lakes Iskander-Kul

Iskander-Kul is a stunning alpine lake of glacial origin in Sughd Province of northern Tajikistan. Located at an altitude of 2,195 m on the northern slopes of the Gissar Range in the Fann Mountains, it is the highest in the range. Triangular in shape, it has a surface area of 3.4 sq.km and is up to 72 m deep. Widely regarded as one of the most beautiful mountain lakes in all of the former Soviet Union, it is a (relatively) popular tourist attraction, the most visited spot in the Fann Mountains by far. According to tradition, the lake takes its name from Alexander the Great: Iskander is the Central Asian pronunciation of Alexander, and Kul means lake in Tajik.

The scenery around the lake is so rugged and picturesque that it defies description. Huge towers and ridges of rock rise to 4,000 meters, nearly two thousand meters above their reflections on the serene surface of the lake; most of the year the forbidding summits seem even more surreal sporting a fresh coating of snow, though the glaciers have retreated out of sight. The turquoise lake water offers an impressive contrast to the red rocks of the mountain slopes. (The Fann Mountains consist mostly of folded limestone, in which are oxides of iron which become rust colored when exposed to air). The highest of the (visible) surrounding peaks is Mount Kyrk-Shaitan at 3,950 m. Although the bluish-green water is very cold, fed by the Sarytag, Hozormech and Serima rivers, it is possible for hardy individuals to have a refreshing swim in late summer. In winter, the lake freezes nearly solid, its icy surface covered with a heavy blanket of snow.

All along the water's edge, thickets of willow, barberry, dog-rose and buckthorn crowd each other; birch, aspen and juniper groves surround the entire lake. The Iskander-Darya River, originating from the lake, one kilometer below its source ends in a narrow gorge by plunging down a powerful 38m waterfall (sometimes called the "Niagara of the Fanns"). It is possible to view the cascade up close, though it is a dangerous climb up loose scree slopes. Near Iskander-Kul sits "Snake" lake, named for its abundance of snakes, and above the lake a narrow canyon creates another beautiful waterfall, though it can be difficult to access.