The lake Iskander Kul, meaning the lake of Alexander the Great, lies at an altitude of 2195 meters on the northern slopes of the Gissar Range, in the Tajikistan Fann Mountains. It is unclear if Alexander ever visited the lake but the locals tell of a myth that during the nights you could still see and hear the horse of Alexander within the mist rising from the lake. The lake has a triangular shape, it covers an area of 3,4 square kilometers and is 72 meters deep. Some say that the water is poisonous to drink and that there are no fish living in the lake. There are also some signs forbidding swimming and the temperature is anyway only about +10 C at highest but it is also not rare to see people swimming in the lake during the hottest summer season.
Around the lake, there are several high peaks the highest being the Kyrk-Shaitan, reaching up to 3950 m with snow cover topping it until June. Iskander Kul is one of the great Tajik destinations that can be relatively easily visited even during a short visit to Tajikistan from Dushanbe and it really provides for the time it takes to reach it with amazing scenery and unspoiled mountain nature with a certain serenity especially if you are visiting outside the high season. The view of the lake can vary a lot depending on the weather conditions that are present during the visit.
There is a road going around the lake which you can walk and a small holiday resort at the north end of the lake, nearby the place where the river leaving the Iskander Kul starts. Further down the river, there is a waterfall that has a man-made ledge built over it making it possible to stand almost on top of the waterfall which otherwise flows inside a deep cavern and is impossible to reach.
The waterfall site can be reached walking the path At the North side of the river. At the Southwest corner of the lake there is the summer house of the president with the helicopter landing pads fenced away from the sights of normal people but you can walk quite close to it next to the springs and a small cave just West from the summerhouse.
At the southeast corner of the lake there is a lush green forest area fed by yet another river flowing into the Iskander Kul lake. There is another more green area in the southwest corner of Iskander Kul, not far from the president’s dacha with helicopter landings sites. In the proximity there is also a cave with a spring inside but where the water is not always present.
Iskander Kul Snake Lake
The snake lake is a small lake North from Iskander Kul and the resort at the North end of the lake. On the way to the lake you need to climb over a small hill from where you can get nice pictures of the Iskander Kul. The lake is really named accurately and the area has many snakes during the summer time so we do not advice you to walk in the bushes or forests nearby the lake. The rock above the lake should be relatively safe to enter. We did not see any lakes but it was most likely yet too cold for them in April.
Sarytag village behind Iskander Kul
Sarytag is a small village behind the Iskander Kul lake that has a very poor road and only a couple of cars in the whole village. Sarytag is located in a high valley next to a river, between high snow-covered mountains and the people living there practice livestock breeding. The stone and wood made animal shelters, just a little bit outside the village, tell of the importance of the animals to the local people. Bears roaming not far from the village at the mountains are not a rare sight in this remote place. The village has some homestays serving travelers with accommodation and meals.
It can get quite chilly in Sarytag during nights until late April and sometimes it is not that warm inside the accommodation provided either. In the mornings you can observe how the locals routinely take the animals to graze the grass in the green spots around the village and bring them back in the evening. There are also lots of rare mountain birds in the area for bird lovers to see and the Iskander Kul natural reserve starts just from the lake’s northwest side, where there are great hiking routes.
A couple of kilometers southwest of the Sarytag village, there are some nice woody camping grounds next to the river flowing in the valley. There is a certain kind of calmness in the village, that lives in a different era compared to our “normal” societies. Phones also don’t mostly have connection here.
If you are looking for more luxurious accommodation in Iskander Kul than the village homestays, there are also newly built cabins with a nice view to the lake.
Travel to Iskander Kul
Iskander Kul can be reached from Dushanbe by driving north through the Fann mountains and turning west from the Dushanbe – Khujand road at Zeravshan village and driving up along the Iskander Darya river. If you are approaching from Panjikent or Khujand from the North you can join the same M34 road and drive South towards Dushanbe before making the turn towards the lake. The same road applies of course to the ones who are coming from the Samarkand area or from the Ferghana valley through Khujand. On the way, there are spectacular views of the mountain valleys and high peaks, no matter the season.
It is also possible to hike or trek to other mountain lakes from iskanderkul. They are not easy to reach but hikers with some experience can hike all the way to the Alauddin and Koulikolon lakes that have mostly super clear water straight from the glaciers.
Other sights near Iskander Kul
Page updated 17.9.2023