Trekking and mountaineering in Fann Mountains in Tajikistan
Fann Mountains are considered to be one of the most beautiful mountains in the world. Beautiful sceneries of turquoise lakes, vivid green juniper forests and snow capped five-thousand meters high peaks mirrored in a crystal clear water. It's easy to get excited even before knowing how to get there.
We got inspired from many sources and websited before we travelled. Not all of them were that actual and useful. Than we could compare our expectations with reality of july 2019. Something was obvious, something surprised us. We are trying to summarize everything here to help you with planning.
Local names are usually transcripted from russian or tajik more ways, so we use those we consider more common or those we can pronounce easier :-)
If there is something important you didn't find here, feel free to leave a comment.
There is our story from the trip to Tajikistan in these blog posts with pictures and videos, buf only in Czech for now :-)
Mountains, passes, valleys, lakes - let's start with some geography
Fann Mountains are part of the western Pamir-Alay mountain system between the Zarafshan Range and the Gissar Range. ome of the peaks are rising to more than 5000 meters of altitude. The highest point in Fann Mountains is Chimtarga peak (5,489 m). Other over 5000 meters are Bodkhona (5138 m), Chapdara (5050 m), Big and Little Hansa (5031 m), Zamok (5070 m), Mirali (5132 m), and Energia (5120 m).
The highest mountain pass (4750 m) has the same name as the highest mountain Chimtarga and lies between it's south face and Energia peak. Crossing this pass means to go through snow even in late summer and it's usually the most challenging part of trekking routes. Other trekking friendly passes are Alaudin and Kazmok.
Majority of pictures you can find from Fanns depict some of turquoise blue lakes reflecting snow capped mountains. Their origin is glacial or natural dams caused by earthquake landslides. No surprise that one of the favorite routes is called Seven Lakes. Iskanderkul is one of the biggset and easiest to visit, but it also looses a part it its beauty.
Famous basecamp for plenty os ascents is by the Mutnyi Lake (3500 m). Sometimes translated as "muddy", but the gey color doesn't mean less beauty. Others are Kulikalon, Alaudin or Haft Kul. The most beautiful for me was Bolshoe (Big) Allo.
The center of the region is Panjakent, city you can't miss heading to the mountains.
Weather - expect strong sun and cold nights
Tajik climate is arid continental with a big difference between hot and sunny summers and cold winters. Mountains, which cover the majority or Tajik surface area, are also characterized by a big temperature difference between day and night. You will apperciate a warm sleeping bag in higher altitudes and a good sun protection.
Best trekking period is from June to September. Be prepared for deep snow in mountain passes while trekking in early summer. You might need some climbing gear. It's more difficult, but meadows and mountains are nicer and there is enough water. Late summer is drier, weather more stable and trekking over mountain passes is more scree than snow. The weather can be unstable anyway and afternoons can be stormy, so consider you are in mountains.
We did out trekking in the beginning of July (2019) and we were more than happy. The season was in the very beginning and there was almost nobody in mountain passes, because there wass still too much snow. With a right gear (crampons and ice axe) we finally found hiking on snow more comfortable than the broken scree.
Water was sufficient, sometimes even too much, when a heavy rain started in the afternoon. First three days we camped by Mutnyi Lake, we met nobody. The day before we left for Chimtarga Pass the camp got full of czech and russian hikers. Than we missed out loneliness of previous das.
We were very lucky for the Pik Zamok ascent. It is usually climbed in a rope team, because there is a steep glacier part with a crevasse labyrinth. Luckily there was still a narrow stripe of firn snow between the rock and the crevasse area. We could climb the steep slope (40°-50°) without even using the rope we carried. Whereas Chimtarga and Mirali slopes were showing their danger by sending down huge avalanches that made us not to try to climb there.
Before you go
Closest airports are Dushanbe (Tajikistan), Tashkent or Samarkand (Uzbekistan). Europian flights are usually operated by Aeroflot (Moscow - Sheremetyevo), Turkish Airlines (Istambul) or others. Samarkand is the closest one for the following land transport, but it's not that easy to find a convenient flights there.
Personally, I would prefer Turkish Airlines, but finally we found the best connection with Aeroflot. In this case, it is good to have enought time to transfer at the busiest airport in Russia. We experienced some chaoss with boarding a plane which was not able to fly. It took another hour to get back to the terminal (buses not the jet bridge) and another two to get to another plane.
You can get Tajik visa online for touristic travel up to 45 days. You apply at www.evisa.tj and pay the 50 USD fee. There is no more need to bring your passport to the embassy. Some days later you get an e-mail with you visa in pdf. You get your printed version stamped at the border when entering Tajikistan and they take it when you leave the country. So don't loose this paper.
This worked for us (with czech passports) and should work for most of countries, but always check the details for your country.
If you stay in Uzbekistan more than three working days, you have to register. It is automactically done by yout hotel. You can also do (and pay) it by yourself. Check the details here.
Trekking and climbing in Fann Mountains doesn't require any permit (2019). We have read about locals around common camping places, calling themselves rangers and asking for camping fee. In the beginning of June we didn't meet anybody, so maybe they are coming later when there is more people...
Vaccination and health
Besides the common vaccination you probably have, there are some recomendations. Most recomended are Hepatisis A + B and Typhoid. Others depend on the details of your travel - where exactly, for how long and what are you going to do. Ask you doctor about the best combination for you. It is important to thing about vaccination early enough, to allow yourself enoug time between different vaccines.
Prepare your first aid kit based on the purpose of your travel and check with your group - you have to be more independent in remote mountain areas. Once you travel, follow the common healthy and hygienic advices about food and water. (It doesn't mean to buy a plastic bottle every day, water filter can be used to avoid it...)
Transportation - getting there by land
Getting out of the international airport building is not all. The real fun starts here. Sun is burning on your uncovered head and you are looking for a way how to get to the mountains.
...Easiest way is to get everything arranged by a reliable agency, but you are loosing a part of the experience (and probably saving time, of course). We flew to Tashkent and travelled via Samarkand and Panjakent, so here we mostly cover our experience. Travelling vie Dushanbe means many hours in car over mountains and infamous Anzob Tunnel.
Leaving the Tashkent airport we refuse countless taxidrivers trying to get your money driving you directly from a huge airport parking. If you are in hurry or want to use a taxi, they usually accept EUR and USD. Even just leaving the airport area makes your taxi ride much cheaper. Always agree (and bargain) the price in advance.
Public bus stop is out of the airport area, on the left. City bus costs 1200 UZS, which is about 0,13 USD (2019).
From Tashkent to Samarkand, there are both buses and trains.
The train is a bit faster and much more expensive. Most of trains leave from Yuznyi Vokzal and cost from 100 000 UZS for standard seat, which is comfortable enough. The journey takes about three to three and a half hour and there are refreshment sellers passing during the journey. Check how "fresh" the sandwich can be. Basically there are morning and afternoon trains. You can check the current timetable at the pages of Uzbek Railways.
Buses are much cheaper. One ride costs about 30 000 UZS and takes about 4 hours. Buses are usually full od people and the highways full of holes in the asphalt. Tashkent Bus terminal is located in the south of the city, close to the airport. Samarkand bus terminal looks like an outdoor market ans is in the north od Samarkand, next to the Ulugbek Observatory.
There is no direct transport between Samarkand and Panjakent, because there is the Uzbek-Tajik border. The Djartepo border crossing was reopened in the beginning of 2018 after couple of years of being closed due to bad political relations.
Border crossing for a pedestrian tourist seems to be easy. Car drivers are inspected much more in detail (especially entering Uzbekistan), co taxis just don't cross the border. One taxi / marshrutka / shared taxi brings you to the barrier, and you walk through the passport control, over the no-mans-land to the other passport control. Once you leave the gate, there are taxis waiting.
In Samarkand, take a public bus or taxi to Kaftarxona station, where you can take a marshrutka to the border. We found a taxidriver who took us directly from the train station to the border, which saved some time. He didn't stop speaking all the way and finally he gave us a good tip for accomodation in Samarkand when we come back.
That tip we really used and appreciated to enjoy samarkand after the trekking. The taxi drove us from the border to the hotel (not really in the center) for 100 TJS.
Transportation on Tajik side is operated mostly by taxis. We payed 100 TSJ for two of us both Djartepo to Panjakent and the way back.
There is a basic rule for travelling by taxi: Time is money. As there is not a fixed price, you need to bargain. If you are in hurry, you pay more. Waiting for other travellers to share the car makes you travel longer, but cheaper and maybe more interesting.
The base for Fann Mountains is the Panjakent city. You can get the stock of food here (common local food, not a special mountineer food which you'd better bring from home), cooking petrol and the transfer to the mountains.
You can approach Fann Mountains via Artuch (village and further also a mountain camp - Alplager), Sarvoda, Alaudin camp Vertical or Zindon Valley. Other option is Haft Kul Lake and the famous Seven Lakes route in western Fann Mountains. For most of the locations you need to arrange a private transportation by a 4WD car (taxi, organized by camp or an agency).
Artuch Village (and sometimes even the Alplager) is served by marshrutkas (#23). The best time to start is early morning from Panjakent Bazar. You can look for other travelers to share the cost. We managed to agree a price of 150 TJS to Alplager, shared in three passengers. The driver promissed to leave immediately, but we had to eplain him what "now" meaned. There were locals getting on and off all the way to the village.
Last 6 km from the village to the Alplager is only for a 4WD and the driving speed is not much faster than a running donkey. It saves some time and walking on a hot dusty road anyway.
On the way back from Zindon Valley we were so lucky than a local farmer drove us to the city on the main road in Zeravshan Valley. Than from Ruknobod we took a marshrutka no.23 to Panjakent for 10 TJS.
It is highly recomended to travel with cash in Central Asia. US Dollars are widely accepted, Euros and rubles are also good. ATMs can be found only in big cities and might be unreliable - broken or missing money, so play safe and bring cash.
Tajik currency is Tajikistani Somoni (exchange rate in summer 2019 was 10 TJS = 1 USD). We didn't have any problem to change money at the bazar with a good exchange rate. Some taxidrivers and hotels (mostly on common tourist routes) accept US Dollars, but the exchange rate may vary.
Uzbek currency is Uzbekistani soʻm (UZS) and you can easily become a millionaire there. You leave the exchange office with pockets full of grotty banknotes, almost 9500 for one Dollar. No coins are used. Smallest banknote is 100 soʻm, which we didn't see at all. Whereas a 200 soʻm is widely used, because the public transportation ticket costs 1200 soʻm. It's not a problem to change money almost everywhere (airport, hotels, exchange offices) and some tourist services also accept Dollars.
Be careful when coming from Tajikistan to Uzbekistan. It's almost impossible to change Tajik Somoni there. Neither banks nor exchange offices accept them. The only way how to get rid of Tajik money left was a very unofficial guy at the Siob Bazaar. He usually hangs around the corner with drinking fountain close to the entrance from Bibi Khanom Mosgue.
It is typical for Central Asia markets - bazaars, that there are no prices written on goods. Bargaining is a part of the game and the culture.
There are plenty of options, depending on your preferences and budget. We don't need too much comfort, especially when staying just overnight. Then accommodation means just a bed, shower and place for the bag.
You need your own tent for the trekking in Fann Mountains. Comfortable places for camping are usually found around lakes. Sometimes a ranger comes to ask for a small fee for camping, but we didn't meet any. We didn't even try services of Alplager artuch or Alaudin camp Vertical. It should be also possible to arrange a transportation or gas cartridges cor cooking.
We were invited to locals on our last trekking day in Zindon Valley. Having a dinner with the family and sleeping on a typical carpet on the floor was a great way to know their culture.
We didin't arrange any accommodation in advance. We just searched through the internet for tips and experiences of other travellers. Without any previous reservation we tried two hotels in Panjakent and one surprisingly good tip in Samarkand.
Hotel Zeravshan - thirt floor of an unfinished house with a hairdresser in the ground floor. Just oposite the street from the more expensive hotel Sugd and a supermarket. We paid 170 TJS for one night in a two-bed room without a breakfast. It could be cheaper, but we were just to weak to bargain after two days of travelling to Tajikistan. The shower and wi-fi were OK and unlimited tea was nice.
Hotel Bukhara. We found this one by a red sign visible from the main road. There is no other sign on the metal door in the minor street. This hotel has a nice shaded atrium with a small fountain. It is more a dormitory style with bunk beds, but ge got a twin room for 140 TJS/night. The owner tried to ask this price for one person. After pretending to leave, he ensured us, that it was a joke. There is one shower shared for all rooms and the the water was running just time to time.
In Samarkand we stayed in the "family guesthouse Optimist". This taxidriver's tip was the best. Otherwise we wouldn't find it, because it is not in the center. For a nice twin room and breakfast we paid 120 000 UZS, because of low season. The dinner cooked by the owner was tasty. The owner Iskandar is a very inteligent guy and having a chat with him is a nice way to know more about Uzbekistan.
Tajikistan is not a vegetarian-friendly country, especially in the mountains.
Stock well with food for the trekking. Packing the right portion of food to prevent being hungry and not to overload your bag is the matter of experience. You can buy common food in Panjakent, but you need to bring anything slecialised (dried trekking food) from home. It should be also possible to buy some food and gas cartridges in Alaudin and Artuch camp, but we didn't try.
Panjakent is a city with all the common shops and services. There are restaurants, fastfoods, bazar (market) and even the supermarket. Non, the typical Tajik round bread, comes wth every food. Some other kinds of bakery, fruits (especially apricots and watermellons), vegetables, nuts, dried fruits and countless sweets and candies are the most common goods. Flour, rice and beans are sold from bags. Drugstores are also available. There is not much dairy products in Tajikistan. Although there are sheeps and cows in the mountains, it's dry and They don't have enough milk. Moreover a grilled shashlik is much easier to proces.
Both tajik and uzbek cuisines are based on meat. It has many ways of preparation from pastry stuffing to grilled meat. It is also a part of traditional Pilaf (plov) which consist rice, meat and locally carrots, apricots or raisins.
Tea is a favorite drink. They dring both black and green and both of them with lots of sugar or traditional orange coloured sugar crystals. Traditional dinner is served on the floor on a carpet. You are sitting on carpets around the central one which is used as s table. It is pretty hard to stay in such a position for hours of conversation :-)
Trekking food would be for a different long. Simple cooking is preferred, so save time and fuel. There is a variety of dried meals. Some of them can be pretty expensive, but you can figure out your personalised menu by experience and still keep a good nutrition value. Keep in mind that it is very hot during the day in lower altitudes and some food can get spoiled. Temperature in higher camps drops bellow zero in the night, so at least water freeze.
Water is variable quality. Water in lower altitudes with animals (sheeps, donkeys) around lakes and streams can be unsafe. It is recomended to boil it, filter it or use puryfiing tablets. Running water from a small tributary is always safer than still one. Check the stream above place you are about to drink, if you can. The higher you get, the cleaner the water should be. Biologically. It might seem dirtier due to small mud particles dispersed in fast running glacier water. Water from melted snow is very poor in minerals, so think about supplying them from some powder mineral drink.
What to pack?
Think twice about what you really need to carry. There are parts of gear we hope not to use (like first aid kit), most of others are question of choice between weight, comfort and safety. We need to be self-sufficient for two weeks in the mountains. There is no bus stop nearby, not even a mobile signal. The number of days planned for the trekking determines the amount and weight of food and fuel. Climbing gear needed for 5000m ascents adds more weight.
Bring a good tent, that survives in rain, strong wind or a snow storm. Temperature might drop bellow zero during the night, so warm sleeping bag and a speeping pad that isolates you from the cold. Personally I would prefer a good foam one, which givesl less comfort than the inflatable, but is almost indestructible.
There ate two main options for cooking - gas or petrol stove. Petrol is heavier, noisier and harder to operate, but you can buy it anywhere, so it was our choice. Our stove is reliable enough. If you travel wit a gas stove, you have to find a place where to buy compatible cartridges, bacause you can not bring them in the airplane.
Trekking in Fann Mountains includes nice trails, gravel and unstable scree, so bring a good and waterproof shoes. Trekking poles are very useful to add some stability. There is snow in the high passes except very late summer, so you would appreciate gaiters and probably also crampoons. When the snow surface gets frozen, an ice axe might be essential.
To climb the 5000 mountain Zamok we used a touristic ice axe and crampoons. It is usually climbed in a rope team through the crevasse labyrinth in a steep part. We were lucky enough to do this part even steeper on a narrow stripe of hard firn snow along the rock without roping-up. Such conditions may vary week to week, so it is very likely that it was different even couple of days after we have climbed. Not beind sure that this would work, we carried the rope and glacier gear anyway.
Bring clothes that protect you from both sun and rain. Thing about layering and combination of lightweight clothes that dry quickly. Merino is a good choice. Weather might be very changeable in mountains, so be prepared also for freezing temperatures. Warm layer, spare socks, cap and gloves are recomended. Sunglasses and a light hat that protect you from sun are also necessary.
Be prepared to be in a remote area. Equip yourself to be self-sufficient. First-aid kit should be adjusted to the specific needs of group members and it is better to split it. It a part is lost, there is still something left. We have been told, that there should be a mobile signal in high passes, but we didn't get any. Don't rely on the phone. The orientation is pretty easy, when the weather is good, but be prapared to use a paper map and a compass. We used a solar powerbank to recharge camera batteries, but think twice about the weight.
Ten-days trekking tip - our itinerary for the whole travel
There are plenty of options to plan a trekking in Fann Mountains. All depends on your time, condition and experience. Always count some extra time for anything unexpected. You also need time for acclimatisation, if you plan high altitude climbing.
We planned a trekking one of the classif loops with a 5000-climb. There were four 5000-mountains we were thinkinh about, including the highest-one Chimtarga. Actual weather and conditions would determine the final decision. Timewise we could do one or two climbs. We had 17 days for whole travel from leaving our hometown to coming back.
...some climbs are on the map...
Our itinerary day-by-day, trekking with no hurry and some extra time for acclimatisation and in case of bad weather.
(walking times are just for basic orientation, they include breaks on the way)
Departure from Prague, transfer in Moscow.
Early morning arrival to Tashkent (not that early due to Aeroflot flight delay), train to Samarkand and taxi rides via Djartepo border to Panjakent. Time tu buy petrol for the stove and some food at local bazaar.
Marshrutka ride Alplager Artuch - about 2 hours. We planned to hike from the village, but we succeeded to get a ride up to the alpina camp (6 km more). We used this saved time to hike up to the Duschacha lake, instead of Kulikalon planned.
Alplager Artuch (2150 m) - Kulikalon Lake (2830 m) - Duschacha Lake (3000 m)
→ 8 km, ↑ 880 m, ↓ 50 m, 5 hours, map
Trekking over Alaudin Pass (3860 m), descent to Alaudin Lake(2800 m).
→ 6,5 km, ↑ 790 m, ↓ 1000 m, 6 hours
map (Start is in the place, we camped, than we traversed to a common trail)
From Alaudin Lake to Mutnyi Lake (3550 m)
→ 6 km, ↑ 750 m, ↓ 0 m, 4 hours, map
Restday, acclimatisation hike to cca 4000 m before climbing Zamok peak.
→ 5 km, ↑500 m, ↓ 500 m,
Zamok Peak climb (5070 m) from Mutnyi Lake, descent the same way
→ 12 km, ↑1550 m, ↓ 1550 m, 7 hours up + 4 hours down
start 4:15, back in the camp 15:30 (early enough for afternoon storms).
map - we didn't see any source of water where it is marked,
but it's a possible camping place in case of two-days ascent.
You'll get water by melting snow.
Restday, short hike in Chimtarga Pass direction.
Trekking over Chimtarga Pass (3750 m), finally without planned Pik Energia ascent (bad weather, too tired)
→ 7,5 km, ↑1250 m, ↓ 1000 m, 6 hours up + 3 hours down, map - descent just direct down, if there is too much snow to see the trail :-)
start 4:45, snow is soft and deep for the descent.
Descent through Zindon Valley to Balshoe (Big) Allo Lake (3150 m).
→ 5 km, ↑20 m, ↓ 600 m, 3,5 hours
map - #2 marks a place / camp, where you can starto to climb Mirali from west
Side trip to Vierhnee (upper) Allo Lake (3400 m)
and descent to Maloe (small) Allo Lake (2410 m).
→ 12,5 km, ↑400 m, ↓ 1100 m, cca 3 hours side trip + 3,5 hours descent
Descent through Zindon Valley to the confluence with Archamaidan river (1850 m), meeting first local people and a ride with them to the city Ruknobod in Zeravshan valley (can't be planned :-) ). → 9 km, ↑850 m, ↓ 150 m, cca 4 hours
map of trekking - we hiked on the other side of the river between #2 a #3, because the bridge (#2) was desrozed by the flood. After #3, the route is not marked well - switch to the photographic map to see the dirt road better.
Marsrutka ride to Panjakent, archaeologic site, city sightseeing, bazaar, river.
Border crossing to Uzbekistan, taxi to Samarkand, sightseeing.
Samarkand, sightseeing, food, culture :-).
Bus to Tashkent, airport.
Early morning departure to Prague
Some surprises and useful tips
We travelled with some expectarions, but there are allways some surprises waiting to make your travel more fun. We were prepared well. Internet is full of information (useful and actual to old and incorrect). A friendly chat with locals usually tells you more than ten tourist guides.
Trekking before the main season was a good choice for us. We were ready for deep snow in higher altitudes and enjoyed to be almost alone. Big guided groups are supposed to arrive when it is easier to pass on the dry trails. I dare to say that mountains are cleaner than in late season. In main camps we saw a heap of rusty cans and gas cartridges. I just don't understand how it is possible to bring them up and not being able to carry them back down, when they are lighter and empty.
Mobile signal reaches the last remote hut deep in the valley, but the electrical network ends in the village. Locals, living seasonally in the simple huts with their animals, have pretty modern cellphones and a problem with charging. Ther were very courious about our solar charger.
We would expect streets to be full of buzzing small motorcycles, but Tajiks prefer cars (mostly gas fuel, which smells on the strets) or a donkey. Donkey is anyway the best 4WD ever and fuels itself just eating grass along the road.
There are not many brands of cars in Uzbekistan. Only Daewoo / Chrysler that are produces there. The import tax is too high (50%) to afford another car. They even started to produce them already with a gas tank in the luggage space. The best way to earn money for a car is said to be working in Russia.
Both Tajiks and Uzbeks haev made lots of friends during soviet times and got used to speak russian. Nowadays, espacially old people, say, that it is more difficult to travel with borders.
Infrastructure is also from soviet times. Some parts of big cities have problems with water.
We saw several weddings in Samarkand. All of them were very rich and festive. Such a celebration and multiday party we are not used for. Brides wore a thick pale white makeup as if they were pretending to be north - europian.
The sun is very strong in mountains...what a surprise :-)
Sunglasses are a must and a hat helps a lot. Remember that snow surface is a big mirror that allows the sunbeams to burn even those parts of skin that are normally shaded. It is allways better to cover as much skin as possible (and also we are still in a muslim country), than apply heaps of sunscreen. Even a strong one looses it's protection when sweating and you can not wash your skin properly every day. Long sleeves and trousers can cool you down when you make them wet in a stream.
Ona small hole in a T-shirt :-)
If you plan to climb 5000-peaks, think about acclimatisation. Take a time when gaining altitude or do some high climbs before you go. You will need some restdays to let your body accomodate to high altitude conditions. Reactions of the body and time needed are very individual. Follow common recomendations to adjust your pace, dring enough and listen to your body.
It is better to spend all Tajik Somoni in Tajikistan. It is not officially possible to change them in Uzbekistan, neither banks nor exchange office accept them. An unofficial guy at the Samarkand market offered us to change somoni for sum, but his exchange rate was good only for him. He knew we wouldn't be able to exchange them anywhere else.
We enjoyed Fann Mountains so much and we hope to visit them again. There are still some mountains to climb and we will come with more experience :-)
We hope to make your planning easier by sharing all our experience and we would appreciate to read your comments about your experience. Maybe we forgot something or something has just changed.
Good luck and enjoy Fann Mountains :-)