Between Sarvoda and Ayni, the main Dushanbe road hints at the magnificent landscape hidden beyond the canyon walls. The easiest way to access the beauty beyond is driving to Iskander-Kul (Искандеркуль), an opal-blue mountain lake that looks almost tropical in strong sunlight. It isn't. At 2195m, it invites a distinctly chilly swim even in summer. The approach to the lake is made particularly interesting by the streaks of copper and iron oxide that striate the barren mountains, contrasting with pockets of virulent green vegetation along the river's edge. The canyon scenery is especially dramatic around 1.5km before arriving at the lake, but breathtaking views continue along the 6km of coast road.
From the president's lakeside dacha (holiday bungalow), a 5km road zigzags up to the highlands beneath majestic snow-capped peaks. The tiny village of Sarytag (Сарытаг) here makes a great walking base and supports longer treks into the Fan Mountains.