Hiking Tajikistan’s Fann Mountains

29/10/2019
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Guest Blog from Sam Mills

I was having lunch with a Tajik friend when I made an offhand remark about the landlocked nature of her country. She looked at me strangely. I repeated myself, explaining that I meant I was used to being near the sea, and yet in Tajikistan there was no sea. “We have sea!” She exclaimed, before pointing to said sea, a small river nearby. Annoyed that I had mixed up my Persian vocabulary I tried again. “Sorry, I meant that you have no ocean here.” She laughed at my ignorance, took out her phone to show me a map and pointed to a medium sized lake called Iskandarkul. “Here we have an ocean”

Two weeks later on a trip into the Fann Mountains, I arrived on the shore of Iskandarkul. Although admittedly not an ocean, this deep, turquoise lake, nestled amongst jagged peaks is certainly high in impact. In fact, while it turns out my linguistic confusion stemmed from the Tajiks’ redistribution of Persian words for sea and ocean to suit their own more diminutive collection of bodies of water, my trip to the Fann Mountains convinced me these grandiose terms could not be more appropriate.

Iskandarkul, meaning ‘Alexander’s Lake’, takes its name from the great Macedonian himself who supposedly attempted a crossing with his army. The operation went awry and the raft carrying his prized charger, still clad in full armour, sank into the icy depths. After my own hair-raising drive to get there, I couldn’t help but feel that navigating the area hasn’t become any easier since.

But the lake is definitely worth the journey. The enormous mountains that surround it plunge straight into its perfectly still, turquoise waters. The valleys that run off it are filled with trees and meadows and grazing animals. Compared with the rugged enormity of the Pamirs there is something peaceful, almost friendly, about the Fanns; they seem to protect rather than dominate the small villages that lie beneath them.

This friendliness was what brought me back weekend after weekend to camp and hike there. The wooded valleys with their grassy pastures and networks of crystal-clear pools made for an idyllic place to pitch a tent. High passes and long treks meanwhile lead up into serious, high-altitude terrain, yet most are very accessible without crampons or a guide.

I had an unforgettable time exhausting myself on hikes from Alaudin Lake up over the Laudon Pass and to Mutnye Lake, from Kulikalon up to Alaudin Pass and on those around the Haft-Kul. Longer multi-day treks from Iskandarkul heading north or west are an adventure I sadly didn’t have time for. The views are breathtaking and the dramatic mountain scenery is remarkable.

The interesting thing is that every hike in the Fann Mountains is essentially a journey from one lake to another. Aluadin, Haft-Kul, Kulikalon and Iskandarkul; every location is labelled according to its lake and not its mountain. This is a mountain range defined by its little “oceans” and these, more than anything else, are the reason to go.

We can arrange tailor made hiking trips to the Fann Mountains, and elsewhere in Tajikistan for groups of 2-8 people. Just send us a message if you’d like to chat about this.