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Important Note: The author: Vincent Pardieu is an employee of GIA (Gemological Institute of America) Laboratory Bangkok since Dec 2008. Any views expressed on this website - and in particular any views expressed by Vincent Pardieu - are the authors' opinions and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of GIA or GIA Laboratory Bangkok . GIA takes no responsibility and assumes no liability for any content on this website nor is GIA liable for any mistakes or omissions you may encounter. GIA is in particular not screening, editing or monitoring the content on this website and has no possibility to remove, screen or edit any content.


About FieldGemology. org

This website is home for "Shameless Travel Addicted Gemologist" Vincent Pardieu (B.Sc., GGA, G.G.). Vincent is "Supervisor, Field Gemology" at GIA Laboratory Bangkok. He is a gemologist specialized on "origin determination of gemstones".
This is also home for Vincent's regular traveling companions: David Bright, Jean Baptiste Senoble, Richard W. Hughes, Guillaume Soubiraa, Walter Balmer, Michael Rogers, Kham Vannaxay and many others like recently: Philippe Ressigeac, Oliver Segura , Flavie Isatelle and Lou Pierre Bryl.

We are gemologists (gemmologists) sharing a passion for gemstones, gemolology (gemmology), gem people and traveling.

You will find in this website gemological expedition reports and some studies of gemological interest.

Visiting many gem mining areas we saw that people in remote mining and trading areas have difficulties to access to gemological publications. As today the Internet can be accessed in most of these gem mining areas and trading centers, the author started to build this website to give gem people living there the opportunity to see the result of the gemological expeditions they were associated in. It is a way to thanks them for their time and collaboration and to help them to get access to more gemological information.

At the same time the author hope that these expedition reports will please the people from consuming countries interested in gemstones and fascinated by their mysterious origins. Our purpose here is to help people facing difficulties to get quality first hand information about gems and their origins to get the information they need through this website and its links.

With our field expeditions to gemstone mines and gem markets around the world, we intend also here to share our passion for photography, gems and our fascination for the work of the "Gem People" bringing gemstones from the ground to magnificent jewelry.

From the gems external beauty to the intimate beauty of gemstone inclusions, from gem lore to the mines, the people and the landscapes gems origin from, we expect to share with you our passion for gemstone beauty.

We also invite you to join us on some gemological forums we are active in as they are convenient tools to get rapid answers to your questions as they are regularly visited by many other passionate gemologists, jewelers, hobbyists and professionals willing to learn more and share their knowledge about gemstones.


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About me : How did a countryside Frenchman became a "Shameless travel addicted gemologist"? ( Under construction)


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Popular Articles

"Tsavorite, an Untamed Gem" with R.W.Hughes, first published in ICA's InColor (Winter 2008)
"Working the blue seam" The Tanzanite mines of Merelani with R.W.Hughes first published on
"Spinel, the resurection of a Classic" with R.W. Hughes, first published in ICA's InColor (Summer 2008)

Gemological studies

(Apr. 2009) "Sapphires reportedly from Batakundi / Basil area" a preliminary study about unusual sapphires we saw at GIA Laboratory Bangkok
(Mar. 2009) "Rubies from Niassa province, Mozambique" a preliminary study about rubies we saw at GIA Laboratory Bangkok
"Lead glass filled rubies" :
First published on AIGS Lab Website (Feb 2005)

Expedition Reports

Autumn. 2009: GIA Field Expedition FE09: Rubies from Mozambique. (pdf file)

May. 2009: GIA Field Expedition FE08: Melos and their pearls in Vietnam. (pdf file)

Dec. 2008 and Feb-Mar. 2009: GIA Field Expeditions FE01 and FE04: Rubies and sapphires from Pailin, Cambodia. (pdf file)

Aug. 2008: Sapphires and Tsavorite from the south of Madagascar with the AFG (Association francaise de Gemmologie) : Available soon...

Apr. 2008: Expedition to the new Winza ruby deposit in central Tanzania with Jean Baptiste Senoble and the support of the Gubelin Gem Lab

October 2007: Gemological expedition to East Africa (Kenya and Tanzania) with Richard W. Hughes, Mike Rogers, Guillaume Soubiraa, Warne and Monty Chitty and Philippe Bruno:

Summer 2006: Expeditions to Central Asia gem wealth with Guillaume Soubiraa and the support of the AIGS, the ICA and the Gubelin Gem Lab:

Oct. 2005: Colombia by J.B. Senoble

Sep. 2005: Madagascar with Richard W. Hughes and Dana Schorr (Will be available one of these days...)

Summer 2005: Gemological expeditions to South East Asia (Vietnam) South Asia (Sri Lanka) and East Africa (Kenya, Madagascar and Tanzania) with J.B. Senoble and Tanguy Lagache with the support of the AIGS, the ICA and the Gubelin Gem Lab:

- Feb. 2005: A visit to Thailand, Cambodia with the AFG (Association Francaise de Gemmologie) (under construction)

- 2002-2007: Expeditions to Pailin (Cambodia), Chanthaburi Kanchanaburi (Thailand) Houay Xai (Laos) Mogok, Namya (Burma) (under construction)

- 2001: Expeditions to Namya, Hpakant and then Mogok with Ted and Angelo Themelis and Hemi Englisher (under construction)

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Number 01: Sept 2006
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Here are some recommended institutes where the author studied gemology in Thailand ... and was happy about his investment!

For those willing to go further after their gemological studies: Recommended Advanced Gemological Courses:

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the author have read and appreciated and would like to recommend to people willing to learn more about gemstones, gemology and the places where gemstones are found:




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From Kashmir to Pamir,

Summer 2006: Gemological expedition report
to Ruby, Emerald and Spinel mining areas in Central Asia

Part 3: Tajikistan:
Gems from the Pamirs

By Vincent Pardieu
and Guillaume Soubiraa
(Published on Sept 2006, last edited July 01, 2008)

Introduction: Presentation of the AIGS, Gubelin Gem Lab, ICA 2006 fieldtrip to central Asia: (visit here)

Part 1: Pakistan: The Central Asian capital of the gemstone trade. (visit here)

Part 2: Afghanistan: Land of beautiful gems and unique people. (visit here)

Part 3: Tajikistan: Gems from the Pamirs. (current page)

Part 4: China (Xin Jiang): Emeralds from the silk road (visit here)


Abstract: This web page presents Vincent Pardieu (then Director of the AIGS gemological laboratory in Bangkok, Thailand) fieldtrip to Tajikistan. This fieldtrip was part of the expedition supported by AIGS and Gubelin gemological laboratories with the help of ICA to the Western Hymalaya range during summer 2006. Along with him during this expedition was Guillaume Soubiraa, a Madagascar based French gemologist, who studied gemology at AIGS Bangkok in 2006. Also present in the Tajikistan part of the global expedition were Richard W.Hughes from AGTA and Dana Schorr from Santa Barbara (California). While Richard Hughes and Dana Schorr came by plane from the US, Guillaume Soubiraa and myself arrived from Kabul in Afghanistan. The trip was possible thanks to the help of Surat Toimastov, a famous Tajik photgrapher.
After one day in Dushambe we left to Khorog the capital of the Badakshan province. From Khorog we visited the historic Kul I Lal spinel mines and then left to Murgap to visit the "Snijnie" ruby mines which are located in the center of a large area rich in corundum. Then left to the Wakhan corridor following the Afghan border up to Iskhashim to finally return to Khorog and then Dushambe. The final part of our trip was the visit to the "Gubjemast" company which is mining in both Kul I Lal and Snijnie.
Tajikistan is one of the new states issued from the former Soviet Union. After several years of civil war and instability the country is now more stable and more open. Traveling to Tajikistan is nevertheless still complicated as to get a visa is not easy and Dushambe is also a destination where few planes are going. Traveling inside Tajikistan is also not an easy task as there are still many check points and special permits are required to visit some areas as the Pamirs in the Badakshan autonomous province.
In current Tajikistan are located the famous historic spinel mines at Kul I Lal also known as Badaskshan spinel mines. These mines are famous to be home of the "Balas rubies" which was a misnomer for spinel. To me Kul I Lal had also a special signification as some author say that these mines have possibly produced two of the most famous stones: The "Black Prince ruby" and the "Timur ruby" which are both red spinels and also as I visited already Mogok and Namya in Burma, Luc Yen in Vietnam, Mahengue in Tanzania and the alluvial deposits in Ilakaka (Madagascar) and Ratnapura (Sri Lanka), Kul I Lal was the last important spinel mining area for me to visit in order to complete my knowledge of this beautiful stone.

The most important point, gemologicaly speaking, about Tajikistan is that this country has recently become again a source of rubies. Discovered during the Soviet Union time possibly as early as the 1970s, some stones reached the markets for a short time in the nineties and these stones were at the origin of the article on the subject written by Christopher P. Smith then from the Gubelin Gem Lab in the Journal of Gemmology.
On the AIGS lab side we saw first Tajik rubies during the first months of 2006 while suddenly many rubies from Tajikistan reached the international markets through dealers from Peshawar, Bangkok, Hong Kong and Dubai.
AIGS Lab has published on its website a specific study on the subject as a result.
Some people were selling these attractive rubies ranging from pink to vivid red as from a new mine in Burma, which was obviously an incorrect information. We found out rapidly that they probably originated from the Murgap mining area in the eastern of the Badakshan autonomous province near the Chinese border as they were perfectly matching the description Christopher P.Smith was giving in its article and other information from traders were also leading to this origin. The arrival of these rubies was very important as it suddenly gave us more motivation to perform during the summer 2006 a field trip to the Central Asian countries.
We decided during the spring 2006 to try to visit the Murgap mines as Gary Bowersox did in summer 2005. But this expedition turned to be different from the other countries I visited in summer 2006 with my former student at AIGS Guillaume Soubiraa as we decided to share this expedition with our friends Richard Hughes and Dana Schorr. Richard and Dana have already been my traveling companions in September 2005 on an expedition to Ilakaka and Andilamena in Madagascar.
It was a great trip as it was during this expedition that we all met for the first time Guillaume Soubiraa which was at this time studying and practicing gemology there. Guillaume then convinced by Richard and myself during a great diner in a nice French restaurant in Tana that he had to come to continue his studies at AIGS. He followed our advise and then became luckily my summer 2006 fieldtrip assistant.
In spring 2006 while I was focusing on the expeditions to Afghanistan, Pakistan and China, Richard Hughes put a lot of time and energy working on the Tajikistan project and I have to say that thanks to his presence and his great work, this expedition turned to be a success.

In Tajikistan the gem production and trade are strictly regulated. Gem business as it exist in many other countries is illegal and the ruby and spinel mines are considered as strategic resources. As a result it is very difficult to get access to them as it is necessary to get authorizations which are all but easy to obtain. We had as an example to wait several days in Khorog before to get the approval of the Badakshan governor for our project to visit the mines in his province and even then we faced some problem later while trying to visit the Kul I Lal spinel mines as we were missing some official approval from the KGB in Dushambe.

We discovered during our trip that the gemstone mining in Tajikistan is performed under the control of the "Gubjemast" company (meaning "amethyst" in Tajik) which has its headquarters are in Dushambe, the capital of Tajikistan. During our trip to Tajikistan, the director of the company M Shirinbeck was replaced by the Tajik president after more than 20 years of service as he announced to us on July 19th 2006, when we visited him at Gubjemast. This day was his last day in duty. It seems also that many Gubjemast miners are somewhere linked to this state security agency. Bureaucracy is really a serious business in Tajikistan: As an example we were not able to see any stones at Gubjemast before meeting Gulov Mamadali, the deputy minister of Industry and get his approval. Taking two hours of the number two of the ministry of industry to see some small parcel of rough spinels and pink rubies was a little bit weird but interesting as the deputy minister turned to be very friendly and allowed us also to get some access to some interesting information regarding the mines and provided us somebody to allow us to see the stones at the Gubjemast office the following day.

Despite this vist and support from the ministry of industry, buying gemstones in Tajikistan is not an easy task at least when you try to do it legally. It seems that a the easier legal way is to invest in the mining operation with Gubjemast in order to get some rough from the production. Currently companies from China, Ukraine and Bishkek in Kyrgyzstan were told us to operate under such agreement.
During our visit at Gubjemast we decided to try to buy some rough to do some work later at AIGS gemological laboratory but the process was finally far to be simple: We were told that each year some special sales happen in December where foreigners can buy, but we were in July... Nevertheless we were told that it was also possible to buy during our visit some stones.

Full of hope we decided to try but we found out that it was far to be as simple as in a standard gem market like Peshawar or Chanthaburi:We selected 10 small pieces of rough which were quoted $200 by the company. Then after 20 minutes of discussion, we were told that some paper work was necessary with the customs and that probably it will cost us around $600 to take these samples out of the country and the process will probably take around one month...
We had then the confirmation that some serious work had to be done in Tajikistan in order to create and develop a good gem industry. Of course we sadly decided not to buy any samples from Gubjemast in Dushambe. Too Bad but we got the confirmation that there was probably some more efficient channels to get some Tajik rubies than to buy them from the official or legal channels. It was also obvious to us, regarding the amount of Tajik stones we saw in Peshawar market that most of the Tajik stones are going out of the country through some illegal channels.

We arrived in Dushambe on June 30th to meet our local contact there: Surat Toimastov, a local photographer and former hunting manager for Tajikistan during the Soviet Union time.
Dushambe city is a very nice place to stay. There are many trees and nice European looking buildings. People are friendly and after a long stay in Afghanistan and Pakistan, we had this nice feeling to feel again in Europe as Dushambe has a very pleasant Russian charm.

We invite you to follow step by step our fieldtrip in Tajikistan, from Dushambe and Khorog to the spinel mines at "Kul I Lal" and to the ruby mines at "Snijnie" near Murgab using the potential given by the free software Google Earth. Just download and install Google Earth and use this powerful tool to follow our expedition and prepare yours.

Once Google Earth installed on your computer, you can now follow our expedition to Tajikistan downloading the following placemarks we prepared for your after our fieldtrips: Expedition to the ruby and spinel mines in Tajikistan. You can also visit directly the Kul I Lal or the Murgap mining area area using Google Earth and

After one day passed on formalities to prepare our trip, we left to Khorog, the capital of the autonomous province of GBAO, known as Badakshan which regroup all the south of Tajikistan from Afghanistan to China including the famous Pamir mountain range.
We arrived in Khorog after 2 long days driving through beautiful landscapes like here near the Khaburabot Pass (3252m)

The countryside was beautiful and its recent dramatic history was regularly coming back to our souvenir while passing the numerous tanks destroyed during the civil war and which are currently rusting along the roads or as wrecks in the mountains streams.
Our main problem arriving at Khorog was to finalize our permits to be able to reach the spinel mines at Kul I Lal and to the ruby mines near Murgap.
As I said previously it took us 5 days in Khorog to get the support from the Badakshan governor. With that support we left to the Kul I Lal spinel mines and the Murgap ruby mines.
Note: It would have been possibly easier to get the approval from the Gubjemast company, the ministry of Industry and the KGB in Dushambe but our guide was not aware of these difficulties at that time as if he was very familiar with Tajikistan mountains, wild animals and photography, we was not familiar with gems and the gem business in Tajikistan. Nevertheless he was great and thanks to his help and the support of the Tajik government we succeded in our project to visit Kul I Lal and Murgap.
Kul I Lal: On July 08 2006, we reached the Kul I Lal spinel mining area located few meters away from the Pyanj river and the Afghan border about one hour driving in the south of Khorog. The Kul I Lal spinel mines are one of the oldest mining areas in the world. In 1970 a Russian historian Mira Bubnova found some evidence that the mine was operating as early as the VII century.
Local people told us that it was discovered after an earthquake to damage the valley. Local people found some pink stones and the mining started.
The Kul I Lal mines are famous in many old documents as they are thought to have produced many attractive stones including two of the most famous "rubies" in the world: The "Back Prince ruby" and the "Timur ruby" both currently part of the British Royal Jewels.
For me the origin of these red stones still remain somewhere a mystery as until Summer 2006 after visiting most of the spinel mines in the world from Burma to Vietnam, Sri Lanka, Kenya, Tanzania and Madagsacar and become a spinel fan for around 5 years, the fact is that I've not seen any TRULY red spinel coming from any other mines than Mogok in Burma.(Note: Things changed in August 2007 when large red spinels were found in Mahenge, Tanzania as we could see with Richard W Hughes and Guillaume Soubiraa while visiting Mahenge in October 2007)
The spinels we saw during our visit in Tajikistan were mostly small and pinkish to purplish, very attractive sometimes but sadly I was not able to see any stone I would qualify as red.
Nevertheless, I heard from different dealers about large red Tajik spinels, but I've to be fair telling that I never saw really any of these red beauties: One of the largest fine gem quality Tajik spinel I saw was the stone on the right photo (Stone courtesy Edigem):

Very attractive, very clean but even with nearly 30 carats, it is difficult to describe the stone as truly red...

My friend Richard Hughes told me, while we were discussing this subject on the way back from the mines, that there are a lot of historic evidence regarding red spinels to have been produced from Kul I Lal. At the end of his fieldtrip report he express his opinion in : "Balas rubies: Myth or reality". I don't deny the historic accounts but the fact is that several centuries ago while spinels were mines from Kul I Lal, the Mogok mining area was also very active and if for some reasons the Kul I Lal mine closed and were nearly forgotten Mogok was not. May be the simple reason was that Kul I Lal was not producing stones attractive enough to sustain mining over the centuries... The fact is that Mogok still produce many red but Kul I Lal no...
Possibly some red stones came from a pocket at Kul I Lal which was mined out or from a gallery which is not producing since the mine started again its operation. Currently only two of the nine existing mine galleries at Kul I Lal are producing gems (pink spinels to the best of my knowledge). The possibility that these exceptional red stones origin from Burma instead of Kul I Lal to my opinion sadly cannot be completely discarded. The fact is that we could not obtain any red spinel from Kul I Lal to start any research work and compare these stones with old stones told to be from these mines.
Other mining areas discovered recently in Asia or Africa produce spinels close to red and occasionally red stones as we could see in august 2007 in Tanzania when giant spinels crystals were found. Most of the stones cut from these crystals were of the common pink found in Mahenge but the larger the stone the more saturated became the color and we could then see large red spinels. Possibly be the same explanation could be extrapolated for Kul I Lal spinels: If the small rough is pink, light in a large stone properly cut might travel enough to gain saturation and large stones could appear then red... It is a nice theory.
I was dreaming for long time to visit the Kul I Lal mines as I wanted to find out if this mine was producing red stones that could match the best Burmese I saw while living there few years ago. But despite the fact that some miners told us about "red" stones, I've to say the mystery remains as I've found no evidence of any red spinel production from Kul I Lal since the mine started again to produce after the civil war.
Some miners told us that during the last 3 years the production was 50% "red" and 50% "pink" but back in Dushambe looking at the mine production at the Gubjemast office, I was not able to see any red spinel even a low quality tiny stone. I was then told that red spinels are found may be once every ten years meaning that possibly only one red spinel was produced since the mining to start again in the middle 1990's.
Another disturbing fact is that I've never seen a red spinel told to be from Pamir from any companies selling this product in the market. These companies are selling pink and purplish stones similar to the stone we saw at the mines or at the Gubjamast mining office in Dushambe.
But may be the solution to this mystery is that I was not given to see any really large Kul I Lal spinel at the mines or from the Tajik spinel dealers I met.
Anyway as Richard Hughes pointed out wisely on the way back from our trip: We have also to consider that "what was mined before may not be mine anymore". We cannot assume that what is today has always been... It will be difficult to figure out about this mystery and probably the origin of these red spinels will still be subject to gemological discussions for a while.

Here is a modified satelite map created from Google Earth on which you can discover the Pamirs mountains in the south of Tajikistan. We travelled there during 20 days. We started in Khorog to visit the spinel mines in Kul I Lal a lovely area near the Pyanj river and the Afghan border. You can "fly" directly to Kul I Lal using our Kul I Lal Google Earth placemarks

The spinel mines are located on a cliff over the beautiful village of Kul I Lal dominating the Pyanj river which is the natural border between Tajikistan and Afghanistan. At Kul I Lal the Pyanj river is less than 100 meters wide and the valley very narrow. On the photo from the right I'm standing at the entrance of the mines and you can discover lower in the valley the Kul I Lal village, the Pyanj river and on the other side the mountains of Afghanistan.
The visit to Kul I Lal was difficult as we did not had the formal support from the KGB. As a result we were not able to visit the current modern mining operation.
Nevertheless we were able to visit the "historic mines" (37° 10 71N, 71° 28 47E, Altitude: 2900m) which was the tunnel were the Russian historian Mira Bubnova found some evidences of mining as old as from the VII century. It was a very interesting visit. After walking 45 minutes on a goat track along a beautiful valley, we reached the entrance of the historic spinel mines.
The mine was starting with a small entrance and we had to bend in order to enter the galleries.
Inside the mine, the tunnels then get wider and turned to be very chaotic. It was a real maze with a very uneven level.

Here is a short movie I took showing Guillaume Soubiraa going down in the Kul I lak mining tunnels.This location was located around 30 meters under ground, in an unbelievable maze in which walking was not possible as the tunnels were most of the time too small: A small video to feel the "Kul I Lal mines atmosphere"

Probably the miners were working following the gemstone veins. After several inspection on the marble inside the mine we did not found any fine crystal, only one or two tiny pinkish stones. Sadly as I was not allowed to collect these tiny stones from the mine. I was not really able to study them.
We were told that an estimated of 10.000 cube meters of rocks were taken out from this mine over the ages creating an incredible network of galleries penetrating up to 40 meters deep inside the mountain in which we were rapidly lost.
We were explained that in the area there are 9 mines but only two of them are currently in operation, one of this tunnel was told us to penetrate up to 800 meters deep while the other was only 500 meters deep. We could not verify these information. On the photo on the right you can discover the Kul I Lal spinel mining area over the Kul I Lal village. On the right, the white areas are the two tunnels currently in operation while over the village on the left the historic mines are located over the brown areas.
Besides spinel, we could verify that the Kul I Lal mine produce also yellow clinohumite as these low quality rough samples on the right photo. These stone can be beautiful while clean and are sold in the international market as "sunflower stone".

After our visit to the mine we went back to the valley meeting local Tajik sheep keepers from Kul I Lal village who shared with us delicious milk and cheese.

Richard Hughes was not the last one to taste these truly delicious natural products. It was a very pleasant moment. We were very happy about this visit as we could enjoy the beauty of the valley and the mine. Thanks to the Kul I Lal people who helped us to their best in order we are happy to show you that in Kul I Lal the beauty is not only in the gems... but all around!

After our visit of Kul I Lal, we took the road to the east through a beautiful mountain landscape. The mountains were a mineral kingdom as the vegetation was mainly reduced to the swampy valleys where many Yaks were greasing. It was a pleasure to travel through this immensity.
The area main people are nomadic Kirghiz people living in yurts and taking care their yaks. We enjoyed during this expedition several great moment in "Yurtistan" as we shared several meals on the way and spent one night we will all remember for many years in one of these comfortable houses.

Besides the human experience it was also gemologicaly interesting to take a look at the local jewelry. I cannot forget this cute little Kirghiz girl who presented to us her "beautiful ruby" which was in fact a very nice piece of colorful glass.

Anyway what a nice picture!

Murgap !: We arrived in Murgap on july 11th 2006. Murgap, the region capital, is a small city located on a swampy plain.
After our arrival we visited the local governor office and thanks to Richard Hughes book "Ruby and sapphire" and to the support of the Badakshan province governor, we got his support and agreement to visit the ruby mines located in a place called “Snijnie” (meaning Snowy).

Here is a modified satelite map created from Google Earth on which you can discover Murgap and the surrounding Pamirs up to the Ruby mines and the Chinese border
To visit the complete Murgap mining area, you can use our Murgap Google Earth placemarks.

On July 12th we left Murgap with an official and M Ramsy, the director of the mine for a one hour and half drive to the east of Murgap through a wonderful altitude desert landscape. There at more than 4000 meters altitude, the air is so pure that the light is a pure wonder and the landscape from an other world!

Here is a short movie about to remind our long hours driving in the Pamirs. For days we were crusing in the roof of the wrold to reach the ruby mines... and to return from them. Thanks to our driver Sven we had a great trip. Only one small technical problem with our old Russian minivan: 300 meters from our room back in Dushambe after 20 days without any problem... Great trip!

The Snijnei mining camp ( 38° 15 72N, 74° 23 37E, 4090m altitude) is 42 km by road on the east of Murgap on a gentle slide at the end of a altitude desert valley. You can see the mining area at the end of the road on the right of Richard Hughes (The man with the cap on the left photo besides myself with as you can see.. a new hat!)
Here is a modified satelite map created from Google Earth on which you can discover the snijnie ruby mining area near Murgap and the Chinese border.
You can "fly" directly to Kul I Lal using google earth and the following GPS placemark: 3815'40"N 7424'16"E
At Snijnie, the mining camp is composed of around 15 small houses and is quite comfortable but still very rustic. Nevertheless the mountains surrounding the camp are just beautiful as you can see on the photo on the right.
At the time of our visit the mining was performed digging some trenches as the ruby rich marble layers are near vertical at Snijnei which is a similar feature with the Jagdalek deposit in Afghanistan. To our surprise the miners were not mining any alluvial or elluvial deposits but they prospected the area digging trenches in order to find the best primary deposits to work. The trenches are as a result creating interesting design on the surface of the mountain over the camp.
The present location is worked since 2003 but from 1970’s to 2003 an other location located around 10 km on the north was worked but we could not visit this area. The Snijnie deposit was discovered during the 1980’s by a Russian geologist possibly named: “Skrigitel”. It seems that the Snijnei mine is just a small scratch in a 50km by 200km area going all along the Chinese border where corundum is found.
During the Soviet time many Russian geologists have worked in the area and we could see arriving in Murgap the remain of a very important settlement which was a base camp for geologists. We were told that many very serious studies were performed in this pegmatite rich area as Tajikistan and Kirgyzirtan where major uranium and rare metal suppliers for the Soviet Union. This is possibly the reason why the gemstone mines are still seen as "strategic mines".
Three to four hours from the Snijnie mine are found in the Rangkul region: topaz, amethyst, polychrome tourmaline, amazonite, scapolite and schorl. I also heard about some other rare gemstones including Jeremejevite but I cannot confirm this. Nevertheless I was able to see also on the ground, while walking to the mines many garnets and kyanite crystals when I was not disturbed by the stunning beauty of the surrounding landscape.
At the mining trenches we could see here and there several ruby crystals still attached to their marble matrix. Rubies are associated with marbles and gneiss. While discussing with miners and geologists at the mine, the miners told us that the closer the rubies are to the gneiss the more red is usually the color.
Currently at the Snijnie mine around 10 miners are working using 2 excavators. They are blasting the rocks in order to reach the ruby rich layers. The mine is currently working 2 trenches separated by few hundred meters and located ( 38°16'19"N 74°24'57"E, 4090m altitude and 38°16'33"N 74°24'44"E, 4256m altitude)
During the short period we visited the two trenches we could witness 15 mine blasts and see the excavators working then in the trench to remove the barren rock layers.
The production is then send to the Gubjemast office in Dushambe.
At Snijnie, the miners told us that the largest fine crystal which was found was around 200 grams.
(Note: Of course the crystal on the photo is not the stone I just spoke about but a low quality large crystal we saw at Gubjemast office in Dushambe)
After our visit to the Murgap area we continued our trip in Tajikistan in the direction of the south to reach the Afghan border in the Wakkhan valley up to Ishkashim.

The area was beautiful following the Pyanj river valley with great view on the south over the snow covered peaks of the Hindu Kush, the natural border between Afghanistan and Pakistan.
Near Vrang, the Vishim Kala fortress dominate the valley, it was build at the time of the silk roadto protect the area from Chinese and Afghan invaders...

It was interesting to see while traveling through this beautiful area that we were proposed in a village on the east of Ishkashim a hand of... blue sapphire crystals including a crystal on matrix that was associated with some pink sapphires.
After discussion with some knowledgeable people it seems that some milky light blue sapphire can be found in the mountains on the north of the Pamir river. An interesting think to follow as the stones were very interesting.
To complete this report I would like just to thanks all the Tajik people who greatly helped us during this difficult trip. We thanks particularly Gulov Mamadali, deputy minister of Industry to have allowed us to visit Gubjemast, the friendly people from Gubjemast, Kul I Lal and Murgap, Nureddin Azizi for his constant support and friendship and of course the Government of Badakshan to have supported us during this expedition
Very special thanks to all our traveling companions:
Our guide:
Surat Toimastov,
his son: Habib,
our driver: Valera,
They were the best possible traveling companions.

Of course it was again a great pleasure to travel with Richard Hughes, Dana Schorr and Guillaume Soubiraa alias "Guji", we were such a group of "photo-maniacs"!

Please if this report has interested you I would like to invite you to read also the report Richard Hughes has written on his own website: "Moon over the Pamirs"

All the best!


Introduction: Presentation of the AIGS, Gubelin Gem Lab, ICA 2006 fieldtrip to central Asia: (visit here)

Part 1: Pakistan: The Central Asian capital of the gemstone trade. (visit here)

Part 2: Afghanistan: Land of beautiful gems and unique people. (visit here)

Part 3: Tajikistan 2006: Gems from the Pamirs. (current page)

Part 4: China (Xin Jiang) 2006: Emeralds from the silk road (visit here)

You can also visit our 2005 fieldtrip reports:

Part 1: Introduction: Fieldtrips to Thailand, Cambodia, Laos, Burma (visit here)

Part 2: Report about Vietnam (April - May 2005) (visit here)

Part 3: Report about Sri Lanka (May 2005) (visit here)

Part 4: Report about Madagascar (June- July 2005) (visit here)

Part 5: Report about Kenya (July 2005) (visit here)

Part 6: Report about Tanzania (August 2005) (visit here)


Note: For more information and photos about all these different areas, please visit our photo galleries available from our home page.






Important Note: Vincent Pardieu is an employee of GIA (Gemological Institute of America) Laboratory Bangkok since Dec 2008. Any views expressed on this website - and in particular any views expressed by Vincent Pardieu - are the authors' opinions and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of GIA or GIA Laboratory Bangkok. GIA takes no responsibility and assumes no liability for any content on this website nor is GIA liable for any mistakes or omissions you may encounter. GIA is in particular not screening, editing or monitoring the content on this website and has no possibility to remove, screen or edit any content.