Odyssey in the Fan Mountains

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July 19th 2007
Published: September 5th 2007
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the Tajik flagthe Tajik flagthe Tajik flag

they didn't have the money to exchange the flag pole...have a close look
...as I wrote you, my little bath had an influence on my onward journey...

So after the nice evening in the small Tajik village, I prepared myself to get up around 9 o'clock, as the bus to Iskander Kul was meant to leave around 11 from the city.
That night I couldn't really sleep well and you can imagine my surprise when I was woken up at 5 in the morning...."we have to go!!!"


Everydboy was up (how I hate mornings!) and they told me that they want to show me the "city" first (they could've told me that the evening before.....) so we headed there at 5.30 in the morning.
On the village square all people gathered to share the few cars and donkey carts to go to the market or work. It was a quite fascinating picture, all the old Tajik men with their donkeys and overloaded cars waiting for "just one more" passenger to finally leave...but i had no sense for all that as my head hurt and I didn't feel allright...a flue was on its way.

So I decided to take the bus to Iskander Kul and, certainly I will be
Iskander KulIskander KulIskander Kul

Iskander means Akexander (after Alexander the Great) in Tajik and Kul stands for lake
there late afternoon, relax at the lake until I feel good enough to head on to Dushanbe.
That was my plan....

Anyway, after having seen the "amazing" museum and the "big city" of Pandjikent with my guides, I only wanted to sleep....traveling can be hard work, believe me!
I stocked up my food on the local bazaar and that was where we met a friend of my host who was going to Iskander Kul to his sheep there.
The wonderful tradition of Tajiki hospitality was now given over from my host whom I met on the wedding in Samarkand to his friend Rachim, the shepherd....at that moment I didn't know the full extend of this decision....

So we boarded the bus which was a really adventurous vehicle and that was meant to bring us in about 5 hours to the junction where the road leads another 20km up the mountain to the beautiful Iskander Kul.
The bus was completely full and many people had to stand....also we had at least 300L of cooling water for the engine with us...and a guy who held the gearshift lever to make sure it didn't flip out...!
Well, back to thr journey itself....I can proudly say that the road we were using was the worst road I have ever seen in my entire life! The roads in Mongolia are way better and there are none! Every 3 meters all of us were thrown in the air or pushed in our seats by washouts or boulders on our way.
To make it short, after 3 or 4 stops, including one delivery of construction material for a wealthy guy (must have paid the driver some money) we finally ended up where we wanted to go....after 11 hours!!! That makes an average of around 10 km/h!
By now I was definitely ill, my head hurt like hell, my tonsils were swollen, etc. etc.....I didn't feel well. The bus driver apologized for the over-long trip and offered to bring us to the lake at 6 the next morning. We should meet him at the house where he delivered the construction material...also he invited me to sleep at his home, but Rachim already found a place to sleep at a friend of him.

The problem (or the nice thing) about hospitality in this country is that no matter what time, the people prepare sth. to eat for you and want to talk to you a little...things I really didn't need after THAT day...so I had to convince them that I am ill and that I don't think that wodka will solve the problem (even when I drink only 50g....instead of the usual 100g) and it made me angry how little understanding the people (especially men!!!) have towards invisible illmesses (you don't bleed, you're not ill...!)
Also I could tell you stories from other travellers about what kind of medicine they use and where illnesses come from in their opinion...just ask me when we meet :-)
Anyway, I managed to sleep next to them eating and chatting and in the morning I felt slightly better and once more swore to myself that I will just go to Iskander Kul to relax there.
As we showed up at 6 at the mentioned house, there was no driver and nobody to talk to....well, Allah won't thank him for that!
So it took us two hours or so to organize a taxi up to the lake for an acceptable amount of money...
The lake was beautiful, but not worth all the hardships so far...we ate in the small restaurant of
on our way...on our way...on our way...

going up high in the Fan Mountains
the "Turbaza" (a former soviet resort) and I told Rachim that I am going to stay here in order to recover...
He didn't want to hear anything of that and told me that his tent is only 15 km away and that we can drive there if we pay our driver a little more....also he told me he wants to kill a goat for me and we're going to have a party...and for the sleeping and recovery, I will have plenty of time to do that at his tent....unfortunately I believed him :-(

So we headed towards Sary Tag, a small village some 15 kms upriver behind the lake, on our way we passed the president's dacha, a quite unimpressive house with 3 helicopter landing places and a big fence. As we reached the village I asked right away where the promised tent is to lay down and get rest, but then my wonderful host told me that it's not here, we have to go by donkey one to two hours along the river...
I wasn't sure where this was going to lead me, but what choices did I have..?!

2 hours later (it was already early afternoon)
me on the bridgeme on the bridgeme on the bridge

forcing a smile for the picture...without knowing what still lies ahead!
Rachim arrived with his son and 3 donkeys, one for each of us, as well as some friends and quite a lot of goats.
So our procession made its way up the mountains along the wonderful scenery of the turquoise Kara Kul river and the orange-red peaks around us.
Riding a donkey is quite nice, you just have to take care that your feet aren't caught by one of the rocks lying at the side of the narrow trail, or you'll end up with a broken ankle when the donkey moves on. It looks funny, but is so much nicer than walking yourself :-) and they can carry a lot!
On our way, we stopped 3 times to eat (once at a settlement next to the river) and at the end all the conserves Rachim bought in Pandjikent were eaten (first time I noticed that they aren't used to store things...they can end up eating 3 days sardines, just because they still have a tin of it...and then the next 3 months all they eat is bred and sheep products...well, different logic...quite monotone though!)
These lunch breaks slowed us down and after 7 hours!!! we still didn't reach the tent, but a cold wind was blowing and I felt worse and worse (fever started to set in)...all we reached was a small stone cottage next to a big boulder, where we intended to stay over night. I only wanted to sleep, as I was shivering, but I had to fight with them to let me set up my tent (they wanted me to sleep in the cottage, next to them celebrating the "great" day by drinking vodka and eating the killed goat!).....finally I set it up and went to sleep, just to be told by Rachim that tomorrow morning at 4.30 we head off to his tent......all I could think of then was "FUCK YOU!!!"

The next morning (after an awful night with practically no sleep) I told him that I am far too weak to go on and that I will stay here....he just said "Ok" and was gone...
For the next 2,5 days all I did/could do was lying there in the little shadow provided by the boulder, drinking some tea and eating some bred, whenever a shepherd passed and shared it with me (I myself had no food left...I didn't know that I was going to be alone there!)...so after a day of 5 meals (not to forget the midnight meal of goat meat and fat the day before) I practically had 200g of bread and some tea a day....not much to regain strength....
I was really worried how this is going to end (I was too weak to go back down) and I hoped that my illness didn't get worse...all I had to fight it was aspirin :-(

After two days without any notice from Rachim I asked some shepherds where his tent is to find him and go back...I recovered a little bit...
So I made my way futher up the river and just in this moment he came towards me with his son to go down to Sary Tag and sell meat of his goats.
No words about illness or whatsoever, I guess HE even was disappointed of ME, because I didn't go with him to his tent (for no reason...!).
The way back was hard, his son and me shared a donkey and I was literally starving....I felt so bad again....but somehow I made it.
In the evening I was fed again and next morning there was a car to the junction where the road leads to Dushanbe.
So we slept at a friend's house and finally set off at 5.30 to say goodbye, cause he was heading back to his village and I found a Wolga to bring me to Dushanbe (in 5 hours they said).

This was a lesson for me how hospitality can turn against you and that it's always wise to be prepared for unexpected things...

Well, as I arrived in Dushanbe (luckily this time within the announced 5 hours, but the road wasn't much better) I checked into a great hotel room and just relaxed until I felt fine again....

That's the story of my Fan mountains adventure, it could have been so much better if it hadn't been for the lack of information and the unexpected hardships during my stay there....

Additional photos below
Photos: 23, Displayed: 23


the destinationthe destination
the destination

that's where I stayed nearly 3 days
the way backthe way back
the way back

I was starving.....
Rachim's sonRachim's son
Rachim's son

we shared the donkey :-)
my first pass in Tajikistanmy first pass in Tajikistan
my first pass in Tajikistan

about 3800m or so...

29th September 2007

Hard trip
So journey in hell it seems. It was a long time I did not read your blog and what I find now : Traveller in troubles ;). Now you can say that you are a survivor. But the last words of your article are very interessant. It is true that sometimes hospitality can bring some difficulties.
15th February 2008

Awesome Trip
You're my hero. I will do the entirety of the Silk Road trip some day. I am planning to go to Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, and Kyrgyzstan this summer. Truly a wonderful blog with amazing pictures.
19th September 2010
Iskander Kul

Iskander Kul
Dear Mathias I browsed your photos with extreme great interest and anxiety when I found it on the web. Fyi, I am doing a research on Alexander the Great and I have also finished scrutinizing all ancient maps and Holy Books of the 3 religions which mentioned Alexander and few ancient travellers' log books including Marco Polo. All the maps shown different places of wall of Gog and Magog and funnily ALL are not plausibile if I cross-check with their respective writers' Holy Book except for 1 writer. In fact, all the location info inside the internet are misleading and not accurate at all. I personally believed that the wall is somewhere in the ranges of where Iskandar Kul is. My question is, do you have anymore photos, that you can upload here and any other info. about what you saw or hear from the local about this place that could help me. I am planning to go to Uzbek/Tajik in June 2011 for this personal expedition, Of course anyone can join me if they are interested. I need to finalize a bit more on my research before i go, though I can almost tell on the google earth at which peak it is. Please do not hesitate to contact me shoud at the above email if you have any question. thanx Feruz

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