ITINERARY & MAP
Our introduction to wonderful Tajikistan begins just outside its capital, Dushanbe with a visit of ancient fortress at Hisor dating back to the 7th century. It was once the residence of the Emir of Bukhara’s deputy and reflects his status.
Returning to Dushanbe, we take a city tour which encompasses the city’s main sights: Rudaki Park, the National Library, the White House, the National State Seal, Parliament and the Jomi theatre. Just as impressive is what is currently the second tallest freestanding flagpole in the world – after Jeddah – a whopping 165 metres high with a flag measuring thirty by sixty metres. A visit to the Central Museum takes us to lunch and afterwards, we’ll make a visit to the Gurminj Museum with its fascinating collection of traditional musical instruments. But we can’t really say we’ve shown you Dushanbe unless you’ve been to the bazaar so we’ll end our excursion with a trip to this most Oriental of markets, vendors’ stalls piled high with fruit and vegetables from the everyday to the exotic. Over dinner, you’ll try more of this fresh produce as you dine Tajik-style in a typical restaurant.
Heading out of the Tajik capital this morning, we’ll drive through the Anzob tunnel, pausing for lunch at a chaikhana, or local tea room, en route. It’s a stark landscape, but dramatic. Moving on, we climb steadily from the foothills into the Fann Mountains. These picturesque peaks form part of the lofty Zarafshan Ridge. As passengers, you’ll be able to gaze uninterrupted at their beauty while someone else takes care of the driving, allowing your mind to wander and the stress of your regular life to fall away like the valley slopes by the side of the road. By mid-afternoon, we’ll pull in at Alp Camp Vertical, our base for the night in cosy mountain cottages.
Transport: Jeep with A/C, 6 hours
Today, our sights are firmly set on the cerulean waters of the Alaodin Lake. To reach it, we’ll need to lace up our boots and trek through some of Tajikistan’s prettiest scenery. The gnarled rock faces of the Fann Mountains create the perfect backdrop to this magnificent high altitude body of water, which is so clear you’ll be able to see the boulders that have tumbled beneath its surface to a watery grave. From there, we’ll hike to Lake Piala, translating as Bowl Lake. Dwarfed by its surroundings yet hypnotically beautiful such is its depth of colour, it appears almost as if a gemstone has dissolved into the landscape. Finally, we’ll reach Mutnoe Lake, pitching our tents at an altitude of 3500m. Like the others, it has a serene beauty. As we pull off our boots, we’ll only have covered a distance of 7km, but who would want to rush through a landscape such as this?
Trekking: 7km, +1000m
Tomorrow, we’re tackling a trekking route at an even higher altitude, where the air is thin and breaths are measured. To acclimatize we recommend spending the day hiking around Mutnoe Lake. There are plenty of trails from which to choose, whether easy or challenging. Of course, easiest of all would be to stay in camp and enjoy the solitude. However you spend the day, you’ll appreciate those mountain views. Once again we’ll camp here overnight.
Trekking: Optional, up and down around the lake to get used to altitude
We’ll get an early start today to make our way over the Kaznok Pass which lies at an altitude of 4020m. It’s a tough climb, even in summer passing over snow covered trails, but any discomfort and difficulty will be forgiven when we reach the top. From your vantage point at Kaznok Pass, glaciers and peaks stretch as far as the eye can see. Our guides will point them out to you: Zamok (5070m), Energiya (5120m) and Chimtargha (5489m), the highest peak in the Fann Mountains. It’s an extraordinary view, and not one you’ll forget in a hurry. From the pass, we’ll descend to the Kaznok River where camp will be set up.
Trekking: 10km, +800m, -150m
The trek gets easier again today as we lose altitude and enter a verdant valley. Its lush meadows form rich grazing pastures and as we descend, we’ll greet many a local shepherd out tending their flocks. The lower slopes are covered with juniper trees and the dark green of those forests contrasts with the light blue of the sky overhead. Our destination is Saratog, a typically Tajik village nestled in the valley. There’ll be plenty of opportunity to wander and chat to the local residents to find out more about their way of life here. Tonight, we’ll sleep at a homestay where a tasty dinner will also be provided.
Trekking: 12km, +350m, -700m
Today marks the start of our mountain bike adventure. We’ll enjoy a lazy morning in Saratog and a filling lunch before setting out to Iskander Kul. Named after Alexander the Great, this tranquil glacial lake offers a serene location to mull over the sights and experiences we’ve had so far since arriving in Tajikistan. Triangular in shape, many consider it to be one of the most exquisite lakes in all of the former Soviet Union nations. It has great bird-spotting potential and if there’s even the tiniest bit of twitcher in you then you’ll be keen to see if you can catch a glimpse of numerous avian species including finches, warblers, falcons and vultures. We’ll ride along the shore path, stopping at the inlet to set up camp. Those wishing to stretch their legs will no doubt be tempted by the nearby waterfall, nicknamed the “Niagara Falls of Tajikistan”. It’s also possible to take a dip in the cooling waters of the lake. However, with the surrounding hills and forested banks perfectly reflected in the still water, we know how hard it will be to drag yourself away. If you want to just sit and drink it all in, well, that’s fine by us.
Biking: 12km, +275m, -450m
Today we’ll get the bikes out again and cycle on paved roads down to the village of Takfon. It occupies a position at the crossroads of the Fann Mountains and the Yagnob Valley. Tonight’s dinner and accommodation will be provided in a family homestay in Takfon.
Biking: 30km, +700m, -1150m
Accommodation: Simple village homestay, altitude 1700m
Prepare yourselves: this will be possibly the toughest day of the trip, though one of the most rewarding. From Takfon, we’ll take the road through a small market town called Anzob, hemmed in on all sides by steep mountain peaks. You’ll see stables constructed from precariously stacked old stones and local housing. From Anzob, we begin the interminable climb to Marghib, but when we arrive, the prize is obvious: uninterrupted views of the sheer rock face of Zamin Karor. This place, lost in time, is one of the most photogenic villages in Tajikistan.
Biking: 30km, +1100m, -550m
Today we ride into the Yagnob Valley, the gentle gradient of the path alongside the Yagnob River making light work of the pedal power needed to cover the distance. This is fertile farmland. The Yagnobi people who live here, though subsistence farmers, grow more than enough to meet their families’ needs. Livestock graze on the thick grass of the meadows that line the banks of the river, which is turbulent enough here to be compared to milk. From those meadows rise hills littered with rocky outcrops and hardy vegetation which clings to impossibly steep slopes. You’ll keep to the valley floor, riding alongside petrified forests whose trunks and branches have stood as landmarks for millions of years. Once, this place had a warm, temperate climate, in contrast to today’s harsher conditions. Winters are especially difficult here, and the slopes home to alpine fauna like mountain goats, bears, foxes, wolves, snow leopards, marmots and ferrets. Time and the modern world pass unnoticed in these parts. The region’s women cling to the ancient Sogdian language, teaching their children to speak the language of ancestors going back to times long before Alexander the Great. You’ll cycle through traditional villages unchanged for centuries, the likes of Bedef, Kashi and Petif. Along the way, you’ll meet the villagers, enjoying their food and their company, before fetching up in Pskan where we’ll dine before spending the night in a simple family homestay.
Biking: 31km, +1000m, -750m
Pskan is worth more than a cursory glance. Leaving the bikes behind, we’ll go hiking to explore its environs. In this isolated place, the Yagnobis are unaccustomed to meeting strangers. At Kalpak Travel, our guides have worked hard at building their trust. You’ll benefit from that experience and patience; in their company you will be welcomed warmly into Yagnobi homes, a rare privilege. Once again, we’ll overnight at the homestay.
Trekking: Short hike
Making the most of the area’s unspoilt countryside, a rarity in today’s heavily developed world, we’ll cycle along the river banks for another 17km. Along the way, a highlight will be passing the spectacular Yagnob Gorge, where the river has eroded a path deep in a canyon. Camp tonight will be at an altitude of 2900m in the shadow of the pass.
Biking: 17km, +1200m, -850m
Accommodation: Tent, altitude 2900m
Today is the last active day on our tour. With the breeze in our faces, we’ll cross the high altitude Pskan Pass (3400m) and say goodbye to the Yagnob Valley. Our descent towards Rufigar takes along a disused highway which hasn’t been used by vehicular traffic since the Soviet era. Unmaintained and in a poor state of repair, it’s unsuitable for cars but not for our mountain bikes. We’ll enjoy a traffic free ride as far as Rufigar village. There, in a simple family homestay, we’ll enjoy a local supper and rest our heads for the night.
Biking: 17km, +760m, -1450m
Sadly, it’s time to make our way back to the city, so a car will be waiting for us in Rufigar to carry us back to Dushanbe. There’ll be a scenic stop midway through the day where we’ll enjoy lunch and then it’s back on the road to reach the capital by afternoon. There’ll be time in Dushanbe to visit a market where you’ll be able to purchase some souvenirs of your trip. We will have farewell dinner at a nice restaurant and stay overnight at the conveniently located Atlas Hotel.
Transport: Jeep with A/C, 4 hours
Today marks the end of your tour. We’ll drive you to the airport in time for your flight home. We hope you have enjoyed this tour and will return soon to discover the other fascinating destinations that Central Asia has to offer.