Iskanderkul lake, Tajikistan – photo essay and tourist information
Crystal blue lake? Check! Spectacular mountain back drop? Check! Alpine scenery seemingly for you and you alone? Check!
Iskanderkul lake has it all and is a breathtaking landscape for those who make the effort to get to one of Tajikistan’s most hard to reach jewels. Set at 2195m above sea level, the inviting lake is a tease as swimming would be a particularly chilling experience but the view is enough and it is a great introduction to the Fann Mountains as the vistas along the winding dirt road are spectacular in themselves.
A little information…
Iskanderkul lake is 2.5 km long, 1 km wide and is 72m at its deepest point. It sits amongst the Fann Mountains, which are part of the western Pamir-Alay mountain system. The lake has almost no aquatic life due to its high mineral content.
The lake’s name translates in Tajik as ‘Alexander’s lake’ and was supposedly named after the Macedonian leader Alexander the Great who is said to have passed the lake on his conquering path to India. Local legend states that after decimating the capital of the then ruling Sogdian state, the defeated locals declared guerilla war on Alexander and his occupying troops. In revenge, Alexander built a dam to flood the area and when this didn’t have the desired effect, he destroyed the dam to lay waste to the remaining area. Still undeterred local forces once again attacked Alexander, corning the great general and eventually killing his horse Bucephalus before he could make his escape. This legend in turns fuelled another legend that sometimes Alexander’s slain horse rises from the lake, especially at midnight, apparently, and if a single lady manages to catch a sight of the mythical being, she is assured a happy marriage and long life.
Hiking around Iskanderkul
If you are lucky and the weather holds, around 30 minutes from the main accommodation options is a medium sized waterfall to be explored. On the opposite side of the lake lies the President’s dacha and the nearby villages of Sarytag and the Kaznok valley are worth a stroll.
Map of Iskanderkul Lake
How to get there
The unpaved road could be worse (as long as you have access to a 4×4) but there is absolutely no public transport to Iskanderkul. Instead, you have 2 options – hitchhike, which we did although it wasn’t quick as traffic is almost non-existent. We had to do it over 2 days as we arrived to the M34 turnoff quite late and were invited to stay along the way by a slightly tipsy but very friendly gentleman.
The other options is to take a taxi from Sarvoda which should cost between 100-150 TJS. Hitchhiking should be easier during the summer and at weekends when party people head from Dushanbe to the lakeside.
Around Iskanderkul you have 3 options for accommodation. The most expensive are the homestay / guesthouses. The cheapest is a bit of wild camping (if you manage to find a stretch of flat land that hasn’t been claimed by the paid accommodation options, which might be very tricky!). The middle option are the youth cottages at Turbaza.
As we didn’t want to fork out for one of the actual cottages we took the option of camping on the grounds amongst the 30 small abodes so that we would have access to showers and toilets (as well as intermittent wifi). We paid 40 TJS.
written by: Jon