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Iskanderkul & Sarytag Travel Guide
Updated April 2020, 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.
Read more about all the treks around the Fann Mountains
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 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.
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
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 you Tajikistan trip: The Ultimate Tajikistan Travel Guide
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
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.
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 enters to 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, its interesting enough to spend a day walking around the village and meeting locals.
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.
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:
- Kaznok Pass to Artuch or Alovaddin (Lakes Loop)
- Dukdon Pass to Munora Pass to Tavasang Pass to Marguzor (Haft Kul)
- Mura Pass to Payton Lake to Timur Dara Lake to Hakimi (Karatag Valley)
- Sarymat Pass to Tavasang Pass to Marguzor (Haft Kul)
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.
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.
- Inreach Explorer+
- Backpack (I personally recommend the Ariel 65 for women)
- Hiking boots (My favorite are the La Sportiva Nucleo High GTX)
- Waterproof sandals
- Katadyn water purifier
- Fann Mountains Map
- Sleeping mat
- 3-season tent
- Hydration Pack
- Sleeping bag cold rated to -5ºC/20ºF
- Campstove and Cooking set
- Silicone squeeze tubes (for cooking with sauces, olive oil, etc.)
- Propane/butane canister (available for purchase at Greenhouse Hostel in Dushanbe)
- Trekking poles
- Trekking in Tajikistan by Jan Bakker (Written by a friend and includes the Fann Mountains, Yagnob Valley, and Pamir)
- Dehydrated meals such as Mountain House (you’ll need to stock up before leaving home)
- Trail mix
- 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)
- Biodegradable shampoo bar
- Biodegradable soap
- Biodegradable wipes
- Toilet Paper
- First Aid Kit
- Hand sanitizer
- Warm outer shell jacket x1
- Down jacket x1
- Fleece x1
- Merino wool long sleeve base layer top x2
- Merino wool short sleeve base layer x2
- Trekking pants x1
- Merino wool leggings x2
- Trekking socks x2
- Warm socks x1
- Sports bra x2
- Mittons x1
- Warm hat x1
- Sunglasses x1
- Microfiber towel x1
- 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.