• Independent Trekking In The Fann Mountains

    HAFT KUL TO ALAUDDIN

INDEPENDENT TREKKING IN THE FANN MOUNTAINS, TAJIKISTAN: HAFT KUL TO ALAUDDIN

MAGNIFICENT.

Without any sense of hyperbole, the Fann Mountains are wholly and utterly magnificent. We spent eleven days trekking and camping in the region – it’s one of the best things we’ve ever done. With high altitude lakes of dazzling blues and greens, welcoming locals, spectacular mountains, and dramatic river valleys, the Fanns are a trekker’s dream. Yet they remain largely undiscovered.

Jutting out of the north-western corner of Tajikistan, just across the border from Samarkand, the Fann Mountains are often overlooked in favour of the country’s most famous road trip, the Pamir Highway. But for those who linger longer, or prefer an adventure on two feet to four wheels, you’ll discover the true jewels in Tajikistan’s crown of jaw-dropping scenery.

While there are multiple trekking options in the Fann Mountains we settled on an 11 day itinerary taking in the most popular lakes and passes, as well as less trodden routes. We trekked independently, carrying all of our camping gear and food, however it is possible to hire guides and pack donkeys. While we’ve trekked at altitude before in Nepal and embarked on self-sufficient multi-day hikes in Korea, this was our first experience combining the two. It was challenging at times, and we changed our plan on numerous occasions along the way to adapt to our comfort levels. But it was also breathtakingly beautiful, every tough ascent rewarded with incredible vistas and picture-perfect camp spots.

What follows is an account of our trek, with practical information, tips and hints to help you plan your own Fann Mountains adventure.

Read through the whole guide or click the links to jump to a particular section below

FANN MOUNTAINS TREK: EARLY AUGUST

Switch between terrain and satellite view for a full overview of the trek

DAY 1
~
DUSHANBE TO HAFT KUL (SEVEN LAKES)

TIME

Actual Walking Time | 3 Hours
Total Time | 4 Hours

DISTANCE

9 KM

ELEVATION

Dushanbe | 706m
7th Lake | 2400m


Having stocked up on supplies, we hit the road in a taxi with a Polish couple from our hostel in Dushanbe, Haft Kul bound. We’d planned to take a shared taxi to Panjakent and organise transport to the Seven Lakes from there, but sharing a private taxi straight to the 6th Lake saved us a day, and a lot of hassle.

Leaving the main road, having switched to a pre-arranged 4WD, the journey up the valley was gorgeous. We passed picturesque villages as the road hugged the powerful river, counting the lakes as we went by, each one more impressive than the last. Brightly coloured clothes lay drying on enormous rocks, women scrubbing away beside a raging cascade. We jumped out a few times to admire the view, getting more and more excited for the days to come.

Independent Trekking In The Fann Mountains, Tajikistan: Haft Kul to Alauddin - Washing drying on the rocks by the Shing River

Arriving at Marguzor for lunch time, we were welcomed by a family picnicking by the lake. A photoshoot ensued and we found ourselves surrounded by inquisitive kids, poking and prodding away at our gear.  A quick bite to eat and we headed off on foot to the 7th Lake, a couple of hours climb up the valley. Plodding away up the dusty path, getting accustomed to the weight on our backs, we chatted to a mother and her adult son. By the time we reached the top I’d mastered 1-10 in Tajik and a few words of Russian.

Independent Trekking In The Fann Mountains, Tajikistan: Haft Kul to Alauddin - Marguzor Lake, the 6th lake of the Haft Kul in Tajikistan

We followed the easy lakeside trail to the other end and back again, setting up camp by the river. Getting stuck into our first of many surprisingly delicious dehydrated meals, we double checked the route for the following day and planned out our morning. The stars were glorious – something we’d come to experience almost every night in the Fann Mountains.

We left Dushanbe at 7:30am, arriving at the 6th Lake at 1:30pm (4 hours to Haft Kul turn off, 2 hours to 6th Lake).

We paid 600 Somoni for a taxi from Yeti Hostel to the turn off + 400 Somoni for a 4WD from the turn off to the 6th Lake (shared between 4 people).

The best camping spot is at the start of the lake and you can get water easily from the river flowing out of it.

The trail is on Maps.Me (iOS/Android)


DAY 2
~

7TH LAKE TO CAMP BELOW TAVASANG PASS

TIME

Actual Walking Time | 7 Hours
Total Time | 10 Hours

DISTANCE

13.5 KM

ELEVATION

Start | 2400m
Pass Height | 3250m
End | 2850m
Total Elevation Gain | 1000m


We packed up and headed back down towards the 6th Lake around 9:30 am, in hindsight later than we should have. Being awestruck by the scenery we stopped numerous times for photos, the loads on our backs feeling lighter on the way down than the previous day going up.

Noticing a trail to the right shortly after the huge overhanging rock, we followed this instead of descending all the way to the 6th Lake. Coming to a small village of mud brick houses we stopped to buy bread from a local family, a monstrous round brick weighing about 1.5kg. We continued around the hillside, startling a couple of young girls fetching water, and up the valley to the right. Unable to continue with my top heavy bread load, we stopped for an early lunch and made as big a dent as we could in the non.

Independent Trekking In The Fann Mountains, Tajikistan: Haft Kul to Alauddin - Girls fetching water above Marguzor Lake

We continued to climb steeply up the valley, keeping the river on our left before crossing a bridge, then another further up. We met some of the kids from the day before and passed locals gathering up bundles of branches, packing them onto their donkeys to head back down.

Independent Trekking In The Fann Mountains, Tajikistan: Haft Kul to Alauddin - Kim and the local lads, enroute to Tavasang Pass

Leaving everyone behind, we hit a fairly steep section, then a flat grazing area, followed by more climbing. It felt like the climb went on forever, the pass never coming in to view until the last minute. The effects of altitude were taking their toll, making the ascent a tough slog.

We saw only one more man and his donkey shortly before the pass. Pushing on to the top the ground changed to soft black sand and the wind picked up, making it harder and harder to trudge on. We reached the top around 6.30pm, far later than we would have liked. With just an hour and a half of daylight left we paused only briefly to take in the view before descending. The trail was narrow and a little unstable under foot thanks to small, loose rocks. I took a tumble at one point, nearly losing my hiking pole down the mountainside. Exhausted after a long day I was relieved to see tents pitched in a meadow ahead, around 300m below the pass.

Independent Trekking In The Fann Mountains, Tajikistan: Haft Kul to Alauddin - Kim, happy to be at Tavasang Pass

We traipsed in at dusk, greeting a group of Czech hikers and noting our Polish car buddies’ tent by the spring. Clearly everyone else had been faster than us. We got set up and ate dinner under a sea of stars.

You’ll follow a river/stream for most of the ascent, so water is available almost the whole way to the top of the pass. There is a small spring with water at the meadow camp.

The next available camping spot is a small grassy area at the very bottom just above the river, approx 600m and 2-2.5 hours beyond the meadow. There’s a spring for easy water access. Do not attempt the trail in the dark though as it’s fairly steep, with narrow paths of loose small rocks and sharp drop-offs.

The trail is NOT on Maps.Me


DAY 3
~

CAMP BELOW TAVASANG PASS TO SARYMAT RIVER

TIME

Actual Walking Time | 4.5 Hours
Total Time | 7 Hours

DISTANCE

11 KM

ELEVATION

Start | 2850m
End | 2200m
Total Elevation Loss | 850m


Continuing our descent to the Sarymat River we stopped for tea, fresh yoghurt and bread not long after we set off. Our friendly host was one of many nomadic locals beckoning us in for chai along the way. The trail beyond these summer nomad homes was narrow, unstable under foot and steep at times. The sharp drop-off on one side had my heart racing. While Del admired the views all around I didn’t dare lift my eyes from the dusty path.

Independent Trekking In The Fann Mountains, Tajikistan: Haft Kul to Alauddin - Camped in the meadow below Tavasang Pass

Independent Trekking In The Fann Mountains, Tajikistan: Haft Kul to Alauddin - Friendly kids from local nomad families

Independent Trekking In The Fann Mountains, Tajikistan: Haft Kul to Alauddin - Kim approaching the narrow path down to the Sarymat River

Reaching the Sarymat River we followed this for the rest of the day. The only people we saw were local herders, cajoling their goats and donkeys along the same dusty trails we walked. Our riverside lunch spot just after the first bridge crossing was our favourite of the trek.

Independent Trekking In The Fann Mountains, Tajikistan: Haft Kul to Alauddin - Lunch at the Sarymat River


So enamoured with the views and paying too much attention to the goats instead of the trail, we missed the second bridge tucked a little behind to our left. Reaching a rocky landslide we figured something was up. We doubled back twice looking for a place to cross the river, hunting for foot prints and donkey poop to guide the way. No clear sign. Faint trails led across the rock slide so we followed these, the route becoming more and more treacherous. We debated with ourselves, confused about how we’d gone so wrong, annoyed at how much time we’d wasted. I saw a man on the other side of the river, far below the perilous ‘trail’ we were teetering on. Shouting over to him, he gestured to go back and cross the river. We picked our way back for the third time, and eventually spotted the bridge. So obvious to us now, but easily missed.

Independent Trekking In The Fann Mountains, Tajikistan: Haft Kul to Alauddin - Following the goatherder, right before we missed the bridge

Many continue to the confluence of the Archamaidan and Sarymat rivers to camp, but tired out by the long day before and our rockslide incident, we called it a day around 5:00 pm. A lovely spot by the river surrounded by rocks and a few trees was our camp for the night. As we got stuck into our porcini mushroom risotto (the new favourite of our meals) numerous herds of goats scampered by, leaving a plume of dust in their wake. Their owners stopped to say hello, right hand held to the heart. One gestured to our belongings, miming out eye drops. I had a spare and passed it on.

Independent Trekking In The Fann Mountains, Tajikistan: Haft Kul to Alauddin - Camping by the Sarymat River

We lay back, admiring the stars yet again before heading to bed for a bizarrely warm night, the heat trapped beneath our tent.

As mentioned, keep your eyes peeled for the second bridge to cross back to the left side of the river!

You can fill up water almost anywhere along the river section.

The trail is NOT on Maps.Me


DAY 4
~

SARYMAT RIVER TO ZIMTUT VILLAGE

TIME

Actual Walking Time | 6.5 Hours
Total Time | 8 Hours

DISTANCE

21 KM

ELEVATION

Start | 2200m
End | 1600m
Total Elevation Loss | 700m


With our clothes in need of a wash Del was up at the crack of dawn getting his Scrubba on. The sun dried them quickly and we headed on down the valley.



Soon enough we found ourselves staring down a narrow winding path, a rock wall on one side, a steep drop on the other and a raging river below. A deep breath. A ‘Not again!’ I wholeheartedly thanked my hiking poles for their very existence for the umpteenth time on the trek. Edging forward, the trail barely wide enough for my two feet and poles to stand side by side, Del shouted words of encouragement. One slip on a loose stone and I could have been churning around in the water below. And to think the locals take all this in their stride, casually strolling these trails day in day out, or (even worse!) on the back of a donkey. We made it to the bottom and breathed a sigh of relief.

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The picturesque village of Khumorigunt faced us across the river, a dirt road ahead. In need of bread we crossed a bridge and approached a woman doing laundry by the river. She motioned to wait while she went to her home and returned with two rounds of non. We took one and tried to pay but she flat-out refused, despite my trying for five minutes. The Tajik way, she communicated.


Independent Trekking In The Fann Mountains, Tajikistan: Haft Kul to Alauddin - The traditional village of Khumorigunt

Independent Trekking In The Fann Mountains, Tajikistan: Haft Kul to Alauddin - Heading down to the Archamaidan River

We continued on down the ‘road’ under the fierce sun, one tree by the confluence of the Archamaidan and Sarymat rivers providing our only respite. We should have eaten lunch here, but didn’t. We’d regret that on the long, hot walk to come.

Climbing the short path above the tree we gawked in awe at the view of the rivers below. We carried on, passing the turn-off for Bolshoi Allo lake and the Chimtarga Pass beyond. It was hot, windy and dusty. The scenery was impressive, but the relentless sun and long distance took its toll.

Independent Trekking In The Fann Mountains, Tajikistan: Haft Kul to Alauddin - The confluence - the Sarymat meets the mighty Archamaidan

We got chatting to a man along the way before eventually stopping for lunch in a scrap of shade by the road. As we neared Gazza we saw a boy bounding towards us, a big grin on his face. ‘I heard you were coming! I’ve come to meet you’, he exclaimed. News travels fast in this part of the world it seems.

Sadulo told us of his family homestay in Zimtut, and how he walked an hour every day to meet tourists and show them the way. We were quite content camping, but as we were all going the same way anyway we got chatting. This 13 year old entrepreneur worked his sales magic on us and we wound up at his home a few kilometres later, exhausted and looking forward to a shower.

Independent Trekking In The Fann Mountains, Tajikistan: Haft Kul to Alauddin - The verdant garden of our Zimtut homestay

We scrubbed up, enjoyed a homecooked meal, and swapped stories with our fellow guests.

There is very little in the way of camp spots on the road to Zimtut, with the majority of land being used for agriculture. Even if we’d wanted to we would have struggled to find a spot for camping. The best place is the green grass by the river at Gazza.

You can fill up water from the river at a few points along the way, but you’re high above it for a lot of the time.

If you’re planning to camp at the confluence of the Archamaidan and Sarymat rivers, head to the right instead of crossing the bridge and you’ll find a suitable area.

If you do stay in a homestay, you can charge things and get a shower, even a beer!

The trail is NOT on Maps.Me (although the road section is marked).


DAY 5
~

ZIMTUT TO CHUKURAK LAKE

TIME

Actual Walking Time | 8 Hours
Total Time | 11 Hours

DISTANCE

15 KM

ELEVATION

Start | 1600m
Pass Height | 2650m
End | 2400m
Total Elevation Gain | 1200m


With no tent to pack up we made an early start and headed up the steep switchbacks to Guitan. A colourful collection of apiaries lay at the centre of the village, a local man tending his bees. Some excitable young boys came running out of nowhere to greet us, chanting an endless chorus of ‘Hello! Goodbye!’ for a solid ten minutes. We pushed on further up the hill, stopping just beyond the village to tend some blisters. We were spotted and soon joined by some curious boys, a little shy at first but edging closer and closer until they were surrounding us, giggling.

Independent Trekking In The Fann Mountains, Tajikistan: Haft Kul to Alauddin - Bees, bees, bees - a beekeeper hard at work in the village of Guitan

Independent Trekking In The Fann Mountains, Tajikistan: Haft Kul to Alauddin - The bee boys of Guitan

Up, up, up we climbed on a fairly even dirt track, petering out to a narrow donkey trail all the way to the top of Guitan/Igrok Pass. Another hot day with no shade, but nice views down over the villages.

On the other side of the pass the view was completely different. Trees lined the hillside, the first forest we’d seen on the trek. We continued around the hillside on a mostly flat path, coming across a few nomadic homes. We were glad to find a spring, waiting our turn to fill up the water bottles while a mother and her daughter carted buckets back and forth to their house.

Independent Trekking In The Fann Mountains, Tajikistan: Haft Kul to Alauddin - The homes of nomad families just past the Guitan (Igrok) Pass

We carried on, wondering when exactly we’d start to descend. We caught sight of Alplager, the Soviet era alpine camp accessible by road far below. We crossed a boggy patch and kept trudging on. Finding ourselves battling with branches and shrubs and faced with multiple ‘trails’, none of which seemed right, we consulted Maps Me. We were about 100m below the actual path. Exhausted and annoyed at ourselves and the situation, we heaved our tired bodies up the steep slope, crashing into trees and feeling every gram in our backpacks. We eventually re-joined the trail and vowed to check Maps Me religiously from now on.

Finally we spotted Chukurak down below and started to descend steeply to the lake. More sharp drops, unstable ground and sections where the path had fallen away. After eleven hours I collapsed by the lakeside, tears in my eyes from utter exhaustion and doubting my ability to carry on.

Independent Trekking In The Fann Mountains, Tajikistan: Haft Kul to Alauddin - Looking down on Chukurak Lake

Independent Trekking In The Fann Mountains, Tajikistan: Haft Kul to Alauddin - Camped on the shore of Chukurak Lake at dusk

A pep talk from Del and the decision to continue to Kulikalon via Alplager (instead of another pass) got me back on track, and we crashed out soon after dinner.

There is no shade on the Guitan side of the pass and a long section on the approach to the pass with no water. There are a couple of spots on the Chukurak side to fill up.

The couple we spoke to at our homestay took 7 hours to cross the pass with big bags going in the opposite direction.

There are a few spots to camp by the lake – on the grass at the bottom of the pass trail (where we camped), by the trees on the large patch of grass on the east side of the lake, or on the north side by the trail to Alplager.

The trail is on Maps.Me from Guitan onwards


DAY 6
~

CHUKURAK LAKE TO KULIKALON LAKE VIA ALPLAGER

TIME

Actual Walking Time | 5 Hours
Total Time | 7 Hours

DISTANCE

11 KM

ELEVATION

Start | 2400m
End | 2800m
Total Elevation Gain | 721m


We awoke to some very noisy cows and a glorious reflection in the lake. Putting the lows of the day before behind me we descended to Alplager, over large rocks requiring a hand or two to negotiate. Eggs, fresh bread and a welcome pot of chai awaited us at the Alpine Camp. Fuelled up and stocked up on supplies we headed for Kulikalon.

Independent Trekking In The Fann Mountains, Tajikistan: Haft Kul to Alauddin - Beautiful and clear in the morning at Chukurak Lake

Some boys on their donkeys walked with us, chatting away in broken English. ‘Where are you going?’ I enquired. ‘Swimming! And our donkeys are hungry,’ the chattiest one replied. We assumed there was something lost in translation. They directed us over a bridge, pointing us on up the steep path to Kulikalon and rode on ahead while we stopped to fill up.

Our water bottles full, we carried on and heard shrieks of delight in the distance. Sure enough, there were the boys, stripped down to their pants and having a ball of a time in a man made pool. ‘Welcome to Tajikistan!! Welcome to Barashor!!’ they bellowed excitedly. They pushed and jostled each other, each one keen to show off their swimming skills. The water was freezing, the boys shivering by the side, but they didn’t care and it made us laugh to see how much fun they were having. ‘Where are your donkeys?’ I asked eventually. And with that the eldest went running off, still in his pants.

Independent Trekking In The Fann Mountains, Tajikistan: Haft Kul to Alauddin - Local boys having fun at 'Barachor', the best swimming pool in Tajikistan

Independent Trekking In The Fann Mountains, Tajikistan: Haft Kul to Alauddin - The path to Kulikalon

We followed the river, climbing steeply until we reached a flat shelf of grass, trees and rocks, the river snaking through it. Before long we were climbing again, a steep ascent on a dusty trail of small loose rocks. It was a pretty tough climb, but the scenery was so incredible I didn’t care. For the first time I was leading the way, Del trudging on behind me with his heavy load. People passed us coming back down and I breathed a sigh of relief that I was heading up, and not down, on this hairy trail full of sharp drops.

Scrambling over the last few rocks we reached the top, another flat section with mountains rising on all sides. Before long we were gawking at the magnificent Kulikalon Lake and setting up camp on a grassy patch facing an imposing icy mountainside.

Independent Trekking In The Fann Mountains, Tajikistan: Haft Kul to Alauddin - Flying over the mighty Kulikalon

There wasn’t another hiker in sight, although I’m sure others were camping too, everyone having sought out their own little patch of paradise. I saw my first shooting star that night, a sight that had me grinning from ear to ear and the perfect end to an incredible day.

You can stock up on basic supplies like bread, chocolate bars, toiletries, a hodgepodge of canned/tinned foods, etc. in the shop at Alplager. They have rooms available too.

You can fill up water from the river most of the way.

Note that you can take an alternative route from Chukurak Lake to Kulikalon Lake via Chukurak Pass (3160m). I was in no mood to tackle another pass that day so opted for the Alplager route instead and loved it. It seemed the pass was not as well trodden a route.

The Alplager trail is on Maps.Me, the Chukurak Pass trail is NOT marked also now.


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Independent Trekking In The Fann Mountains: Haft Kul To Alauddin

DAY 7
~

KULIKALON LAKE TO BIBIDZHONAT LAKE

TIME

Actual Walking Time | 1.5 Hours
Total Time | 2 Hours

DISTANCE

4 KM

ELEVATION

Start | 2800m
End | 2850m
Total Elevation Gain | 88m


When you’re in paradise, why leave?

Independent Trekking In The Fann Mountains, Tajikistan: Haft Kul to Alauddin - Camped at Kulikalon, the place to ourselves

We were in no hurry to move on and decided to spend the next couple of days enjoying every lake this area could throw at us. We ambled around the shore of sprawling Kulikalon, over to Kulisiyekh and down the west shore of Bibidzhonat. With an impressive 4KM under our belts for the day we ditched the bags and pitched up on a glorious finger of land jutting out into the lake. An easy day and early finish was exactly what we needed after a week of exertion. We caught up on more washing, gave our dishes a proper scrub and gave my hair a welcome shampooing.

Independent Trekking In The Fann Mountains, Tajikistan: Haft Kul to Alauddin - Watching sunset at Bibidzhonat

Independent Trekking In The Fann Mountains, Tajikistan: Haft Kul to Alauddin - Kim on the shores of Kulikalon

Come sunset the snowy face of Mt Mirali, towering above us, was basking in golden rays. The reflections were some of the best yet. We sat on a rock and lapped it up.

There are limited spots to camp by Bibidzhonat. The thin green finger sticking out just past the chaikhana is the most spectacular spot, with the best views. For larger groups, the Alauddin Pass end of the lake is the best bet. There are also spots set back from the lake, next to the stream and mini lakes amongst the trees on the west side of the lake (no lake views though).

You can get water from the streams easily around here. The chaikhana offers food, drinks and limited supplies but charges a small fortune compared to everywhere else we encountered in Tajikistan, remote or not. The (rather pushy) owner wanted 50 somoni for some bread – more than ten times the normal amount! We took our business elsewhere…

We were visited by an army guy in the late afternoon who requested our passports to register us and a fee of approx 17 somoni each. It was pretty strange, but he had an official looking paper explaining in multiple languages that he was permitted to collect the fee from tourists camping in the area, and with a complete language barrier we weren’t going to kick up a fuss. We didn’t experience this anywhere else in the Fann Mountains.

The trail is on Maps.Me.


DAY 8
~

BIBIDZHONAT LAKE TO DUSHAKHA LAKE

TIME

Actual Walking Time | 1.5 Hours
Total Time | 2 Hours

DISTANCE

2.7 KM

ELEVATION

Start | 2850m
End | 3000m
Total Elevation Gain | 150m


Independent Trekking In The Fann Mountains, Tajikistan: Haft Kul to Alauddin - Watching the sunrise at Bibidzhonat

After a lazy morning admiring yet more spectacular reflections we continued an hour up river to splendid Dushakha Lake. The highest of the lakes in this area, at around 3000m, this blue beauty sits at the very foot of Mt. Mirali, its water icy cold and crystal clear.

Independent Trekking In The Fann Mountains, Tajikistan: Haft Kul to Alauddin - Morning reflections at Bibidzhonat Lake

Searching for a place to camp we waded through the river, around the first lake, then onto the second. At the far end we found a glorious patch of green, a picture perfect stream snaking through it and straight into the lake. We dropped our bags and sat gobsmacked on a rock, the sheer beauty overwhelming and exciting us.

A family messed around across the stream, the father cajoling his eldest son into a quick swim around the rock. Australians, living in Tajikistan for the best part of two decades it turned out. We chatted for a while and then they were on their way, leaving us in solitude for the remainder of our time here.

Independent Trekking In The Fann Mountains, Tajikistan: Haft Kul to Alauddin - Taking it all in at stunning Dushaka Lake

Independent Trekking In The Fann Mountains, Tajikistan: Haft Kul to Alauddin - Camped at Dushaka Lake

It was windy, and annoying horse flies bugged us all afternoon, but this was our favourite camp spot of the whole trek. We watched the tiny figures of hikers heading up and down the Alauddin Pass above us. We’d be doing the same the following day. A herd of goats and a couple of men passed by behind us, heading for the impossibly steep mountain side across the lake. Colourful jackets and bags flashed here and there, day hikers up from Bibidzhonat.

The smile barely left my face all day. We kept repeating how glad we were to have taken the time to hang out, to enjoy this magnificent place and not just rush on through.

Independent Trekking In The Fann Mountains, Tajikistan: Haft Kul to Alauddin - Starry skies over the Fann Mountains

You can head up the left or right side of the river, however you’ll need to wade through the river at the top if you’re on the right side. It’s not deep, but it is mighty cold!

There are a few sheltered camping spots snuggled in the trees by the main, bigger lake. The green patch at the end is the most spectacular though.

You can join the Alauddin Pass trail by heading up the hill behind the green camp spot.

The trail all the way to Dushakha is NOT on Maps.Me.


DAY 9
~

DUSHAKHA LAKE TO ALAUDDIN LAKE VIA ALAUDDIN PASS

TIME

Actual Walking Time | 5 Hours
Total Time | 6.5 Hours

DISTANCE

8.5 KM

ELEVATION

Start | 3000m
Pass Height | 3800m
End | 2850m
Total Elevation Gain | 800m


After a couple of relaxing days it was time to tackle our final pass, the highest yet at 3800m. We had a chilly start to the morning but knew we had to get cracking early if we wanted to be done before dark. I’m slow, after all.

We joined the trail high above our camp spot and gawked at the lakes below, as impressive from above as they’d been up close. We climbed steeply, heading steadily up up up. The pass loomed above us, giving us something to aim for. I’d come to realise I preferred these kind of passes, a uniform trail that allowed for a constant, slow rhythm. The sneaky hidden passes, like Tavasang, felt much harder to me.

Independent Trekking In The Fann Mountains, Tajikistan: Haft Kul to Alauddin - Donkeys on the way to Alauddin Pass

We encountered far more people on this section of the trek than any other day, but still it was hardly an obnoxious amount.

Reaching the top we paused to take in the view. Alauddin lay far below, a gaping turquoise wound in the dusty, rocky landscape.  A pressure built above my eyes, no doubt thanks to the altitude, the niggling headache getting progressively worse. More water. More food.

From my vantage point the trail looked to fall straight off the mountain. Approaching, it seemed marginally less daunting. Again I wondered how I’d ever manage without my poles. We headed down as steeply as we’d ascended, pausing a couple of times to admire the lakes and regain my focus. Climbers laden with ropes and helmets raced past us, headed for an adventure entirely different to our own.

Independent Trekking In The Fann Mountains, Tajikistan: Haft Kul to Alauddin - A quick rest before reaching Alauddin Lakes

By mid-afternoon we were setting up camp on the shore of Alauddin Lake, in a dusty patch away from the two tour groups pitched nearby. We quite possibly had the best view in the house.

The lower altitude didn’t seem to be helping and I tried to sleep off my headache, drifting in and out of consciousness for the rest of the day.

Independent Trekking In The Fann Mountains, Tajikistan: Haft Kul to Alauddin - Looking down on Alauddin Lake

The main camping spot at Alauddin (also spelt Alovaddin/Alaudin and pronounced slightly differently depending who you’re talking to) is the grassy patch at the south-west shore. If it’s busy here you can find patches further round, or camp in the trees by the river and tea house at the foot of the Alauddin Pass trail. Others camped on the rocky island section jutting out into the lake, or along the north shore. It’s definitely possible to find a more peaceful spot!

It’s best to take drinking water from the river flowing into the lake. Be sure to take your rubbish with you and don’t pollute the lake water with shampoo, etc. We saw a disgraceful number of tourists getting naked and washing themselves and their clothes with soap and shampoo in the lake. This isn’t culturally appropriate or environmentally friendly! The amount of trash hidden away in bushes, or indeed just lying around here was very disappointing. We sat at the chaikhana across the lake from our tent and watched a man literally take a dump less than ten metres from our belongings. When we returned he’d left his used toilet paper and poop right there. Don’t be this person!! Be sure to burn or carry out all of your rubbish and dig a hole for your toilet waste far away from water sources.

The trail is on Maps.Me, although not the short section from Dushakha to the trail.


DAY 10
~

REST DAY AT ALAUDDIN LAKE 

Independent Trekking In The Fann Mountains, Tajikistan: Haft Kul to Alauddin - Sunrise over Alauddin Lake

It’s well worth the early rise to catch the perfect mirror-like reflections in the lake. Del snapped away for an hour or so before a leisurely stroll to the chaikhana to pick up some fresh bread and eggs.

We whiled away the day hopping from shady rock to tea house, and then to tent when the rain came for the first time on our trek. We sipped on beer, kept cold in the river, and chatted to the Czechs we’d bumped into a couple of times before. The groups had moved on and the lake returned to peaceful tranquility.

There are a couple of chaikhanas by the lake where you can get meals, tea, beer and fresh supplies of bread, eggs, etc.


DAY 11
~

ALAUDDIN LAKE TO VERTICAL ALAUDDIN CAMP & DRIVE TO ISKANDERKUL

TIME

Actual Walking Time | 1 Hour
Total Time | 1.5 Hours

DISTANCE

2.5 KM

ELEVATION

Start | 2850m
End | 2650m
Total Elevation Loss | 200m


We were reluctant to leave but all good things must come to an end. A couple more scenic lakes awaited us on the short hike down to Vertical Alauddin, base camp for adventurous climbers and hikers alike. Half way down the trail we stopped to replenish our water and negotiated a ride to Iskanderkul with a passing local. We bargained hard, feeling slightly guilty after later seeing just how long the journey was and how bad the roads were.

We had an egg and veggie frittata-esque feast in the atmospheric brick dining room of the camp. Climbing flags adorned the walls, many being antiques from Soviet times. The ceiling, windows and door boasted stunningly ornate wood carvings.

Independent Trekking In The Fann Mountains, Tajikistan: Haft Kul to Alauddin - Climbing flags on the wall at Vertical Alauddin

Nearly three hours later, after a brief journey through a Cappadocia-like landscape and some irresistibly charming villages, we were at Iskanderkul. Camping by the lake in the grounds of the Turbaza, a Soviet era holiday camp, we couldn’t help but miss the solitude of Dushakha or Kulikalon. As attractive as Iskanderkul is, it couldn’t quite live up to those lakes of the Fann Mountains that we’d worked so hard to get to on our own two feet. It made us appreciate our journey even more, a trek that was already cemented in our minds as one of the best things we’ve ever done.

Independent Trekking In The Fann Mountains, Tajikistan: Haft Kul to Alauddin - Another idyllic scene at Iskanderkul

You can camp at Vertical Alauddin for a fee or stay in one of their chalet type lodgings. They have basic showers and toilets and serve food.

We bargained down to 400 somoni from 700 for our ride from Vertical to Iskanderkul. The road to Sarvoda was pretty bad at times, but beautiful. It took around 1 hour 50 mins to reach the main road and a further 50 mins to get to Iskanderkul.

We paid 40 somoni per person to camp at the Turbaza. There’s another camping ground next door too, just before the Turbaza. You can buy meals and snacks/drinks on site.

We arranged a shared taxi with reception for 150 somoni each to return to Dushanbe the following day.

The trail from Alauddin to Vertical is on Maps.Me.


Independent Trekking In The Fann Mountains, Tajikistan: Haft Kul to Alauddin - Delicious reflections at Iskanderkul, the biggest lake in the Fann Mountains

THINGS WE WOULD HAVE DONE DIFFERENTLY

For the best part our trek went smoothly however there are a few things we’d do differently if we had our time again.

Firstly

We’d break up the walk between our Sarymat River camp and Chukurak Lake into three days, instead of two. We were absolutely exhausted at the end of days 4 and 5, the long walks in the sun really taking their toll. In hindsight we would have camped by the river in Gazza on day 4, then done a homestay in Guitan on day 5. If we couldn’t spare the extra day we would probably take a taxi up the long road between Zimtut and Guitan (which was offered by our homestay) to save a couple of hours or so and a fair bit of energy.

Secondly

We’d make an effort to start earlier on days where we had a pass to cross. With 25-30kg on Del’s back and 15kg on mine, we’re pretty slow hikers. I longed to call it a day by 4pm every day, not be traipsing into camp at dinner time.

Thirdly

We’d have been more vigilant about checking Maps.Me to ensure we were always on the right trail. This would have saved us a headache and wasted time and energy.

Lastly

We’d have skipped Iskanderkul. After camping at some of the most amazing lakes we’ve ever seen (for free!) and largely in solitude, our last night camping by Iskanderkul fell a bit flat. To be fair, we didn’t really do the lake justice, having no time to explore or do any of the surrounding hikes.

With the time we did have, we’d have been better camping an extra night somewhere along our trek or just returning to Dushanbe a day earlier, giving us more time to relax before embarking on our Pamir Highway adventure.

WHAT TO TAKE

While it’s possible to stay at homestays in some villages, you really need to be self-reliant to tackle this hike independently. You’ll need appropriate clothing, equipment, camping gear and food to last you for the duration. Plus, a decent map!

We spent months researching gear before this trip, comparing options and literally weighing up the difference. Here we’ve compiled a packing list of the best ultralight equipment, clothing and camping essentials, plus suggestions for food to keep you fuelled on the trail. We personally own and vouch for everything in the lists!

We carry a lot of photography and video gear with us, hence why Del’s bag ends up ridiculously heavy. Ideally you want to keep the weight down to somewhere between 18 – 24kg depending on your size/level of fitness. Even less if possible! Your bag will get lighter as you consume food.

CLOTHING

You need to be prepared for all weather conditions and eventualities. Quality gear and the right materials will make a big difference to your enjoyment and how much/little you need to pack.

Layers are important – you need a baselayer (like this), a mid-layer (like this), an insulating layer (like this), plus a top shell (like this).





Avoid cotton – opt for merino wool instead. It keeps you cool when it’s hot and warm when it’s cool, and amazingly won’t stink even after days of wearing it. It will dry relatively fast too.

Make sure you have a separate change of clothes for the evening/sleeping in and get out of those sweaty clothes as soon as you arrive at camp. Changing your clothes, including your socks, will keep you much warmer.

Break in your hiking boots before your trek! Blisters and hot spots can really ruin your hike. Pack Compeed or similar just in case.

PACKING LIST

Merino T-Shirts x 2
His/Hers

Merino Thermal Baselayer
His/Hers

Merino Thermal Leggings
His/Hers

Merino Underwear
His/Hers

Sports Bra x 2

Fleece
His/Hers

Down Jacket
His/Hers

Rain Jacket/Shell
His/Hers

Waterproof Trousers
His/Hers

Quick Drying Hiking Trousers (preferably with zip-off shorts)
His/Hers

Trousers to wear around camp
(Lightweight, similar to above)

Trekking Socks x 2
His/Hers

Warm Socks to wear at night x 1

Buff

Gloves
Liner & Waterproof Outer

Sun Hat

Warm Hat

Sunglasses

Hiking Boots
His/Hers

Flipflops/waterproof sandals for evening/river crossings

Bandana
Soak it in the river and tie it round your neck or wrists to keep you cool

Belt
You might lose weight on the trek!


EQUIPMENT

Backpack

Osprey backpacks with their Anti-Gravity (AG) back system are the most comfortable and easy to carry we’ve ever used. We highly recommend them!
His/Hers

Hiking Poles

We couldn’t have done this trek without them and met plenty others of the same opinion. Cork handles are by far the best when it comes to hot sweaty palms and carbon fibre will help you keep the weight down. After much deliberation we chose these poles and they’ve done us proud on countless trails now.

Map

Order the EWP Fann Mountains map before you leave home. You’re highly unlikely to find it in Tajikistan. It’s the most detailed and useful paper map out there, plus it has a wealth of information about the area, local customs and more. We used this to plan our route in advance and in conjunction with Maps.Me while we were actually trekking.

Solar Panel

There’s nowhere to charge your devices other than homestays, so you’ll need this to keep everything working! It folds up small and light and can attach to your bag if you want to use it on the go. It works perfectly for us, charging everything apart from our laptop and drone batteries.

Water Treatment System

There’s no shortage of water on the trek, but you’ll need to treat it before drinking. There are numerous ways of doing this, like purification tablets, pumps, squeeze filters or a LifeStraw. Our personal favourite is the Steripen. Used in conjunction with their filter this gives us pure water that is sterilised by UV light, killing any harmful bacteria. It’s really quick and easy to use, requiring minimal effort. We can recharge the battery via USB using our solar panel every few days. (We use this day in day out everywhere we go on our travels, not just when trekking. It’s been a huge backpacking game changer for us and we’ve more than made back our money on it!)

Water Bottle

It’s useful to have a water bottle for around camp and filling up at streams. We love our Nalgene Tritan Wide Mouth bottles. They’re see-through and have markings down the side, making it easy to measure out the right amount of water for our dehydrated meals. Easy to carry and use, they go everywhere with us these days.

Water Bladder

For easy drinking on the go. We’ve tried a few, our latest Hydrapak winning hands down for ease of use and cleaning. You can use it as a water reserve around camp too.

InReach Explorer

We debated long and hard over whether to buy this or not as it’s pretty expensive, but in the end our safety is more important to us than our bank balance. This SOS emergency device is capable of two-way messaging via the Iridium satellite network, providing us with a lifeline to a 24/7 emergency response team. There’s no mobile network coverage in the Fann Mountains, outside of a few select villages or base camps, so having something like this is your only way of communicating with the outside world. The only times we had phone signal were in Zimtut and at Alplager Base Camp near Artuch (we had T-Cell SIM cards). We also used our InReach to message family to reassure them we were safe, to get accurate weather reports, and as an extra GPS tracking device. Del planned out all our routes in advance via the Earthmate app, a third map source for us. You have to have an active contract to use the InReach, with monthly and annual options available. If you travel in remote areas regularly it’s a good investment.

Scrubba & Suds

Even with the best no-stink merino wool T-shirts in tow you’re gonna need to do some washing at some point. The Scrubba is a genius solution to doing laundry on the go and ideal on a trek like this. Collect water from the river, add suds and rub away. Empty out the soapy water away from your water source and rinse with fresh water. Drape your clothes over a nice rock, or string them up to dry.

9 Backpacking Gamechangers To Pack For Your Next Trip

The Scrubba in action at Bibidzhonat Lake


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Stove

We use a simple screw-on burner like this, however something like the MSR Whisperlite Universal is far more versatile given the issues you’ll encounter sourcing fuel in this part of the world (see below).

Gas

You can’t fly with gas canisters so you’ll need to pick them up in Tajikistan (or elsewhere if travelling overland). In Dushanbe you can usually buy them at Green House Hostel (also our recommended place to stay), but they can and do run out of stock! They import Kovea canisters (like the one in this picture) from Korea, charging 65 somoni for small (240g) and 95 somoni for large (450g). They were out of stock the second time we tried to buy gas. Fortunately we got a half-used canister from another backpacker who was flying that day. It’s not a bad idea to email them in advance and ask them to put stock aside for you if you have an exact arrival date. You’ll have a hard time finding screw on type gas anywhere else, hence why a multifuel stove is handy.

Cooking Pot

We’re loving our collapsible Sea to Summit cook set. It’s easy to clean and pack, and as lightweight as we’re likely to get. We also use the Sea to Summit kettle to boil water and X-Brew for making drip coffee every morning.

Bowl & Cup

Ours stack into our cooking pot as part of the above set.

Independent Trekking In The Fann Mountains, Tajikistan: Haft Kul to Alauddin - Collapseable goodies from Sea to Summit

Cutlery

A spork might be all you need. Ours have always broken though, so we’re using these instead which are more durable.

Dish Scrubber & Suds

Scrubber and dish soap for washing your dishes. We have a Sea to Summit kitchen sink, which is good for doing dishes (and washing hair in!). You could also just fill the big pot from your cook set and use that as a basin.

Mat/Poncho

For putting all your stuff on and sitting on when it’s wet/dusty/dirty.

Headtorch

A must! We’ve had plenty, but finally invested in better quality ones and the difference is blinding. Literally. They’re so powerful. Our Black Diamond rechargeable models are perfect.

Power Bank(s)

For cloudy days or charging easily on the go. Anker are our preferred.

Suncream

Everyone has their favourite. I’ve never looked back since discovering non-greasy Banana Boat. A stick for your lips is important too.

Bug Spray

Some camp spots had annoying horse flies or other bugs.

Trowel

For digging a hole and doing your business in. Don’t leave your dirty toilet paper lying around – burn it or carry it out with you!

Travel Towel

For drying off after a rare shower or washing on the go.

Medical Kit

An all purpose one like this is ideal. It’s a good idea to add rehydration sachets in case of diarrhoea, blister pads, and some extra ibuprofen and painkillers. You can’t pick up any medical supplies on the trek, however there are plenty of pharmacies in Dushanbe.

Pen Knife

Multi-functional and useful day-in-day-out!

CAMPING GEAR

Tent

You’re going to be carrying it the whole way, and camping at relatively high altitude so weight and quality are important. We did a lot of research and in the end it came down to MSR’s Hubba Hubba or the Big Agnes Copper Spur for us. In the end, Big Aggy won on durability, plus the colour is better ; )

Sleeping Mat

We’ve been hugely impressed with our Thermarest NeoAir mats. They pack down way smaller than our previous Thermarest self inflating mats and are super comfortable and insulating. I was concerned about the ‘crisp packet rustling’ I’d heard about before buying it, but it’s really not that noticeable.

Sleeping Bag

It can get pretty chilly camping at 3000 metres, especially if you’re trekking outside of peak summer time. We have 3 season Rab down sleeping bags, comfort rated to 1.5 degrees celsius. Del wasn’t cold at any point, I was a bit cold at Dushakha Lake (and definitely cold when camping in September in Kyrgyzstan’s mountains). I’d have preferred a warmer bag like this. Down sleeping bags offer the best warmth to weight ratio, and can really pack down small. Using a compression sack will save even more space in your backpack.

Silk Liner

This will add extra warmth to your sleeping bag, or if it’s freakishly warm use it on its own.

Pillow

Some people roll up a fleece or such like. Personally I need a proper pillow to get a good night’s sleep. A blow up one like this saves space.

FOOD

You can buy bread from local homes or chaikhanas throughout the Fann Mountains. Snickers and some basic supplies are available at bigger villages like Zimtut and at Alplager, where you can also eat at the restaurant. You need to carry pretty much all your food though, and also carry the packaging back out with you! Therefore cans, glass jars, tins, etc. are not a good idea.

When shopping for food the aim of the game should be to pack as many calories for as light a weight as possible. You can stock up in Dushanbe, however we’d also highly recommend bringing dehydrated meals from home, at least enough to cover dinner every day. The supermarket in Dushanbe Mall has the best selection. Below is some suggested food – all is available in Dushanbe unless otherwise noted.

Dehydrated Meals

A must to make your life easier. You won’t find these in Tajikistan so stock up in advance! There are plenty of companies out there – Mountain House (US), Expedition Food (GB), Good To-Go (US), Back Country Cuisine (NZ, AU, ZA), and Wayfayrer (Europe) to name a few.  Our favourite by far is Firepot. They have impressively delicious meals, all homecooked using fresh ingredients then dehydrated (as opposed to throwing already dehydrated ingredients into a pouch like most others). They have a wide range of meals, including vegan and gluten free options. They also recently redesigned their packaging and now have an option that’s 100% compostable. I crave their Porcini Mushroom Risotto even when I’m not trekking…

SUGGESTED FOOD

Trail Mix

You can find a good selection of nuts, seeds, raisins, etc. in Dushanbe. Throw in some chocolate and peanut M&Ms and mix your own.

Porridge/Muesli

Good for breakfast

Powdered Milk

For making porridge/muesli

Squeezable Jam

Jam in a packet – perfect for adding to porridge in the morning or having with bread for lunch.

Independent Trekking In The Fann Mountains, Tajikistan: Haft Kul to Alauddin - squeezable jam

Look out for easy to carry, lightweight food options like this squeezy jam

Chocolate Spread

You can get a small plastic tub instead of a glass jar.

Dried Fruit

The locally grown dried apricots are especially good. Dates are another good energy booster.

Hard Cheese

It might go a bit sweaty but good option for having with bread for lunch

Cured Sausage

Same as above

Chocolate

The Swiss brand (got a logo of a cow on skis) was our favourite. Others were very sweet.

Sports Drink Tabs

Bring from home. Good for adding to your water for an energy boost, especially on those long days with no shade when you’re sweating a lot.

Buckwheat

Cooks pretty quickly and is very filling. Mix in some dehydrated veggies from home and spices to jazz it up?

Packet Spices/Stock Cubes/Salt

Pick up some paprika, pepper, mixed spices, etc. to add extra flavour to buckwheat meals or such

Packet Soups

A quick and easy option for a hot meal. We found some decent chicken ones with croutons.

Olive Oil

Transfer some into a small plastic bottle to carry. Makes hard bread far more edible. Good for frying some eggs or veggies if you buy some along the way. Also good for dry skin, sunburn, dry hair, etc.


MISCELLANEOUS

Toiletries
Ditch the plastic and start using a shampoo bar & bamboo toothbrush

Toilet Paper

Wet Wipes

Rubbish Bags
For packing & carrying out your rubbish

Hand Sanitiser
Annoyingly difficult to track down in Tajikistan – bring from home

TRAVEL INSURANCE

Be sure to check the inclusions of your travel insurance – not all policies will cover trekking at altitude! Ensure you’re covered for trekking up to your max altitude, which would be just under 3900m if you were following the route outlined in this post. Cover for search and rescue is also a good idea. For the full lowdown on travel insurance check out this post.

Whether you’re travelling already or not, get a quote now with World Nomads (worldwide) or True Traveller (EU/EEA residents). Be sure to include the relevant activities packs in your quote.



TRANSPORT

GETTING THERE

Shared

The main jumping off point for the Haft Kul, or Seven Lakes, is Panjakent. Shared taxis run here from Dushanbe daily in the morning, from a station in the north of the city (it’s marked on Maps.me, or ask your accommodation to point it out on a map for you). The drive takes around 4 -5 hours, costing approx 130-140 somoni p/p.

From Panjakent you’ll need to get a 4×4 up the valley, the 6th lake being as far as you can go. These usually leave in the morning once full, but you may still be able to get one in the early afternoon (making the journey from Dushanbe to Haft Kul possible in one day). There’s no guarantee though. This should cost approx 40 somoni p/p and takes around 2 – 3 hours.

Private

If you have a few people in your group, or manage to team up with some people from your accommodation, then splitting the cost of a private car makes life much easier. This also guarantees you’ll get to Haft Kul on the same day, without any overnights in Panjakent.

Rates will be somewhat negotiable but an approx price for Dushanbe to Panjakent (or rather the turn-off to Haft Kul) is 600 somoni (can fit 4 people plus bags in the car). A private 4×4 from the turn-off to the 6th Lake is approx 300-400 somoni (again, seats 4 people plus bags). Your accommodation in Dushanbe should be able to arrange all this for you and ensure a swift changeover between cars at the turn-off.

GETTING AWAY

You can arrange a private vehicle to take you from Vertical Alauddin back to the main road at Sarvoda from where you can head on to Iskanderkul, Dushanbe, etc. Ask at Vertical Camp, or at the tea shops at Lake Alauddin, to arrange transport. We negotiated a price of 400 somoni for a 4×4 from Vertical to Iskanderkul. The driver’s starting price was 700.

GUIDES, PORTERS & TOURS

If you prefer not to trek independently, or want to hire a porter (donkey), there are a number of options. ZTDA is the local tourism association and they can arrange an English (or German/ French) speaking guide for $35/day. If you don’t want a guide, just a donkey porter is $20/day.

You can also source guides through Indy Guide or Caravanistan (Caravanistan also have a good forum for meeting potential trekking buddies).

You can search a variety of comprehensive group tours with fixed itineraries via Tour Radar, and Viator has options too. 

INDEPENDENT TREKKING IN THE FANN MOUNTAINS

We hope you enjoy your Fann Mountains trek as much as we did. We know we’ll be back for more some day and can’t wait to get lost among this immense scenery once again.

ORGANISE YOUR TRIP TO TAJIKISTAN NOW


Booking.com

*Some of the links in this post are affiliate links – if you purchase a product or service via these links, we may earn a small commission at no extra cost to you. This helps offset the cost of running this blog and keeps us travelling so that we can continue to produce great content for you. We greatly appreciate your support!*

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Nichola
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Nichola

Hi,

Great pictures and information on the Fann Mountains, it has really inspired my trip to Tajikistan.

Could you offer some advice in booking a private taxi from the Penjakent border to Artuch, and after our 4 day trek a taxi from Artuch to Dushanbe. Also where can we hire good camping equipment from? What rating of sleeping bag is needed for a trek beginning of September?

Thanks,
Nichola

Lia
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Lia

Such an amazing info. Thanks so much for taking the time to write and share. Very appreciated!

Trekking in Tajikistan\'s Fann Mountains is an adventure not to be missed. Here\'s the detailed account of our 11 day independent trek from Haft Kul (Seven Lakes) to Alauddin Lake, plus routes, tips & hints to help you plan your own Central Asia trekking adventure.  #Tajikistan #trekking #hiking #Adventure
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