Trekking In Tajikistan: A Fann Mountains Guide.
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The Fann Mountains may quite possibly be the best trekking destination you’ve probably never heard of. In Tajikistan’s Fann Mountains you’ll find yourself surrounded by sky-scraping jagged mountains, crystal clear lakes of azure and the warm heart & legendary hospitality of the local people. Although- This is a remote stretch of Earth where you could go days without seeing another soul and that’s as much of its charm as the stark sceneries.
Don’t worry, you don’t have to be a hardcore mountaineer to enjoy this beautiful area. There are short and long treks around that will give most anyone a great experience in the Fanns. Of course there are treks that will keep even the experienced trekkers on their toes.
*This is a remote area of Tajikistan and with any trekking destination, or you know, just life in general there are assumed risks. This area is prone, but not limited to earthquakes, extreme weather conditions, landslides, political upheaval and bone crushing roads. Much of the trekking in Tajikistan in general is wild and remote. There are little to no facilities and services outside of cities. Be prepared, have the enough layers and proper gear, food and water. The likelihood of being rescued in the event of a life threatening injury or disaster is slim. You’re going at your own risk and remember that there is never any shame in hiring a guide.
Intersted in joining me on an expedition?
It’s not quite the Fanns, however if you are interested in joining a crazy expedition in the Pamirs of Tajikistan’s GBAO, the western reaches of China, and the northern remote valleys of Pakistan this is the trip for you! I will be leading a small group of adventurers on this expedition in June 2018. Click here to read more about the trip and sign up!
The Fann Mountains are part of the Western Pamir-Alay Mountain System, located in Tajikistan’s Sughd Province. The Fanns are bound by the Zeravshan range to the North, The Gissar range to the South, The Haft-Kul (Seven Lakes) to the West of the Archmaidian River and the Fann Darya River to the East. This whole swath of land is situated in the northwest of Tajikistan. Cities & Towns near and around the Fanns include Penjikent, Ayni, Shing, Sarvoda and Sarytag.
It’s advisable to stock up on cash in either Dushanbe or Khujand (even better is to have it before you enter the country). US dollars are pretty widely accepted, Euros and Russian Roubles generally will be taken as well. It is not uncommon for ATMs to be out of money. There are a couple ATMs in Penjikent that accept foreign cards. The local currency in Tajikistan is the Tajik Somoni. At the time of research (April, 2017) the exchange rate was 8.5TJS to 1 US Dollar. As of June 2017 the exchange rate is now 8.8 TJS to $1 USD. If you want to read up more on money matters head on over to the Tajikistan Travel Guide.
The largest market in the area is located in Penjikent. Some items can be picked up in small shops in Ayni, Sarvoda or Sarytag. If you choose to arrange homestays (can be arranged by ZTDA) for your time in Fanns breakfast, lunch and dinner can usually be arranged by your host. Otherwise if you plan to free camp, make sure to stock up on provisions and either bring a camp stove or rent one from ZTDA. For cooking I brought a lightweight cooking camp set that uses chemical cubes to heat.
When to Go:
The trekking season tends to run June through September. Spring tends to still be muddy, even into the month of June. Later in September temperatures at higher altitudes can get pretty cold. The fall and winter out here are harsh. You’ll find the most favorable conditions from late June to early September, but expect hot temperatures when at lower altitudes.
Camping and trekking gear can be rented from ZTDA, contact them in advance for gear rental. For multi day treks a tent, a good warm sleeping bag (think cold nights in the mountains), small camp stove, water purification system, backpack, layered clothing, hiking boots, hat, gloves, sunglasses, sunscreen, and trekking poles are all a good idea to bring into the wilderness with you. Make sure to have a good backpack to haul all your gear around in. I carry the Osprey Aura 65L and find it to be quite comfortable. Equally as important is a good pair of hiking boots, the Merrell Moab is my person fave. Remember that it is possible to rent cooking equipment, tent and sleeping bag through ZTDA.
Tajik is the official language which is nearly identical to the Farsi spoken in Iran and Dari spoken in Afghanistan. Russian is widely spoken as Tajikistan was a former region of the Soviet Union. It is possible to hire English as well as German, French, etc. speaking guides if need be.
You can read my Tajikistan travel guide with more information on traveling Tajikistan here, including airlines flying into the country as well as information on entering Tajikistan i.e.: visas. Many visitors either will come from or continue on to Uzbekistan as the Fann Mountains sit very close to the Uzbek border. In fact, the city of Penjikent sits only 48 kilometers (30 miles) from Samarkand (a large city and popular Silk Road stop in Uzbekistan for those unfamiliar), but unfortunately the border post between Samarkand and Penjikent has been closed for a few years now and does not look to be opening anytime soon. If coming from Uzbekistan you will likely cross the border at Oybek into Khujand. If coming from Dushanbe you will have the great thrill of driving through the famed Anzob tunnel. It’s 5 kilometers long, dark and not well lit, however; the scenery coming up from Dushanbe is quite stunning.
Dushanbe or Khujand will likely be where you begin your journey towards the Fanns via car or shared taxi. Things to note: Penjikent is the biggest city in the Fann Mountains, it is located just directly north of the Haft Kul (Seven Lakes). Sarytag is the nearby settlement to Iskanderkul, Alovaddin (also written Alauddin) and Artush are the jump off points for hikes to Kul-i-Kalon and Alovaddin Lakes (also called the Lakes-Loop trek) and the village of Sarvoda is the main transport hub for most people headed out for trekking in the Fanns. This is an estimated pricelist of transportation, at the time of research (April, 2017) the going rate for private car hire was in the range of $0.85-0.95 per kilometer (7.20-8.10TJS). These prices can change rapidly at times with fluctuations in currency value, Tajikistan’s currency- the Somoni isn’t the most stable. Contact ZTDA for the most up to date information on these costs.
Private Car Hire.
Dushanbe-Penjikent: $200/1765 TJS.
Dushanbe-Sarytag: $180/1590 TJS.
Dushanbe-Alovaddin: $180/1590 TJS.
Dushanbe-Nofin (7 Lakes): $210/1850 TJS.
Penjikent-Artush: $100/880 TJS.
Penjikent-Alovaddin: $160/1410 TJS.
Khujand-Penjikent: $220/1940 TJS.
*Note that these prices are per car and therefore can be divided up amongst a group of you.
Shared Taxi prices.
Dushanbe-Penjikient: $15/132 TJS.
Dushanbe-Sarvoda: $15/132 TJS.
Sarvoda-Alovaddin: $45/395 TJS.
Penjikent-Khujand: $13/115 TJS.
*Anyone with more accurate transportation costs, please e-mail me and I will update this section!
The Fann Mountains offer countless options for trekking. Here are a few of the more frequented hikes.
The Lakes Loop:
A stunning hike that will take you through semi-arid mountains, juniper forests and will find you waking up next to Carib-blue lakes. The Lakes Loop is easily the most popular trek in the Fanns. Most commonly it will start and end from Artush Village. Artush village is home to Artush Alplager offering simple accommodation. From Artush you will trek down to Kul-i-Kalon Lake (~5km). The shoreside of Kul-i-Kalon is great place to camp. There is a nearby settlement of friendly herders on the far side of the lake, they will likely invite you for a meal, or at least bread and tea. Try to give a gift or some money for the hospitality, although they will likely refuse. The next segment of the trek will take you from Kul-i-Kalon to Alovaddin Lakes, in which you have two options for passes to take. This will be via either Alovaddin Pass (~7k), or Lauden Pass (~15km). The closer but higher and steeper Alovaddin Pass (3,860 meters) will take you past the emerald Dushakha Lake, up and over the pass and give great views down onto the Alovaddin Lakes as you descend. There is accommodation just up from Alovaddin Lake at Vertical Alovaddin Camp. The camp can prepare meals as well. The second option is the slightly further but more gradual Lauden Pass (3630m) . You will follow the Pasruddaria River down the pass to where it meets the Chapdara River and then head towards the south to Alovaddin Lake. Once at Alovaddin you can camp around the beautiful lake or stay at Vertical Alovaddin. Options after Alovaddin Lakes include:
1) Trekking back to Artush via either Lauden or Alovaddin Pass.
2) Doing a day trek to Mutnyi Lake and back to Alovaddin Lakes which will take you about 13km roundtrip (Alovaddin-Mutnyi-Alovaddin). This is a gradual uphill trek on a portion of the Kaznouk trail to Mutnyi. Mutiny means muddy- named this due to the opaque grayishness of its water. From Mutnyi you’ll have grand views of Gora Chimtarga and Gora Energia. If inclined you could continue up Chimtarga Pass from here up and over to Bolshoi Allo Lake and down to the Sarymat River (this would obviously add a day or two and send you down and out to the Archmaidian River and then you would have to take the Zurmech Pass towards the west, past Chakurak Lake and around to Artush). Be aware that Chimtarga Pass is quite challenging.
3) There is road access to Vertical Alovaddin Camp- you could arrange transport to pick you up if you’ve had enough trekking going from Artush to Alovaddin one way.
The Lakes Loop can be done in about 3 days. Tack on a 4th day to the loop if you want to go to Muntyi. Plan roughly 6 days give or take if going the option 2 route up and over Chimtarga Pass.
Alovaddin Pass: 3860m.
Lauden Pass: 3630m.
Chimtarga Pass: 4740m.
Haft Kul (Seven Lakes):
The Haft Kul is set in a beautiful mountain valley. The old legend says an old man went missing in the valley. His seven daughters came to search for him but were unable to find him and began to cry along the narrow valley. The valley filled with tears and drown them. Each of the seven lakes represents one of the man’s daughters. In reality, it’s a narrow, earthquake-prone valley with the Shing River running through it. Researchers believe that earthquakes over the years created rockslides that dammed off the Shing River resulting in the Haft Kul. Haft Kul means seven lakes in Tajik. The lakes stretch roughly 15km from lake one down to lake seven. Their names from north to south are: Neznigan, Soya, Gusbor, Nofin, Khurdak, Marguzor and Hazorchazma. Each lake has a unique and different color to it. The Haft Kul offers a variety of trekking options from day trips from Penjikent to hike between the glimmering lakes to multi day treks. There are numerous homestays along the valley where you could do short treks lake to lake staying at homestays. Perched just above Marguzor Lake (the 6th lake) sits Kigoli village. From here you can continue up the Tavasang Pass and link the Haft Kul to the East-West Traverse (3-5 days trekking).
West-East Traverse (includes the Seven Lakes):
This is a somewhat long, and in some areas challenging trek that connects the Haft Kul to Sarytag/Iskanderkul. From the village of Kigoli mentioned above in the Haft Kul trek, continue up Tavasang Pass and then proceed down the pass and cross the Abusafedsol River. Kigoli to Abusafedsol River (~9km). After crossing the river you have two options: Either take Munora Pass slightly toward the northeast (~11km) and eventually link up to the Dukdon Pass that will lead you to Iskanderkul (~28km). Or veer to the southeast and trek up into the challenging and aggressively steep Sarymat Pass (~6km). Once down the Sarymat Pass follow the Akhbashir (which turns into) Karakul (which eventually turns into the) Sarytag River and on down to Iskanderkul (~30k). Expect this traverse to take 3-5 days.
Tavasang Pass: 3300m.
Munora Pass: 3520m.
Dukdon Pass: 3810m.
Sarymat Pass: 4160m.
Get a view into Tajik mountain culture trekking the Dukdon Pass. This trek will see you start in Artush village and end in Sarytag- Iskanderkul’s nearby village (can also be done in the reverse). From Artush Village you will trek due south toward Chakurak Lake (~10km). From Chakurak Lake trek up and over the Zurmech Pass towards the west to where eventually you will meet the Archmaidian River (~8km). Follow the Archmaidian River south to the confluence of it and the Sarymat River (~8km). Continue to follow the Archmadian River to the southeast to the foot of the Dukdon Pass (~17km). Continue up the trail into Dukdon Pass and over it where you will eventually meet the Karakul-Sarytag River (~8km). Continue along to Karakul-Sarymat River to Sarytag (~7km).
Zurich Pass: 3260m.
Dukdon Pass: 3810m.
This is a shorter, but difficult and technical trek. The Kaznouk Pass will take you from Alovaddin Lake straight south to Sarytag (or reverse). It involves a glacier crossing that usually require crampons and ice axes. From Vertical Alovaddin Camp (you obviously have options to start this trek further afield than Alovaddin) head south along the trail to Mutnyi Lake (~6.5km). Continue toward the eastern side of Mutnyi Lake and begin to ascend up into Kaznouk Pass heading slightly toward the southeast. Eventually you will arrive at a snowfield and the trek continues on as the trail continues steeply upwards (this is where those crampons will come in handy). On the descent the trail will veer slightly toward the southwest and remain steep. Eventually you will arrive down at the Kaznouk River (~4km). Once at the Kaznouk River follow it to the east and it will eventually begin to bend southward. The Kaznouk River will turn into the Khavzak River and eventually converge into the Sarytag River. You’ll follow the rivers down from Kaznouk Pass and will arrive in the village of Sarytag (18km).
Kaznouk Pass: 4040m.
More Treks in the Fanns?
There are countless treks, longer and shorter than the ones listed in the guide. Some of these include, Mura Pass, Chimtarga Pass and so many more. You even can combine some of these hikes together (as I did). For more information on trekking in Tajikistan in general and a good reference to download buy the e-book Trekking in Tajikistan by Jan Bakker. The other, in my opinion must-have for trekking in the Fanns is the EWP: Fann Mountains Map & Guide. The EWP map became my bible…err Quaran while out in the Fann Mountains. For lighter trekking and those not looking to do serious multi day excursions there’s the options of taking a nice stroll around Islanderkul, walking between the lakes of the Haft Kul and even a day trip from Artush Alplager to Kul-i-Kalon and back or get dropped off at Vertical Alovaddin Camp and waltz about the beautiful Alovaddin Lakes or go a little further afield to Mutnyi and back to Vertical Alovaddin.
In general, most accommodation in the Fann Mountains area will be in homestays. Community Based Tourism (CBT) is fairly common throughout Tajikistan and greater Central Asia. In Penjikent there are a handful of hotels and guesthouses in addition to homestays. On the shores of Iskanderkul a few guesthouses and even the Turbaza Iskanderkul which are about 30 small cabins set back in the woods that are a popular weekend getaway for those from Dushanbe. In nearby Sarytag a number of homestays can be found. I personally stayed at Dilovar’s homestay in Sarytag after arrangements with ZTDA. Dilovar and his family are incredibly welcoming, his wife prepares great meals for you and Dilovar even speaks English if you’re struggling with communication. In the Haft Kul there are small settlements that dot the valley- mostly concentrated around the lakes. I can personally recommend Najmiddin Homestay (also arranged by ZTDA). Najmiddin is set back near Nofin Lake and is run by the kind Jumaboy and his family. Central Asia isn’t known for having superb cuisine, but the food prepared by the family there was some of the best I had in Tajikistan. Jumaboy speaks Russian and Tajik, so knowing bits of either is helpful and him and his family are quite fun to kick back, drink some cognac and share stories with. Expect homestays to cost anywhere from $10-20/night (85-170 TJS).
Outside of the towns and settlements plan to sleep in a tent. I was traveling alone so I brought along my MSR NX Hubba 1-man tent, which I absolutely love! MSR makes a Hubba 2-man, 3-man and the 4-man Mutha-Hubba tent as well. Along with a tent, make sure to have a nice sleeping bag, it can get pretty chilly at night even in the summer here up in the mountains. My sleeping bag is cold rated to -7ºC/20ºF and was sufficient. To pair with the tent and sleeping bag you can also grab a sleep mat to bring with you. Remember that it is possible to rent cooking equipment, tent and sleeping bag through ZTDA.
Tours & Guides:
Several tour operators can arrange organized tours and treks in the Fann Mountains, as well as in the Zaravshan, Yagnob Valleys and more!
Kalpak Travel Offering Fann Mountains trekking tours and even a trip the includes trekking the Fanns and cycling in Tajikistan. Mention the promo code Nicki-Kalpak2017 to receive a 5% discount off your bookings. They also offer tours in other regions of Tajikistan as well as the greater Central Asian region!
Paramount Journey Offering 5% off tours if you mention the promo code PJ2017AN and this post!
You can also contact ZTDA to arrange guides and tours.
A great resource who can help you book tours is Caravanistan. Shop for tours or contact them for more information.
Shop for tours in Tajikistan as well as the greater Central Asia region at Indy Guide.
Must-Have Books, Travel Guides and Maps:
‘Tajikistan and the High Pamirs’ by Robert Middleton & Huw Thomas. This is a huge book, but it has so much good info on Tajikistan from the history, great-game stories, travel and more!
‘Central Asia’ by Lonely Planet. Handy to have with you, although don’t treat it like a bible. Many times information is out of date as things change rapidly here. The ‘Central Asia Phrasebook’ by Lonely Planet. I found to be a handy item.
Need Travel Insurance?
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Weather can change rapidly and get quite extreme. At high elevations snow is possible even in the dead of summer. Down in the valleys temperatures can swelter in July-September, during prime trekking season. Pack layers of clothing with you and don’t forget to bring a decently warm jacket. Be careful collecting unpurified drinking water- some sources can provide clean waters, others not. If there are any shepards around ask, or just err on the side of caution and plan to purify your own water either through a water filter/pump , Lifestraw or, chlorine tablets.
Some of these passes can get quite treacherous, with loose shale, scree, steep ascent/descents and even falling rocks- know your limitations and what you are experienced enough for and comfortable with. Having a map/guide like EWP: Fann Mountains Map & Guide can prove useful as it includes Russian climbing grades as well as a chart showing their French and UIAA equivalents. Rockslides are a hazard around Tajikistan in general. Sometimes I could sit quietly in the mountains and hear rocks snapping off and sliding down in areas. Earthquakes are something to be aware of, as well as the rockslides that can accompany them. There are occasional wolves that roam the mountains of Tajikistan, although reports of them are quite rare. Most people in the area are helpful and friendly, but just like anywhere in the world- it pays to be alert. I would recommend bringing a Delorme Inreach, or even something similar with you. The Inreach functions as a GPS, text messenger and SOS beacon all rolled into one small handheld device- all via satellite. Prior to the trip I plotted out all of my trekking routes on the GPS function and proved to be helpful as not all trails are very well defined. In general, you will not have cellphone service out here aside from around cities and towns and a village here and there. That fact paired with the potential to get stranded due to a rockslide or natural disaster (although unlikely) made the SOS option on the Inreach seem like a good idea to have with me.
Now who’s ready to go trekking the Fann Mountains?
This is one of the most beautiful and untouched areas I’ve gotten to experience and I hope that this guide helps any of you thinking about a trip out to the Fann Mountains of Tajikistan. If you have any information that I should update on here or any corrections you want to point out, please don’t hesitate to add it in the comments or shoot me an email at adventuresoflilnicki[at]gmail.com. For information on traveling the whole of Tajikistan please check out the Tajikistan Travel Guide, for inspiration to visit go read the 10 Reasons to Visit Tajikistan, and to hear a little about my time in the Fanns read Walking Among Giants in Beautiful Tajikistan.
Interested in learning more and to start planning your trip to the Pamirs and GBAO region of Tajikistan? Check out the Pamir Travel Guide– Every bit of info you need to know to travel the rough and rugged Pamirs and info on the world’s greatest road trip, the Pamir Highway. Want to read about my day to day travels in the Pamir? Check out To The Pamirs and Beyond! Day 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, And still more to come!-