THE PROJECT "SPELEO PAMIR". (Tajikistan) August - September

The project "Speleo Pamir".

For speleologists, Tajikistan, this is a little-known country in Central Asia. Very weak speleological study of the country, due to its remoteness and geographical closeness, as well as the lack of speleologists and interested in cave studies, people. Karst districts are located, both far from civilized centers, and high in the mountains.

In Soviet times, many areas were closed to visitors. Such were many areas of Tajikistan.

The great mountainous system of Central Asia - the Pamir, which in translation means "the Roof of the World" - occupies a large territory of Tajikistan.

The Pamir is a harsh high-altitude climatic region, where local residents and geologists know several caves, the entrances of which are located on unattainable sheer walls, which are composed of limestone Devonian, Carboniferous, Triassic, Cretaceous and Jurassic periods. In such conditions, mainly paleocarstic and hydrothermocarstic caves are formed.

To date, we do not know much about Tajikistan and the Pamirs.

For speleologists, the Pamir is an unknown geographical area. A number of karst areas are known on the territory of Tajikistan. This is a quite interesting and unique area of the salt mountain range of the Khodja-Mumin with large and beautiful caves formed in the salt strata. This is also the area where the cave Rangkulskaya (Sykykirdy-Unkur) is located in the Eastern Pamirs. Also, interesting, is the area on the mountain plateau of one of the spurs of the Vakhsh ridge, located north of the city of Nurek. On a latitudinal plateau, there are hundreds of karst sinkholes that were not previously investigated.

In connection with this, our foundation, together with colleagues and partners from the Main Geological Department of Tajikistan, created the project SpeleoPamir.

The goal of the project is comprehensive karst and speleological research in various geographical areas of Tajikistan.

In 2018 our Foundation plans to conduct speleological expeditions to karst areas of Tajikistan.

The first expedition is planned to be held in the second half of August (August 5 - August 17, 2018), in one of the highest mountain caves in the world, in the cave of Rangkulskaya (Putnikov) in the Eastern Pamirs.

The second expedition is planned to be held in early September (September 5-September 18, 2018), where we are going to perform speleological studies in the middle-mountainous areas to the north-east of Nurek (South Tajikistan), in the northwestern spur of the Vakhsh mountain range on a long karst plateau, with numerous karst sinkholes formed in interbedded layers of gypsum and limestone strata forming the mountain range.

During the expeditions along the route route we plan to explore other karst areas of the Pamir and Southern Tajikistan.

Cave Rangkulskaya (Sykykirduu-Unkur). Continuation of research.

The entrance to the cave is located at an absolute altitude of about 4400 meters on the southern slope in the thickness of the limestone mountain range Chyrak-Tash. The entrance is on a steep limestone cliff, at an altitude of about 250 meters from the bottom of the vertical wall.

Despite the long history of the exploration of the cave, its description, topographic survey and prospects for its continuation remained very incomprehensible. The expedition of the Ukrainian speleologists in 1992 set itself the task to find out the main characteristics of the cave. The cave has a complex 3-dimensional structure and is part of an ancient hydrothermocarstic system formed in the Triassic limestones and subsequently exposed by glacial erosion.

The length of the investigated part of the cave is 2050 m, the amplitude is 268 m (-240; +28). According to geological features, and with further research, the amplitude of the system can be 600-700 m.

The cave is located in the limestone massif of Charok-Tash, which is located to the south of Lake Rangkul. The relative excess of the entrance over the adjacent valley is 600 m.

Above the entrance to the cave there is a sheer rock wall about 100 m high, which goes higher into a steep slope that ends with a rocky ridge with a peak of 4774 m. The entry hole  is irregular in shape (about 3.5 m in height and 5.0 m in width). The entrance is formed along an inclined tectonic fissure, which cuts the whole limestone massif and is traced in a steep wall. The exposition of the entrance is southern.

The cave begins with a large hall, steeply descending in a northeasterly direction. Its height reaches 25-30 m, and the width is 15-25 m. There are several fireplaces in the ceiling of the entrance hall (vertical stone pipes leaving to the top), which are taken out to the upper gallery above the hall. Several of the continuations of this gallery, both up and down, are blocked by cork of ancient ice. Some of the fireplaces were left undetected and presumably lead to the upper tiers of the cave. One of the signs of the existence of these tiers is the presence of a number of cave holes in the rock wall above the main entrance, which are framed by a crystalline crust.

Just behind the entrance is a large hall. Hence the network of horizontal and inclined corridors diverges in different directions, which then turn into relatively narrow (1.0-1.5 m) vertical or steeply-pitched wells. Some of the wells lead to the underlying subhorizontal tier, consisting of a number of galleries and halls.    

Further inland, the cave consists of a number of relatively small galleries and halls located at different levels and connected by a network of fractured (along the cracks of bedding) and cylindrical wells. The maximum depth of the cave was reached at the southeastern point of the cave system and amounted to -240 m. Together with the upper floor of the cave (+28 m), the total amplitude of the investigated cave part is 268 m.

The total length of the cave passages plotted on the map, according to the materials of the expeditions of Russian and Ukrainian speleologists, was 2050 m.

The limestone layers are inclined in the southeastern direction (azimuth 110-125 °), with an angle of incidence of 45-65 °. In the same direction, the development of the cave system, which is a three-dimensional labyrinth inclined sub-parallel to the fall of the limestone stratum, is observed. In the cave formed 7-8 tiers of horizontal cavities of the cave.

On the opposite slope of the ridge, in the Kalak-Tash gorge, in the rock wall there are several cave entrances, laid also on the fall of the mountain layers. This indicates the relationship of these inputs to the common cave system. If this hypothesis is confirmed, the prospective depth of the system can reach 500-600 m. Upward, inside the mountain massif, it is also possible to continue the cave to a height of about 100 m. Thus, in the future, the amplitude of the development of the cave system can be 600-700 m. so that the length of the uncovered part of the cave may exceed a certain length, by 2-3 times.

There are no modern watercourses in the cave. Condensation waters are also not formed, since the air temperatures in the cave are either negative or close to zero, and the air humidity in the Eastern Pamirs is extremely low.

An interesting fact is finding a cave of fossil ice. Ice formations are relict fragments of a larger underground glacier that existed in the past. The age of the cave glacier can be attributed to the time of the existence of extensive glaciation in the Eastern Pamirs.

There were no discharges of karst water in the vicinity of the massif. But, there are data from some local researchers (Muratov R.Sh.) that at the bottom of Lake Rangkul unloading of high-yield sources with sufficiently high, apparently carbonate, mineralization occurs.

Inside the cave, in some areas there is a fairly strong flow of air, which can be observed by a strong deviation of the candle flame. Following the direction of the air flow ("by pull") inside the cave, the last expedition found that it does not originate from the deepest, southeastern part of the system, but from the northeast. Here, the passage of the cave stopped in front of several narrow wells, clogged with caving blocks. Ascending streams of air come out through blocky debris in the wells.

The gas composition of air was not determined. However, there is an oral message from speleologists from the city of Balashikha that during one of the expeditions in the cave there was a smell of hydrogen sulfide.

The walls of the cave and the ceiling are almost universally covered with a layer of milky white coarse-grained calcite, from several millimeters to several centimeters. In many places, the calcite layer evenly covers also collapsed blocks.

At a depth of about 130 m there are corallites. Some cave formations, possibly associated with condensation waters, which were formed during short periods of warming and humidifying the climate on the surface.

А characteristic feature of the cave is the wide distribution in it of silty sediments, the so-called "cave-forests". These deposits have aeolian origin and are especially actively accumulated in those parts of the cave where air flows are as weak as possible. In such places, a layer of non-caked dust reaches 5-10 cm.

The question of habitation of bats remains open. But, the biogenic deposits are represented by the litter of bats.

Mention of bats is only in one of the legends, which says that when several Kyrgyz tried to penetrate deep into the cave, they found themselves in a "long narrow corridor, in which there were many huge bats, often blowing out candles." Thus, the time and nature of the habitat Bats in this cave remain a mystery.

Among the locals, the cave is known for a long time and is surrounded by various legends. The first mention of the cave in literature refers to 1898. It also cites one of the legends that tells of the death of a Chinese detachment during a forced wintering in a cave.

In 1988 the expedition of the Moscow speleologists reached a depth of 240 m. Topographic survey was conducted.     

In 1992 an expedition of the Ukrainian Speleological Association was held. During the expedition, an underground ascension was made, as a result of which an upper gallery was found in the entrance hall with deposits of ancient ice. At the same time, topographic surveying of new parts of the cave was carried out, as a result, 0.5 km was added to the total length of the cave. Work was carried out to find promising extensions and disassembly of debris.

As a result, it should be noted that the cave Rangkulskaya (Sykykirduu-Unkur) is unique for the Pamir speleological object. It is part of an ancient hydrothermocarst system, which was opened by glacial erosion. Due to the successful location of the entrance, it was not buried beneath moraine deposits, nor under a deluvial plume. At the same time, due to the dry climate in the Eastern Pamirs in the Holocene, later karst processes did not develop further, and the cave was preserved in a relatively primitive form, completely preserving the signs of hydrothermocarst development (Dublyansky, 1990).

Despite the vigorous research activities of several expeditions, the cave still remains insufficiently studied and is of great interest, both from the speleological and archaeological point of view.

The climate in this area is severe. There is a sharp temperature fluctuation during the night and daytime. The average annual precipitation is about 100 mm.


The most convenient option for a speleological expedition is the arrival of an airplane to the city of Osh (Kyrgyzstan) and from the court, an automobile crossing to the cave area.

The route of the expedition runs along the Pamir tract, through the Alai valley and the majestic Chon-Alai range, which limits the Pamir from the north.

After the Kyz-Art Pass, where the official border and customs points are located, the expedition follows the Eastern Pamirs.

The road passes at an altitude of more than 4000 meters through the high-mountain stony desert of Markansu to the lake Kara-Kul. Further along the dirt road, the path lies to the south to Lake Rangkul.

The base camp is planned to be installed on the southern shore of Lake Rangkul, near the entrance to the cave.

For this expedition we plan to use the Mercedes Sprinter mini bus, as well as a road car that will be used during the route to the base camp site to transport all the field equipment of the expedition, and then for movement in the area of the expedition.

For the expedition the Foundation has all the necessary equipment for the base camp.

Goals and objectives:                                          

1. Estimation of the karst area                                                                                                                                                                                                                      

2. Research of the cave Rangkulskaya (Sykykirduu-Unkur)

3. Topographic shooting in 3D.

4. Analysis of debris inside the cave with the aim of opening new galleries and continuing the cave

5. Investigation of entrances located on high rock cliffs in a given area.

6. Search and exploration of new caves in the expedition area.

7. Geological investigations

8. Hydrogeological investigations                                                                                                                                                                                             

9. Speleological studies                                                        

10. Spelaoarcheological research.

The cost of participation is determined by the number of participants, as this determines the cost of logistics and all other services for the maintenance of the base camp and the expedition as a whole.

The price includes: car rental, payment to the cook, food, accommodation in the hotel on the route of the expedition, registration of permits, consumables (gasoline for the generator, gas, etc.), organization.

Our foundation provides all the equipment for the base camp: tents, tents and kitchen equipment, tables chairs, generator and other equipment.

If the participants in the expedition will be more, the cost will also be less.

Karst plateau of the Vakhsh ridge.

Speleological expedition to Southern Tajikistan.

Southern Tajikistan is very different from the Pamir mountain system with its climatic and geological conditions. Absolute elevations are much lower here than in the Pamirs.

Our Tajik colleagues were provided with information on an interesting and promising karst plateau that is located north of the Vakhsh River. The nearest town is Nurek. Nurek is the energy capital of Tajikistan, where the Nurek hydropower plant was built.

The Karst plateau stretches from the north-east to the south-west. The total length of the plateau is more than 30 km, width is about 1 km. Exceed over the base of the slopes 300-400 meters. Numerous karst sinkholes are found on the plateau (see the satellite image).

The diameter of the funnels reaches 20-25 meters.

Previously, this karst area was not mentioned anywhere. According to Tajik geologists, plateaus and karst sinkholes are formed in limestone layers of Cretaceous age. In addition, there are interlayers of gypsum rocks.

A lot of sinkholes indicate a fairly common karst system. Some sinkholes are located on the same line relative to each other, indicating that they are confined to tectonic faults or contacts of rock layers.

The climate in the area of the planned expedition is quite warm. The air temperature in summer reaches in the valley part of 40 degrees. In the karst plateau the temperature reaches 30 degrees.

The average annual amount of precipitation varies from 450 to 550 mm.

The main water basin is the Vakhsh River valley, which is located to the south of the parallel stretched plateau.

The Karst region is relatively easy to access and is located 100 kilometers from Dushanbe.

Our Foundation plans to conduct a speleological expedition to the Nurek Karst Plateau in early September from 5.09. to 18.09.2018.

Goals and objectives of the expedition:

1. Assessment of the prospects of the karst area.

2. Investigation of karst sinkholes.

3. Search and study of caves.

4. Topographical survey

5. Hydrogeological investigations

6. Speleobiological Investigation.

Those wishing to take part in the expedition can send an e-mail to our fund


The most convenient option for this expedition is the following:

Arrival of expedition participants to the capital of Tajikistan to the city of Dushanbe.

Overnight at the hotel. Discussion of the expedition, planning, preparation.

Next, on a mini bus Mercedes Sprinter transfer from Dushanbe to the base camp site. (100 km).

Setting the base camp at the base of the northwestern slope of the mountain massif.

For traveling around the work area of the expedition, off-road car will be used.

Conditions of participation in the expedition.

The cost of participation is determined by the number of participants, as this determines the cost of logistics and all other services for the maintenance of the base camp and the expedition as a whole.

The price includes: car rental, payment to the cook, food, accommodation in the hotel on the route of the expedition, registration of permits, consumables (gasoline for the generator, gas, etc.), organization.

Our foundation provides all the equipment for the base camp: tents, tents and kitchen equipment, tables chairs, generator and other equipment.

If the participants in the expedition will be more, the cost will also be less.

During the expedition we plan to explore alternative karst areas of Southern Tajikistan. For this, cars provided by our colleagues and partners from Tajikistan will be used.