Hike The Lakes Loop In Tajikistan’s Fann Mountains
Updated May 2020, Hike The Lakes Loop In Tajikistan’s Fann Mountains was originally written in June 2018
Trekking to Kulikalon and Lake Alovaddin in Tajikistan’s Fann Mountains are one of the easiest to reach and most beautiful hikes in the country. The trek can be done as a loop or can be combined with other treks in the Fanns.
Wanna learn more about the Fanns? Check out my Fann Mountains Trekking & Travel Guide
TABLE OF CONTENTS
The Standard Lakes Loop Trek
Artuch Alplager ➤ Kulikalon ➤ Laudden Pass ➤Lake Alovaddin ➤ Alovaddin Pass ➤ Kulikalon ➤ Artuch Alplager
- 3 days, 2 nights
- 32 kilometers
Starting Points For The Lakes Loop
Artuch Alplager and Vertical Alovaddin are the usual starting points for this trek, with Artuch being the most common and easiest to reach by public transport. Please note that this hike is roughly 32 kilometers from Artuch Alplager back to Artuch Alplager. If you will be starting and ending at the actual village of Artuch you’ll need to tack on 18 kilometers to the total (Artuch Village to Artuch Alplager is 9 kilometers, one way), making the total 50 kilometers. You may also start and end the hike in Yakkakhona Village which would only add 14 kilometers to the total distance. If you plan to start and end from Vertical Alovaddin you can subtract 10 kilometers off the total (you’d no longer have to include Artuch on your trek) and add 3 kilometers to account for the short distance between Lake Alovaddin and Vertical Alovaddin, bringing your total kilometers to 26 kilometers.
Length & Elevation
For those doing the typical Lakes Loop hike, the trek will be roughly 50 kilometers in length. The total elevation change over the 50 kilometers is 3130 meters, ranging from 1,770 meters at the lowest point in Artuch to 3,860 meters at the highest point in Alovaddin Pass.
Most will begin the trek from Artuch Alplager or from Yakkakhona Village. The trailhead is easy to find near the alplager. It will first lead you across a meadow and you’ll follow the creek uphill to eventually arrive at Kulikalon. You can camp at the shores of Kulikalon, Bibijonat, or Dushakha Lakes in this big bowl. There are shepherds with a settlement at the far end of Kulikalon Lake, so don’t be surprised if they invite you for a meal.
On day two make sure to wake up early and catch the sunrise as the morning fog rolls off of Kulikalon. To reach Lake Alovaddin there are two routes, one that takes you up and over Alovaddin Pass which is slightly higher in elevation (3,860 meters), and the shorter route. Nearby Laudden Pass in a bit longer but has a more gradual ascent (3,630 meters). Arrive at Lake Alovaddin in the late afternoon. You can either set up camp on the grassy southern shores of the lake or join others a little bit away at the base camp. There is now a small restaurant operating at the bottom of Alovaddin Pass as you approach the lake. You can purchase simple Tajik meals, water, soda, and beers here.
Need more ideas? Check out the 10 best treks in Tajikistan
The sunrise at Alovaddin is not to be missed. So make sure to set your alarm early enough to catch it in the morning. Some may opt to spend another night at the lake, trek to Mutnyi Lake, or continue back to Kulikalon. I would recommend taking the other pass on your return than when you came over for a change of scenery. You can plan to camp at Kulikalon again tonight or do one long day back to Artuch.
For those that do not want to do this trek as a loop, it is possible to arrange for a car to pick you up at Vertical Alovaddin. You can opt to start from Vertical Alovaddin and end at Artuch as well.
Alternatively, you can do the trek as a loop from Vertical Alovaddin instead of Artuch.
You can opt to take a day trip to Mutnyi Lake and return to camp one more night at Alovaddin
Yet another alteration to the original trek is to start from Zimtut Village and take a trail headed east that will lead you to the Chukurak Lakes, nestled in the Chukurak Gorge. From the Gorge continue onto Artuch Alplager. Alternatively, you can just trek 1.5 km to Chukurak Lakes from the Alplager.
Other Lakes Loop Routes
Mutnyi Day Trip
Lake Alovaddin ➤ Mutnyi Lake ➤ Lake Alovaddin
- 1 day, 1 night
- 43 kilometers
For those wanting to add a day and night onto their Lakes Loop trek, you can visit the murky lake of Mutnyi that sits underneath the towering peaks of Chimtarga and Energia. Mutnyi is a roughly 5 kilometer hike from Alovaddin Lakes (10 kilometers return) and is a 710 meter elevation gain from Alovaddin. Also worth noting is that Mutnyi is a good place to camp for a night for those heading onto Chimtarga Pass and Kaznok Pass, you can read more about these treks in the Fann Mountains Guide.
Lakes Loop Zimtut To Artuch Via Chukurak Lakes
Zimtut ➤ Guitan Pass ➤ Chukurak Lakes ➤ Artuch Alplager ➤ Kulikalon ➤ Laudden Pass ➤ Lake Alovaddin ➤ Alovaddin Pass ➤ Kulikalon ➤ Artuch Alplager
- 4 days, 3 nights
- 43 kilometers
This alternative Lakes Loop trek starts from the village of Zimtut. From Zimtut trek east, up and over 2600 meter Guitan Pass to arrive at Chukurak Lakes and set up camp. From Chukurak Lakes make the short 1.5 kilometer hike up to Artuch Alplager and from there follow the typical Lakes Loop Route. Alternatively, instead of trekking up to Artuch Alplager after Chukurak Lakes, you can head east over 3,180 Govkhona Pass to arrive at the western shore of Lake Kulikalon.
The Lakes One Way
Artuch Alplager ➤ Kulikalon Lakes ➤ Alovaddin Pass or Laudden Pass ➤ Alovaddin Lakes ➤ Vertical Alovaddin
- 3 days, 2 nights
- 18-25 kilometers
This is a great option for those short on time but still wanting to see and experience what all the Lakes Loop trek has to offer. From Artuch Alplager you’ll continue to Kulikalon to set up camp for the night. The next day you can either head up and over Alovaddin Pass or Laudden Pass arriving at Lake Alovaddin to camp for a night before being picked up in the morning from Vertical Alovaddin (though you may opt to get picked up in the late afternoon the morning of your arrival. This trek can easily be done in either direction. Note that there are shared taxis between Artuch and Panjakent, but Vertical Alovaddin is not usually serviced by shared transport, therefore you should arrange transport to or from Vertical Alovaddin in advance.
Artuch To Kulikalon Lakes
Artuch Alplager ➤ Kulikalon Lakes ➤ Artuch Alplager
- 2 days, 1 night
- 16 kilometers
This short version of the Lakes Loop trek can be done as an overnight trip or as a long day trip from Artuch. From Artuch Alplager trek 5 kilometers into the Kulikalon Bowl where you can enjoy the scenery and explore the Kulikalon, Bibijonat, and Dushakha Lake systems. You can set up camp next to any of these lakes, though Bibijonat seems to offer the best sleeping options with soft grass along its shores. Don’t be surprised if friendly shepherds treat you to chai and non when they find you out here.
Vertical Alovaddin to Alovaddin Lakes
Vertical Alovaddin ➤ Alovaddin Lakes ➤ Vertical Alovaddin
- 2 days, 1 night
- 3 kilometers
This trek is short and sweet and can either be a day trip or an overnighter. Get dropped off at Vertical Alovaddin, the old Russian base camp, and trek 1.5 kilometers to the shored of Lake Alovaddin. I recommend to camp on the south shores as it has the best sunrise views and comfortable grass to pitch your tent on.
How To Get To The Lakes Loop
Artuch is easily reached from Panjakent by shared taxi, minibus/marshrutka, private car hire, and bicycle. Panjakent is easily reached from Dushanbe, Khujand, and towns in between and from Samarkand, Uzbekistan. Note that the current exchange rate as of January 2020 is $1 USD = 9.67 TJS. You will likely need to haggle to get a fair price on transport if you’re arranging it on the spot. The following are about what transport should cost.
- Dushanbe-Panjakent: 130 TJS
- Khujand-Panjakent: 120 TJS
- Dushanbe-Sarvoda: 120 TJS
- Panjakent-Artuch: 60 TJS
- Samarkand-Panjakent $3/20,000 UZS + 10 TJS (you must take a shared taxi from Samanrkand to the border and then take another shared taxi from the border to Panjakent)
- Dushanbe-Panjakent: 70 TJS
- Khujand-Panjakent: 90 TJS
- Panjakent-Artuch: 50 TJS
Private Car Hire
- Dushanbe-Panjakent: 1820 TJS
- Dushanbe-Alovaddin: 1640 TJS
- Panjakent-Artuch: 910 TJS
- Sarvoda-Alovaddin: 200 TJS
- Panjakent-Alovaddin: 1460 TJS
- Khujand-Panjakent: 2000 TJS
*Note that private car prices are per car and therefore can be divided up amongst a group of you.
Accommodations & Camping Along The Lakes Loop
You can camp easily along all the Lakes Loop route options in this post. Note that it is possible to stay at Artuch Village, Yakkakhona Village, Artuch Alplager, and Vertical Alovaddin along these treks. In Panjakent, Sarvoda, Dushanbe, and Khujand there are guesthouse and/or hotel options available since these are well-known jumping-off points for those heading out to take on the Lakes Loop. You can expect to pay between $10-20USD (90-180 TJS) per person per night at most homestays and guesthouses, including dinner and breakfast. You can contact ZTDA to book homestays if you are planning ahead.
Many families that live in the area will likely offer to take you in and subsequently show you legendary Tajik hospitality. Typically they will refuse payment, but do try to hide some Somoni in the home or try giving to the eldest child.
Lakes Loop Accommodation Options:
- Artuch Alplager: Jumping off point for Kulikalon Lakes, or great ending point.
- Yakkakhona: Hazratsho Homestay (nearby to Artuch, Hazratsho speaks English and can help arrange cars and pack animals for trekking)
- Vertical Alovaddin: Jumping off point for Alovaddin Lakes, or great ending point.
Accommodations in cities and towns I recommend from personal experience:
- Dushanbe: Hello Hostel Super clean with a friendly and helpful staff. Tucked away in a quiet neighborhood in Dushanbe. Greenhouse Hostel is another popular option nearby.
- Khujand: Shark 21 Hostel Shark 21 Hostel is run by a friendly family and is located near the Panjshanbe Bazaar. The daughter Masha speaks English fluently and is very helpful. Armon Apartment Hotel also comes recommended by other travelers.
- Panjakent: Hotel Umariyon Clean and located smack near the middle of Panjakent. The staff speaks Tajik and Russian only but are still helpful and friendly nonetheless. Another great option is Salom Hostel, with a friendly and helpful owner named Safar.
- Samarkand (Uzbekistan): Samarkand Center Hotel is a great option located very close to the Registan. The Konstantin Hotel is fairly spendy, but sometimes on a long trip down the Silk Road, you gotta treat yourself. Other cheaper options that came highly recommended by other travelers were Amir Hostel, Timur the Great, Samarkand Travel Inn, and Orient Star Hotel.
Tours & Guides
- ZTDA This is the tourism board for the Zerafshan Valley including the Fann Mountains and Yagnob Valleys with an office based in Khujand. Contact them to create custom trips with local operators.
- 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!
- Pamir Highway Adventure
- Pamir Horse Adventure
- Pamir Guides
- Pamir Silk Tours
Packing List For The Lakes Loop
- 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)
- Fann Mountains Map by EWP (can be ordered direct from EWP as well)
- Southern Tajikistan Map by Gecko Maps
- Warm outer shell jacket x1
- Down jacket x1
- Fleece x1
- Merino wool long sleeve base layer top x2
- Merino wool 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
- Biodegradable shampoo bar
- Biodegradable soap
- Biodegradable wipes
- Toilet Paper
- First Aid Kit
- Hand sanitizer
- 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)
- 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.
Lakes Loop Practical Info & Safety
Practical Info & Other Things Worth Noting
- The best time of year for trekking the Lakes Loop is late June through mid-September.
- Tajik and Russian are both widely spoken in Tajikistan.
- No special gear is required for trekking the Lakes Loop.
- Solo female travelers may run into overly-friendly male locals, guides, etc. If you are firm with your response it will usually be taken seriously.
- You can arrange porters from ZTDA, or hire them in Yakkakhona, Artuch, Alovaddin, and Zimtut for those trekking the lakes Loop. Most porters will expect $20-25 USD per day.
- The Lakes Loop receives a bit of traffic from tourists trekking, though you should still take proper precautions as this is still a remote area of the country.
- Pick up a propane/butane tank in Dushanbe at Greenhouse Hostel. They are also easy to get in Rosh, Kyrgyzstan for those coming across the border from the Fergana Valley. They are sometimes available in Khujand, Panjakent, and Artuch Alplager.
Pass, Peak & Lake Elevations
- Guitan Pass 2,600 meters
- Govkhona Pass 3,180 meters
- Lauden Pass 3,630 meters
- Alovaddin Pass 3,860 meters
- Kulikalon Lake 2,850 meters
- Alovaddin Lake 2,800 meters
- Mutnyi Lake 3,510 meters
- The Lakes Loop area, as well as the vast majority of Tajikistan, is prone to earthquakes. Being caught in a landslide in the mountains with your route being cut off is a possibility.
- Temperatures can range drastically from day to night even in summer. Temperatures can dip below freezing at altitudes over 3000 meters in the dead of summer.
- There are snow leopards, Marco Polo sheep, bears, and wolves living in Tajikistan’s mountains. Although you’d be highly unlikely to cross any of them, they are something to be aware of.
- Take time to acclimatize to the altitudes here in the Fanns. Altitude sickness can be dangerous and even deadly. Read up on acclimatization here.
- I highly recommend getting travel insurance in the event of injury or illness. Shop plans at battleface or World Nomads. Do note that many insurances will cover activities only up to a certain elevation, activities at higher altitudes will require more coverage. It’s wise to make routing plans beforehand and know what your max altitude on your trek will be to purchase the right plan for you.