The Fann Mountains
The Fann Mountains (the Fanns) are an incredibly beautiful corner abounding in alpine lakes and snow-capped peaks, situated at the junction of two major mountain ranges in the Pamir-Alai system in Tajikistan - the Hissar and Zeravshan Ranges, not far from the world-famous ancient city of Samarkand. This is a truly unique highland region known from the past as Kuhistan (which translates from Farsi as ‘the country of mountains’).
Picturesque gorges and passes, rapid rivers, ancient glaciers and splendid emerald green and turquoise lakes, juniper forests and pointed summits, stably warm weather and good accessibility - all this makes the region highly attractive for mountaineers, trekkers and fans of outdoor activities, including their extreme versions.
Administratively the Fann Mountains are situated in Sughd Region of Tajikistan. The administrative centre of the region is Khujand.
Geographically the Fanns form a kind of meridional bridge connecting the two major latitudinally oriented mountain ranges of the Pamir-Alai system - the Zeravshan Range on the north and the Hissar Range on the south. This isolation ensuring the protection of the region on all sides is what makes its climate, flora and fauna unique and original and highly attractive for travellers.
The length of the Fann Mountains is about 150 km. There is only one way for water to flow out of the closed depression bordered on all sides with mountain ranges - via the narrow gorge of the Fandarya River cutting its way through the Zeravshan Range. The largest watercourse of the region is the Zeravshan River, which is the third longest river (780 km) in Central Asia after the Syrdarya and Amudarya.
The continental climate of the Fann Mountains is considerably drier and more stable than that of the neighbouring Tien Shan, with a relatively small amount of average annual precipitation (250 mm).
Summer is hot and brings almost zero precipitation. Warm sunny windless weather always settles in the region throughout the period between June and September and even October.
Winter is cold and frosty. The area is divided into several climatic zones, altitudinally and from west to east.
The vertical zonation results in mild winter on the bottoms of valleys, at altitudes between 1,400 m and 1,600 m, with a large number of warm days, and hot but not stuffy summer. Temperatures may drop below zero in December-January. The temperature drops by 0.6-0.7°С and the level of precipitation rises with the increase of altitude by 100 m. At 3,200-3,400 m temperature may rise above zero only between May and September. Summer at altitudes from 3,400 m to 5,500 m is characterised by frequent cold days, when temperature may fall to minus 10-12°С, while in winter the air temperature may be as low as minus 25-30°С, which, however, does not prevent snow on rocks attacked by intense solar radiation from melting on sunny days. The most pleasurable altitudinal zone is that between 2,000 m and 2,800 m rich in meadows and forests. In summer during the day the air is heated well by the sun, and the nights are quite warm even at an altitude of 2,500 m.
Specificity: Most of the precipitation in the Fann Mountains occurs in the south (the upper stretches of the Sarymat and Karakul) and south-west (Archamaydan). The level is lower on Lakes Alaudin and Kulikalon, while the lower stretches of the Pasrud, Fandarya and Iskanderdarya are referred to arid zones.
The Fanns include amazingly beautiful lakes ornamented with dazzling mountain peaks covered with a mixture of snow and ice. Most of these natural objects are concentrated in a limited area and are located at a distance of several hours on foot from each other. When you climb a path meandering along picturesque gorges with clearest streams which feed unique relict juniper forests and stop their rapid flows from time to time to form another breathtakingly beautiful emerald green or turquoise lake, and watch rare birds and animals in their natural environment and enjoy peaks and ridges of all forms, you thus absorb the salutary energy of Earth herself.
Among the Fann Mountains’ most characteristic features are large numbers of ancient end and ground moraines, glacial lakes and valleys with a rounded bottom and steep and tall ice-polished walls.
The Fann Mountains’ highest point is Chimtarga Peak (5,489 m). South of Chimtarga, in the Zeravshan Range, there is another high peak - Energia (5,100 m). Mirali (5,200 m) is Chimtarga’s closest neighbor from the north. The most remarkable summits in the northern spur are Bodkhona (5,300 m) and Chapdara (5,200 m), in the southern one - Krasnykh Zor Peak and Bely Bars Peak.
The summits that form the Eastern Fann Ridge (listed in sequence as they are in the ridge starting from Energia Peak) are: 4,000-metre summits - Zmeya (4,150 m), Fizkultura i Sport (4,120 m), Gratauleta (4,230 m), Chinal with the Fagitar Spur (4,277 m), Paykhamber (4,958 m); 5,000-metre peaks - Zamok (5,070 m), Cherny (5,010 m), Little Hansa (5,031 m), Big Hansa (5,306 m); 4,000-metre peaks - Fann-Ulla, Sarof, Korabliki, Zinah, Shome.
Sarof Peak gives rise to two spurs: the Turzul spur with Stupenka (4,200 m), Bashnya (4,200 m), Patrush (4,040 m) and Tangi Peaks diverges to the north, and a short spur with a 4,000-metre summit - Paltsy (4,150 m) - to the south.
The Western Fann Range includes summits such as Maria (4,800 m), Aurondag (4,600 m), Saryshakh (4,700 m) and Gaznych (4,200 m). The following summits can be found south of Energia Peak in the Zeravshan Range: Skalnaya Stena (4,734 m), Moscow (5,200 m), Sakharnaya Golova and Pushnovat (4,600 m). Further the range veers westwards to form a strong barrier of rocks and ice known as Dukdon featuring a few summits up to 5,000 m high.
During the glacial period the entire inner depression of the Fann Mountains and the Yaghnob Valley was filled with ice. As the climate was becoming increasingly milder, the mass of ice split into several glaciers which went as far down as the Fandarya River gorge forming the lower part of the depression.
As they withdrew, the glaciers left after them end moraines and extensive lakes. The melting water found an outlet into the Zeravshan valley via a narrow canyon.
The Fann Mountains’ glaciers are currently receding and their present condition is but a tiny trace of the great glaciation that in former times covered, like a shell, the now flowering valleys almost to their tops. Due to the arid climate, today’s glacification is not extensive, with around a hundred glaciers nowadays going down from the crests of the Zeravshan and Hissar Ranges. They are currently in a receding stage and continue to decrease in number and area throughout. Their former size can be established based on the end and ground moraines.
A large glacier once covered the entire Kulikalon depression, which currently consists of a uniform ground moraine. As it shrank and withdrew, the glacier divided into two streams. The first stream left after it moraine-dammed Lake Kulikalon, while the second one moraine-dammed Lakes Dushaha, the short glacier Maria and a series of cirque glaciers hanging under the slopes of Promezhutochny Peak.
There was another big glacier in the past at the mouth of the Chapdara River. The glacier went down below present-day Lakes Alaudin. Its end moraine is currently covered with a forest, and the Chapdara River cascades down from it nowadays.
The largest branch united the Lakes Moutniy cirque glaciers.
Lakes in the Fann Mountains
There is a bunch of many-coloured lakes concentrated in a relatively small area amid wonderful mountain landscapes, at the feet of snow-clad high mountains, surrounded by emerald woods. The water in these lakes ranges from gently green to dark purple.
The Fann Mountains feature around 40 lakes varying in size and character. By now many of them have shrunk considerably because of the reduction in the flow of streams feeding them. Some of the lakes have disappeared completely, and dry depressions are all that has remained of them.
The present-day valleys of the Sarytog and Pasrud Rivers were formerly the bottoms of large lakes.
Some of the Tajik lakes form two-lake systems. They include Dushaha, Ziyorat, Kulikalon, Chukurak, Pushnovat. Water from the upper of the two lakes flows into the lower one, and when the water level in the upper lake drops, the lower one shrinks or temporarily dries up.
Lake Beloye (White Lake)
Lakes Big and Little Allo
These are the most beautiful lakes in the Pasrud River basin. Their average depth is 16.5 metres. When viewed from the top of one of the surrounding mountains, the water seems blue or turquoise, with no suspended particle seen in it. The stone filter 5 km thick makes the lake perfectly pure.
All the streams that feed Lakes Alaudin are blocked by a huge rock bar over which the water cascades.
East of Big Alaudin is Eastern Alaudin. The water from the latter drains underground.
There is no fish in the lakes.
The gorge in which Lakes Alaudin are located is directed northwards, while from the south they are protected by a snow-capped mountain range, with high summits and numerous glaciers all round the place. Despite this and considerable altitudes (2,700 m above sea level), the climate in the area is quite mild, although only fans of extremely cold water can swim in the lakes. One of the most popular trekking routes goes past Lakes Alaudin, while mountaineers use the area as a starting point to climb Chapdara and Chimtarga Peaks.
This lake appears all of a sudden if you walk upstream along the Arg River and reach the Anzak Meadow. The lake is calm and quiet, largely hidden in the dark shade produced by the trunks of trees which grow right out of water. Its shores are covered with thick grass, which makes it very different from a typical mountain lake.
You can get to this lake if you walk up along a path to the left of Lake Chukurak. When this little lake shrinks, its shores get coated with white deposits of salt. This endorheic lake is fed by a small stream flowing from the top of the Chukurak Pass. Its warm water is an excellent environment for swamp vegetation, which is very rich and includes even water lilies.
A path along the Zindon River leads to Lake Little Allo. Depending on the time of the day, the colour of the lake varies from blue to green, while the water always remains crystal clear. Large screes can be seen on nearby slopes. The mountains crumble slowly and turn into ruins, and their debris block one of the streams to produce another lake, Big Allo. The river there goes under the ground and re-appears only 5 km downstream.
Dushaha is a system of two lakes interconnected with a stream breaking a long barrier separating them. The difference in height between the lakes is insignificant. The shores provide a panorama of glaciers located very near the lake and reflected in its waters. Dushaha is situated under the wall of Mirali Peak, at an altitude of 3,000 m above sea level. The shores are covered with juniper forests.
The lakes are accessed via a good walking path. From Dushaha travellers can have a walk to the Maria glacier.
This small body of water is located near Lake Iskanderkul, in the Serim Gorge. The lake is a home for numerous snakes. The southern shore is quite steep, while from the north it is bordered by a relatively extensive meadow with large strangely looking trees.
Iskanderkul is the largest lake in the Fann Mountains situated at an altitude of 2,200 m. It is surrounded on all sides by mountains with snow-capped tops reflected in its quiet mirror-like waters, which makes its shores very picturesque.
Most of the time the water temperature is quite low, although in summer it is possible to swim in closed bays and near the shore. The water is bluish green in colour and slightly turbid. The maximum depth is 72 m. The lake is a home for loach, a small freshwater fish. In winter the surface is covered with ice.
Kulikalon (the Big Lake) is the second largest lake in the Fann Mountains. It is situated at the western edge of the Kulikalon depression at an altitude of 2,800 m. The weather in summer is usually warm, so the water in the lake surrounded by a juniper forest is quite suitable for bathing. There is fish in the lake.
Kulikalon is the last in the chain of lakes in the Kulikalon depression. The water discharges from the lake under the ground, through the thick body of a moraine. The stream that appears from under the moraine is known as the Artuch River.
Kulisiyukh (the Black Lake) forms the second level, receiving the water from Lake Bibi-Jonat. The water is very dark and mysterious, the bottom is laid with a layer of long dark brown algae, while the shores are covered with a barely passable thicket.
If you manage to force your way through rocks and trees, you can reach another lake, which features quite a complex shoreline, numerous rocky islands, bays and headlands, all covered by black currant shrubs. This is Lake Lesnoye, the last one before Kulikalon.
Chukurak is the lowest of the three lakes in a gorge with the same name. The elongated lake whose water colour ranges between greenish in the daytime and dark blue in the evening can be found at the foot of a grandiose rocky bastion. This is a double lake. The upper, bigger one drains into the lower lake. By the end of summer the flow drops sharply, so the larger lake shrinks considerably, while the smaller one dries up.
Rivers in the Fann Mountains
All streams and watercourses in the Fann Mountains and the Yaghnob Valley are a part of the Zeravshan River basin. The Voru and Fandarya Rivers, the left tributaries of the Zeravshan, are highly important from the economic aspect, since they form a large portion of the flow of the river feeding the Samarkand and Bukhara oases.
The rivers of the Fann Mountains rise at high altitudes, at around 3,000 m above sea level. They are fed primarily by melting glaciers and snow. Rainwater contributes but insignificantly. Underground water sources play even less important role in the flow of the rivers. The average water temperature in the Fann rivers ranges between 5°С and 12°С.
The flow fluctuates throughout the year. The highest water level is observed in summer (July-August). The flow may rise for a short time in spring and early summer, when strong thunderstorms occur in the mountains. By late summer the flow, particularly that of small snow-fed streams, decreases. In winter it drops considerably in all rivers. The water level in brooks and small streams fed by glaciers ranges strongly throughout the day. The flow starts in the morning, at 10-11 a.m., and stops after sunset. The numerous lakes naturally regulate the flow of rivers they are fed by. In winter the larger watercourses do not freeze, while the smaller ones either dry up or become covered with ice. Most of the streams have no fish in them, the others are inhabited only by small representatives of this type of aquatic animals.
The network of rivers in the Fann Mountains forms parts of two river basins - those of the Fandarya and Kshtut.
The left tributary of the Fandarya, the Pasrud rises from the snow on the Laudan Pass at an altitude of over 3,000 m, where it turns into a fast stream and flows as far as a meadow below, where it merges with the transparent Chapdara.
The Chapdara is fed by 8 glaciers. The stream cascades from an old moraine holding Lakes Alaudin in their place and flows further quietly towards the Pasrud, forming on its way a series of pools with crystal clear water. In its upper course, after Lakes Moutniye, the Chapdara hides within ancient moraines, and only near Lakes Alaudin the river gains freedom.
The right bank is steep and is covered with a thick juniper forest.
Under the walls of the Sarvador fortress the Pasrud joins the Fandarya.
Although it is fed by 20 glaciers, the Pasrud is relatively small and can be easily walked across. However, there is no need to do it if you go along a path which crosses the stream on bridges. The banks are dry, while the surrounding slopes are desolate.
The Fandarya is formed by the junction of the Yaghnob and Iskanderdarya Rivers.
The Yaghnob rises in the east, where the Zeravshan and Hissar Mountain Ranges meet. Two large streams fed by glaciers merge to form the river. The Tajik usually call the junction of two streams duoba (two waters). The Yaghnob is a big stream from the very beginning. Bridges cross it in several places.
The main source of the Iskanderdarya is the Karakul, which is formed by the junction of two mountain streams, the Aksu and the Akhbasher, rising amidst glaciers and firn fields.
The river is very difficult to ford.
After the confluence with the Dukdon River the Karakul cascades sharply into a sylvan gorge, where it flows quietly until it receives its right tributary, the Zombar.
The Arg rises from the Kaznok glacier at an altitude of around 3,500 m. The stream that springs from under the southern slopes of Mount Energia is called the Kaznok.
The Arg begins at the confluence of the Kaznok and Akhbasoy. As soon as it merges with the Karakul, the river changes the name for the Sarytog and finally drains into Lake Iskanderkul.
All the water brought to Iskanderkul by several streams is carried from the lake by one big river, the Iskanderdarya. About 1 km downstream the water drops from a considerable height into a deep gorge. There is a broad path leading from the lake to the picturesque waterfall, which can be admired comfortably from an observation deck at the edge of the precipice. The Iskanderdarya has but a few small tributaries. Most of the water in the Hansa, Jinjik and Shodan Rivers is taken for irrigational purposes.
The Kshtut River basin is located in the western portion of the Fann Mountains. One of its main sources, the Archa-Maydan, originates from the Dukdon glacier. In its upper course the river flows on a stony bed, then meanders amidst meadows and later enters a wood to hide in a rocky canyon. After the confluence with the Sarymat the stream changes the name for the Voru.
A little way downstream after the mouth of the Sarymat the Voru receives its snow-fed right tributary, the Amshut. The main source of the Amshut is the Zindon rising in the glaciers on Mounts Chimtarga, Skalnaya Stena and Moscow and flowing through Lakes Big and Little Allo.
After the confluence with the Artuch the Voru is named the Kshtut.
The Artuch begins in the Kulikalon depression. It breaks its way from under an ancient moraine and flows turbulently down to the lower moraine, from where it cascades in a long line to the confluence with the Chukurak River. This is the Artuch’s left tributary which starts at the walls of Saryshah and forms two lakes on its way - Ziyorat and Chukurak. The slopes of the Chukurak Gorge are covered by thick juniper woods.
The Artuch flows amidst the rich verdure of Panjrut and Kul-Ali and merges with the Voru.
Downstream of the village of Kul-Ali the newly formed Kshtut River cuts through a little mountain spur and, meandering among the feet of the last rocks, enters the Zeravshan Valley.
The banks of the fast streams of the Fann Mountains are frequented annually by hundreds of tourists interested in water activities. Water activities today are among the most popular outdoor activities. The rivers in the Fann Mountains are perfect for rafters of all levels.
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