A Tajik mountaineer researches folklore between treks through the Fann Mountains
‘Legend has it that, at midnight under a full moon, Bucephalus comes out of Iskanderkul Lake to graze at its grassy shores,’ Tajik mountaineer Niyozkul Nematov says, eager to share tales of the Fann Mountains. Iskanderkul Lake – which takes its name from Alexander the Great and is thought to be where the late conqueror’s horse, Bucephalus, drowned during battle – is the crown jewel of the mountain range. When a full moon illuminates its many aqua pools, ‘locals can hear the horse neighing across all districts of the mountains,’ Nematov adds.
Nematov is Tajikistan’s ‘trekking guru’, as one online travel review puts it, and something of a national treasure. Visitors to the area often stay in his guesthouse – run by his wife, Shoista – and sign up for tours around Panjakent, his hometown, and the Fann Mountains. In the colder months, Nematov can be found at his son’s home in Dushanbe, where he spends his days researching folklore about the mountain range and the history of Central Asia – material that he will later use to impress visitors. ‘When the winter comes I’m a bear,’ he laughs. ‘You know, working in the summer and sleeping in the winter.’A Tajik mountaineer researches folklore between treks through the Fann Mountains