The Fann Mountains and Iskanderkul Lake

Day 14 and : Khodjent – Fann Mountains: En route from Khodjent we stop at Istaravshan (mosque and knife makers) and then up and over over the Shakristan Pass (3378m) to arrive in the Fann Mountains, an area of outstanding natural beauty lying to the south of the Zarafshan River.

The road over the Shakristan Pass was certainly spectacular, and I could see the carcases of lorries at the bottom of the valleys, lorries which had fallen off the road and rolled all the way down - serious road this one.

The accommodation there was in a homestay in the remote mountain village of Sarytag near Lake Iskanderkul. The whole area is a nature reserve, complete with a dacha for the President of the country - he has not been there though for 2 years, and it is said that he has over 500 residences scattered around the country. Even after reaching the lake, we had another mountain pass to climb, up a steep dirt road to get to the village.

According to Lonely Planet there are 4 guest houses in Sarytag and we used two of them for the group. Conditions were quite livable and the cost was about - 10$ per day + 5$ for food. It certainly was not luxurious, but was the only way one could stay in the area - toilets were (obviously) long drop. We again shared a room with Marie-Christine and Martin. The accommodation is supervised by Zarafshan Tourism Development Association - a public organization which has been created within the park area "Tourism based on communities". Food was standard "Central Asian"

Iskanderkul is a mountain lake of glacial origin in Tajikistan's Sughd Province. The lake takes its name from Alexander the Great: Iskander is the Central Asian pronunciation of Alexander, and kul is lake in Tajik. It is located at an altitude of 2,195 m on the northern slopes of Gissar Range in the Fann Mountains. Triangular in shape, it has a surface area of 3.4 km2 and is up to 72 m deep. Said to be, and I can believe it, one of the most beautiful mountain lakes in all of the former Soviet Union.

According to an old legend, Alexander the Great on his way to India, in 329 AD reached this area. He is said to have broken the dam that held back the waters of the lake in order to destroy the homes to the inhabitants of the area who were fighting against him. There seems to be no basis in fact in this tale, and I suspect is a modern tourist guide's interpretation from a guess at the origins of the lake's name.

From Sarytag village we had 2 walks. A longish morning walk down to the lake - well, quite a long way up, as well as down. A picnic lunch at the lake - good barbecue lunch, but ruined for me by the mosquitoes. After lunch we walked along on a track leading to a point where the river breaks into a narrow gorge with powerful waterfall of 38 meter high. Right over the swallow-hole where the falls occur, there is a metal observation platform with a trellised bottom.The platform has seen better days, but does give a view of the falls. I was not convinced that they were sufficiently unique to have been worth the walk. The crack in the rocks is so narrow that one really gets no view of the falls from whatever angle one tries.

The journey from the main road up to the lake then on to Sarytag was arduous on dirt roads, but the lake and its surrounding area was stunning and worth the visit. The road was a dead end, so when we left, it was all the way back to the main road to resume our travels.

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Istaravshan afforded us a mid morning stop. The mosque was in operation and the faithful were at prayer. The men were almost from
casting, with scarcely a woman in sight. The area is known for its knives, and they make them in small ..
..forges in the bazaar Lunch - better than it looked Shakristan Pass (3378m) was an experience. Not everyone made . Far below were many skeletons of lorries which had fallen off the road. The dusty ascent, gave way to a descent as steep, but more
colourful. We then climbed up into the Fann Mountains. We stayed in the remote, seriously remote, village of Sarytag.
Washing facilities were limited to this basin. The boys did not mind. Dinner cross legged on the floor. Time to admire the beauty of the ..
..surrounding mountains. The farmers have season crops to harvest. We walked from the village to the lake following the river down ..
..for much of the way. Signs of the Communist past exist even in this remote place - an abandoned mine. On down towards the lake .
..eventually reaching it and pausing for a barbecue lunch right on the lake - the anoraks are to ward off the mosquitoes.
The lake was truly stunning. And after lunch we had another hike to a waterfall. The river was channeled into a narrow torrent which .
..could be viewed from a rickety platform. The poor donkey was found stuck spread-eagled in the middle of the road - over burdened.

On to Dushanbe

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