The Seven Diamonds of the Fan Mountains
In western Tajikistan, near the city of Penjikent, there is a beautiful group of mountain lakes which amaze visitors with their vibrant and constantly changing colours. These are called the “Seven Lakes”, Haftkul (which means “Seven Lakes” in Tajik), or sometimes the Marguzor Lakes (named after the largest lake in the group). Each lake has its own name: the lowest lake, which is the one travellers usually encounter first, is called Nezhigon. This is followed by Soya, Gushor, Nofin, Khurdak, Marguzor (the largest), and Hazorchashma (the highest).
The Seven Lakes are located in the Fan Mountains, in the gorge of the Shing River. Ancient petroglyphs discovered on the shores of one of the lakes indicate that the lakes are quite old. The lowest lake (Nezhigon) is at an elevation of 1,640 metres and the highest (Hazorchashma) is at 2,400 metres. The difference in elevation between the lowest and highest lakes is 760 metres, and the distance between them is more than 14 km. All lakes except Hazorchashma were formed when the river was dammed by rock falls in the narrow gorge.
The lakes are very accessible to tourists – a dirt, serpentine road passes by all seven lakes and driving between the first and last ones takes about an hour (not considering stops). However, the last part (between the sixth and seventh lakes) is more challenging to drive, and many visitors opt to hike this part (about 30 minutes one-way). It is also possible to hike along the road to all the lakes (usually done over about 2 days), and even beyond to other beautiful lakes, valleys, and villages. Today, near the lakes, are several small villages with guest houses for tourists (around Nofin Lake in particular). These guest houses are very simple and allow visitors to immerse themselves in the atmosphere of local life. Camping is also possible in many places.
Four lakes contain fish, but these are very small and not really suitable for fishing. It is also worth noting that the lakes are fed by mountain rivers, and so become full only by mid-July. In winter, spring, and even early June, the water level is low.
Usually the first lake that travellers see, the lowest lake – Nezhigon – is at an elevation of 1,640 metres. Its name comes from the Tajik word for eyelashes, although the reasoning behind this name is not clear. Other names for this lake include Nezhegon, Nezhigok, and Mizhgon. Nezhigon Lake is up to 20 metres deep, with an area of 0.05 square kilometres.
It is distinguished by its range of vibrant colours: depending on the lighting and season, the water can be turquoise, blue, or even purple. This is due to the water’s high mineral (sodium and calcium) content. In summer, the water is quite warm and visitors can plunge into this bewitching lake.
Continuing from Nezhigon Lake up the steep serpentine road, you’ll cross a natural dam that separates Nezhigon Lake from the second lake, Soya (and offers a stunning view back down towards Nezhigon). Soya Lake is named after the Tajik word for “shadow” – as this lake is situated between high cliffs, it is in shade almost all day.
Like Nezhigon, the water in Soya Lake changes colour depending on the weather and time of day. The lake is located at an altitude of 1,701 metres and has an area of 0.1 square kilometres.
The third lake, Gushor, is 400 metres from Soya and as you approach it you’ll see a turbulent stream connecting the two. Gushor Lake is located at an altitude of 1,771 metres and has an area of 0.23 square kilometres.
The lake has various other names, including Khusher and Ishore. All these names mean “watchful”. Gushor Lake is surrounded by steep cliffs and was once the home of poisonous snakes, which explains the origin of the lake’s name.
In Soviet times, the Marguzor Lakes camp site was located next to this lake. However, a mudflow from the mountains swept away the camp leaving only traces of its foundations. Although this may suggest some danger, the lake looks quite calm and in good weather you can watch schools of fish swimming quietly in the clear water.
The distance between Gushor Lake and Nofin Lake is only 400 metres, but the route along the serpentine is a full kilometre. Nofin, the fourth of the seven lakes, is very elongated – it is more than 2.5 kilometres long but only about 200 metres wide. The lake’s elevation is 1,820 metres and its area is 0.48 square kilometres.
The lake’s name means “umbilical cord”, due to Nofin being the central one of seven lakes and very long, like an umbilical cord. Locals tell various legends and say that the lake has secrets. The road runs along the east coast and sometimes floods in summer, making it difficult for cars to pass. At the far end of the lake is a small village with guest houses.
This lake, the name of which means “baby”, is the smallest of the Seven Lakes, having an area of only 0.025 square kilometres. It is located 1.5 kilometres from Lake Nofin, at an altitude of 1,870 metres. The distance from Nofin Lake to Khurdak Lake is 1.5 km, and along the way you can see the village of Padrut. There used to be a small hydroelectric power station at Khurdak Lake that provided electricity to Padrut and surrounding houses.
This is the largest and, to many people, the most beautiful of the Seven Lakes. To reach it, you need to continue for more than 2 kilometres along the serpentine road from Khurdak Lake and climb to a height of 2,140 metres. Marguzor Lake is 2.7 metres long, with an area of 1.16 square kilometres and a maximum depth of 45 metres. The expanse of blue water and the majestic mountains in the background create a magnificent landscape.
Petroglyphs of primitive people have been found on the shore of Marguzor and, in the Middle Ages, semiprecious stones were mined near the lake. Today, at the southern end of the lake is a small village whose houses are scattered on the surrounding slopes. Locals tell legends and fairytales about Lake Marguzor.
The road passes the lake along its eastern shore, sometimes almost at the same level as the water. Sometimes, the lake floods the road and can only be reached by a truck or a robust jeep. Near the south of the lake is the starting point of a trail that leads to the Tavasang Pass (3,307 metres), from which you can take one of the hiking trails along the Fan Mountains.
The seventh and highest of the Seven Lakes is located at around 2,400 metres above sea level. One of the largest lakes, but slightly smaller than Marguzor, Hazorchashma Lake has a maximum length of 2 kilometres and an area of 0.92 square kilometres. The name Hazorchashma (or Azorchashma) means “thousand springs” – the lake is fed by the waters of two rivers and many streams and springs.
Hazorchashma is the last lake in the gorge of the Shing River. The road ends here and beyond this there are no further settlements and you find only the wildlife of the Fan Mountains. Therefore, you can view the lake only from its northern side unless you hike along its rocky shores. However, if you do manage to reach Hazorchashma’s south side, you’ll get a magnificent view of the lake and, behind it in the distance, Marguzor Lake.
How to get to the Seven Lakes
The only way to reach this highlight of the Fan Mountains is by car from Penjikent. Start by driving 8 kilometres along the highway towards Dushanbe, before turning right towards the mountains. Then drive 34 kilometres on a road that starts as asphalt but gradually changes to a dirt. If you already plan to visit Penjikent, it’s easy to add on a visit to the Seven Lakes. You can also easily reach the lakes from Samarkand (via Penjikent). The distance is only 100 kilometres one way, and the only minor obstacle will be the short border crossing between Uzbekistan and Tajikistan at the Jartepa-Sarazm checkpoint.
It’s best to set aside at least a full day to visit the Seven Lakes from Penjikent or Samarkand. Although the distance is short, you’ll likely want to stop at each lake for at least 10-20 minutes, and up to an hour in some places. If you have more time available, staying overnight and/or hiking will give you a unique opportunity to observe local village life and get a different perspective on these stunning mountain lakes.