down to the shores of Zmeinoe, the snake lake. Named this because there are a high number of snakes that live around the small manmade lake thanks to its warmer temperatures. But don’t worry, I still have never seen a snake around snake lake… but do be warned I’ve been several snakes in the Fann Mountains area of Tajikistan.

Trek To Fanns Niagra

Not too far from Snake Lake, you’ll make your way along the gorge and eventually to a waterfall the locals have nicknamed the Fanns Niagra. The waterfall is about 20 minutes walking from the Turbaza.

Iskanderkul, Fann Mountains, Tajikistan

Hike The Shores Of Iskanderkul

In about 8 hours’ time you can walk a complete circle around Iskanderkul. Once you reach the President’s Dacha, there’s a trail that leads off the main road and will continue back to where the road reaches the shores of Iskanderkul from the highway.

Things To Do In Sarytag

Kick It In The Village

Sarytag is a small Tajik mountain village, and while there aren’t any major attractions in the village itself, it’s interesting enough to spend a day walking around the village and meeting locals.

Karakul River Valley, Sarytag, Tajikistan, Fann Mountains
Karakul River Valley as viewed from Dukdon Pass

Trek Along The Karakul River Valley

If you follow the road out of Sarytag you’ll eventually find yourself meandering through a forest along the banks of the Karakul River Valley, which is especially beautiful in the autumn with yellow and orange leaves raining to the ground. You’ll also follow the Karakul River from Sarytag if you plan to take the Kaznok Pass, Dukdon Pass, or Mura Pass trails from Sarytag to tie into other parts of the Fann Mountains.

Make A Day Trip Up The Arkh River To Maslokhateppe

Leaving Sarytag along the Karakul River as previously mentioned will quickly bring you to the confluence of the Arkh and Karakul Rivers. If you follow the Arkh River northwest from the Karakul Valley, you’ll eventually reach an area called Maslokhateppe, a popular high pasture that local shepherds take their animals to graze and nearby to an old Soviet weather station and shepherd settlement.

It’s a long day trip to return back to Sarytag in the evening, so get an early start, or you can easily bring gear and camp in Maslokhateppe. You can continue further from Maslokhateppe and either cross Kishinevskii Pass to Biriuzovoe Lake and continue over Dvainoi Pass to Vierkhyni Allo and Bolshoi Allo Lakes, or cross Kaznok Pass to Mutnyi Lake.

Dukdon Pass, Fann Mountains, Sughd, Tajikistan, Central Asia
Views of the Dukdon Range

Start Or End Your Multi-Day Trek In The Fann Mountains Here

Sarytag is a great base to begin or end a longer Fann Mountains trek from. Some more popular multi-day treks that can be done starting or ending here are:

Click here to read about the several variations of treks that can be done from Sarytag.

Where To Stay In Iskanderkul

Each year more and more accommodations pop up along the shores of Iskanderkul. Two of the most well-known are the Turbaza, which is located right on the shore of the lake, and Shezok which is right next to the bridge as you approach the lake from the highway.

Rooms at the Turbaza were going for 150 TJS per night with breakfast and dinner, and at Shezok for 120 TJS per night including breakfast and dinner. Contact ZTDA to book either accommodation.

Sarytag, Fann Mountains, Tajikistan
Coming up on Sarytag

Where To Stay In Sarytag

A number of homes in Sarytag second as guesthouses, two of the most well-known are Dilovar Homestay and Shahboz Guesthouse.

Dilovar speaks decent English and can help arrange trekking and further transport, rooms at his guesthouse are 200 TJS per night including breakfast and dinner. Contact Dilovar at +992 927882235 or book online through ZTDA.

Shahboz Guesthouse books up in advance a lot of the time with rooms including breakfast and dinner starting at 150 TJS per night. Contact ZTDA to reserve a bed.

Packing List

Recommended Gear

Electronics

Maps

Food

  • Dehydrated meals such as Mountain House (you’ll need to stock up before leaving home)
  • Trail mix
  • Jerky
  • Dried fruit and nuts (easily purchased at a bazaar)
  • Peanut butter
  • Spice packets
  • Olive oil for cooking
  • Hot sauce (bring from home to jazz up bland food)
  • Instant mashed potatoes (so unhealthy, but I love them after a long trekking day)
  • Fresh veggies, noodles, bread, rice, and more can be purchased at a bazaar prior to setting out for your trek)

Toiletries

Clothing

Guide Books

  • Trekking in Tajikistan by Jan Bakker & Christine Oriol. You’ll find detailed descriptions of these hikes as well as those in the Pamirs in this book.
  • Tajikistan and the High Pamirs by Robert Middleton & Hue Thomas. This is a huge book, but it has so much good info on Tajikistan from history, great-game stories, travel information, and more.
  • Bradt Guide Tajikistan by Sophie Ibbotson & Max Lovell-Hoare. The most comprehensive guide to  Tajikistan in print.
  • Central Asia by Lonely Planet. Handy to have with you, although don’t necessarily treat it as a bible. Things rapidly change and the currency can fluctuate so it’s not always dead on. A new edition published in 2018 and I heavily question whether the writer in charge of the Tajikistan section had ever stepped foot in the country, you’ve been warned.
  • The Central Asia Phrasebook by Lonely Planet I found this to be a handy item for Tajik, Russian and Kyrgyz phrases, not so much for the Wakhi phrase section.

Getting Out Of Sarytag & Iskanderkul

Getting back to Dushanbe, Panjakent, Khujand or beyond from Iskanderkul and Sarytag shouldn’t be too problematic. You can usually arrange transport in the form of a shared taxi from most guesthouses in the area to Sarvoda and beyond. Most mornings a car does leave Sarytag for Dushanbe.


Heading back for Dushanbe? Find out the best things to do and plan your visit to Dushanbe


Have Any Questions About Visiting Iskanderkul Or Sarytag?

Ask in the comments section below.

More Posts from Tajikistan:

3 thoughts on “Iskanderkul & Sarytag Travel Guide, Tajikistan”

  1. Hello Nicki – its me again (I wrote in another of your posts Re: Uzbekistan / Tajikistan 2 weeks itinerary). My flights are confirmed Oct 2nd to Oct 17th; and the Uzbekistan portion of the trip I have it “clear” (2 full days in each of the 4 cities). Now for Tajikistan I am still changing my mind often as not a lot of info and real recommendations besides Fann mountains ansd Pamir highway.
    So far, this is my idea in Tajik:
    – Thu Oct 10th – Late afternoon border crossing Samarkand -> Penjakent and sleep in PJK
    – Fri Oct 11th – HaftKul and afternoon sightsee Penjakent (is it really worth to walk around?)
    – Sat Oct 12th – Early morning drive to Iskanderkul -> spend the day in Iskanderkul and sleep either in Sarytag or in the lake (what would be better?)
    – Sun Oct 13th – Noon drive to Khujand
    – Mon Oct 14th – Khujand and border crossing to Tashkent

    My questions are:
    – Do you think it will be possible to hire a driver in Pankajent that will drive us (2pp) to Iskanderkul, stay the night, and next day drive us to Khujand? How should we arrange it? Any estimation of a reasonable price? (including his accommodation). Maybe with this same driver we can arrange a “combo” and could be the same that will drive us to Haftkul the day before?
    – The dates (Oct 12/13) would still be a good time to spend a night in Iskanderkul / Sarytag?
    – Is Khujand really worth a full day? Is it a walkable city and enjoyable? (just want to be sure if it is worth it or is more likely a “filler” in the trip)
    – Istaravshan? Should I borrow ~2-3 hours from Khujand and have a quick visit to Istaravshan?

    Thanks a lot Nicky, and sorry for so many questions but it is not easy to have real advise for these and I find mostly counter opinions (as always) stating that Khujand and Istaravshan are not so interesting towns… so maybe I can skip them and go directly to Tashkent. And with 3 full days in Tashkent might trip to go ~2 days to eastern Uzbekistan.

    1. Hi Jorge,
      I think the easiest plan would be to hire a driver through your accommodation in Panjakent for the remainder of your itinerary. In terms of cost, Panjakent-Iskanderkul/Sarytag-Istaravshan-Khujand is roughly 400 km, so I’d estimate $250-400 USD quote for a private driver but if you arrange on the fly you could probably negotiate lower. Usually the cost of the driver’s accommodation and food is $15-20 per day.

      One thing I would say about those dates in Iskanderkul is that there’s a decent likelihood that many accommodations around the lake will have closed for the season (I’ve been out there mid-Oct before and this was the case), however, if given advanced notice you can easily make a booking and stay in one of the lakeside guesthouses. You would be better to stay in Sarytag if you aren’t making advance plans as Sarytag is more truly a village, whereas Iskanderkul is scattered and feels more like a weekend getaway spot in comparison.

      For Khujand and Istaravshan, personally I love both but you will see much grander architecture in Samarkand and Bukhara across the border. So I’d say they aren’t absolute must-visits for your trip. Istaravshan just has a really nice feel to it and they don’t get heaps of travelers coming through so I find the people to be very welcoming and curious. It’s safe to call it a baby Samarkand without the crowds. Khujand has more of a modern city feel to it in comparison to Istaravshan. Istaravshan you can easily tick all the highlights in a couple of hours- and don’t miss the giant Lenin bust outside of town if you’re going there and have a driver, he’s pretty impressive. Khujand can easily be done in a day but if you’re a huge history buff you could spend more time. If you have time to spare, there’s a giant salt flat a little over an hour away, you’ll here it called Asht or Buloq by most but I had went to the shared taxi stand when I visited and just said “Asht namak” (namak is salt in Tajik) and they knew exactly where I was referencing. Also, outside of Khujand is Taboshar/Istiklol which was a secret Soviet city built by German POWs next to an (also secret) uranium mine). You can see the waste pond and the town is interesting because you can see the German architectural flare in the building style.

      1. Nicole! Thanks for your answer and detailed advice.

        If you werr on my shoes, how would you spend these Tajikistan days? After Khujand my plan still considers 1.5 full days in Tashkent (and my return flight departs from Tashkent).

        – Maybe skip Iskanderkul?
        – More time in Uzbekistan and only do Haftkul in Tajik
        – Or just enjoy Tajik as it is. Walking and wandering around towns and cities is what we like the most.

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