South of Panjakent, at the western edge of the Fann mountains, the Shing Valley is known for its 7 lakes, formed after an earthquake made a series of dams across the valley (or if you prefer, formed by 7 beautiful but lovelorn daughters transforming into water to be at one with their tears).
It is one of the most scenic places in Northern Tajikistan, not overrun yet, and suitable for all types of tourists, from hard-faced hikers to girls looking for selfie backdrops that match their outfit. You can take in the area on a day trip, or stay longer, camping or sleeping in guesthouses.
How to see the 7 lakes?
There are several options. Cycling is a good way to get around. You start in Panjakent at 1000m – 60 km later you end at 2400m. The road surface is 50% gravel, 50% asphalt. It’s mostly a gradual incline; only near the end it gets steeper.
With your own car or motorbike, you can drive all the way to the start of the top lake, and you can get out to explore when you want. There is no need for a 4WD but it’s good to have higher clearance.
Backpackers on public transport have several options. One option is to get a ride to Mogiyon and come back down after hiking across the Komichora Pass, or continue your hike into the Fann mountains.
Don’t want to hike? Take a jeep straight to Padrud, and stay there for at least one night before catching transport back down.
Hiring a private car with a driver is a good way to see it all in one day without the strain of having to share the jeep taxi with 16 other people (true story). You could try to negotiate yourself, but Panjakent drivers are known to stick together. The best way to go about it is to ask guesthouses, the ZTDA tourist office or another local tour operator to get you a quote.
Known as Haft Kul in Tajik and Marguzorskie Ozera in Russian, the lakes stretch out over the Shing valley from a height of 1600m to 2400m and are named Mizhgon (eyelash), Soja (shady), Gushor (nimble), Nofin (bellybutton), Churdak (small), Marguzor (blossoming place) and Hazorchashma (a thousand springs).
Starting from Panjakent, after 20 km you pass a refinery for a nearby gold mine at Kosatarosh. A lot of silt and dangerous waste gets dumped in the river. Gold has been found higher up as well, near Marguzor lake, but these veins have not been mined yet, so the 7 lakes remain clean.
At km 30, the road forks. Keep left for the 7 lakes, turn right to enter the valley of the Mogiyon-Darya, to the villages Gezan, Mogiyon and finally Farob, right on the Uzbek border. Mogiyon is the start for the hike to Rogich and the Komichora Pass.
At km 35 lies Shing. Here a hiking trail heads east to the Archamaidon valley and the village of Voru, and there is a shlagbaum where your passport and visa is checked.
At km 45 you arrive at the first lake.
Lake 2, 3 and 4 follow in quick succession. Nofin on lake 4 has a guesthouse at km 50. Padrud at the 5th lake has another guesthouse at km 53. Marguzor is at lake 6 at km 55. The car road ends at the shore of lake 7, Hazorchashma.
There is no village at the far end of the lake, just fields. To get there, follow the walking path along the lake for another 45 minutes.
Bring your passport and e-visa
In the town of Shing there is a checkpoint: bring your passport and a print-out of your e-visa.
A bit of history
Popular with tourists during Soviet times, the Shing valley lost a lot of its lustre after a landslide destroyed a lodge. Afterwards, the Civil War and the border closure with Samarkand took the area off tourist itineraries, and only since the early 2000s more tourists have been coming again.
Since independence international development organisations are trying to minimize the danger of landslides through planting and terracing.
Things to see and do
Driving and walking
It’s a good day’s walk starting from the first lake all the way to the top (15 km). If you feel more like a leisurely stroll: it gets more scenic as you go further up; start for instance at Padrud or Marguzor for a relaxed amble that involves more wandering and interaction. A bit more intense is the walk up to the village of Kiogli east of Marguzor lake.
Locals have a variety of attitudes: they might invite you in for tea or to stay the night, while some women might even cover their face and run away. Some kids might gingerly pose for a picture, while others boldly ask you for pens, chocolates and money.
As in other areas of Tajikistan that have been largely self-sufficient for a long time, people have been known to live very long and healthy lives, although greybeards complain that it’s not the same as before, because of imported processed food and more creature comforts.
On some impossibly steep mountainsides, you can still see some lalmi, fields with no irrigation, relying completely on rainfall.
The 2-day trek over the Komichora Pass (3300 m) starts in Mogiyon. Head south from Mogiyon to the village of Rogich (17 km, 5 hours), very close to the Uzbek border. The next day, cross the Komichora Pass to arrive at Hazorchasma lake (18 km, 7 hours) where you can camp on a bit of lawn. The next day, make your way down or continue along the Tavasang Pass.
You can do the entire hike without sleeping gear if you want: there are homestays in Mogiyon, Rogich and Padrud and a turbaza at Marguzor.
A 60-kilometer, 3-day hike leads from Sarytag, near Iskanderkul, across the rarely visited southern Fann mountains to Padrud. Trekking in Tajikistan describes the trek as “very hard”, with the ascent to Sarymat Pass “a true physical challenge”, and the descent “gruesome across broken terrain”, further noting you should watch out for “aggressive shepherd dogs”.
If you don’t fancy that, you can take the Munora Pass (3520 m) instead and take one of several routes deeper into the Fann mountains.
Or, if you don’t fancy that either, you can just cross the Tavasang Pass (3300 m) and turn north into the Archamaidon valley. You can get picked up by car at the confluence of Sarymat and Archamaidon rivers.
South of Hazorchasma lake, the trail continues to the Hissor Pass (3820 m). Don’t go there! The Hissor Pass forms the border with Uzbekistan: you risk getting arrested if you try to cross here, and the border area may be mined.
Finally, you can hike from Shing to Voru in the Archamaidon valley via Shing Pass (2038 m) and Akibivoru Pass (3519 m).
Guesthouses in Nofin (Jumaboy’s place) and Padrud (Tuychi’s place) charge 12$ for the night; 20$ including dinner and breakfast. Tourists tend to give good reviews for both. There are also homestays in Mogiyon and Rogich – no reviews yet.
A very basic turbaza at Marguzor offers beds for 30 somoni; caretaker Juma has hiked from Marguzor all the way to Murghab and Issyk-Kul and can guide you into the Fann mountains for 10$/day. The turbaza was originally built for the crew of 9th Company, a 2005 Russian war movie about the Soviet war in Afghanistan.
Camping means being on the lookout for a grassy patch. Getting invited in by friendly locals is also possible, but don’t forget the rules of tarof.
If you do not have your own transport, you depend on the daily shared jeep between Padrud and Panjakent (50 somoni/seat). Other traffic is sparse. It leaves early morning in Padrud around 6 (2 hours driving) and starts again from Panjakent around lunch time from a street corner near the bazaar (OSM), completely packed with people and shopping (2h30 min driving).
Shared taxis to Mogiyon leave more frequently. You should be able to get one in the morning from a street corner near the bazaar (90 minutes).
Updates are welcome in the 7 lakes transport thread.