Kugitang Nature Reserve

Kugitang Nature Reserve

Kugitang Natural Reserve lies on the very east part of Turkmenistan in Kugitang ridge of the Pamir-Alai mountain range presents one of the most attractive natural environments in the country next to the Uzbek border. The territory of the Reserve occupies about 27,139ha and considered the most majestic and pristine of Turkmenistan’s nature reserves. It was set up in 1986 to preserve the Kugitang mountain range and its unique ecosystem. The name of the reserve comes from the name of the rare markhor mountain goat who inhabits there and whose name comes from Persian (Kugitang means “Difficult-to-Cross Mountains”. Furthermore in the Koyten Dag Nature Reserve is home to the largest remaining Ibex populations in Central Asia.  Its area includes the country’s highest peak, Airybaba (3137m) several huge canyons, rich forests, mountain streams, caves and the unique Dinosaur Plateau. Airybaba summit was known under this name until September 2004, when the Turkmen parliament approved a declaration renaming it “Turkmenbashy the Great Peak”. 

The headquarters of the Kugitang Nature Reserve lies south of Hojapil. You can get there following the road the Kugitang River valley, through the village of Koyten and the old lead-mining settlement of Svintsovy Rudmk to the hamlet of Hojakarawul. There is a small and highly missable museum here, which features a packed markhor, a gypsum model of a dinosaur footprint, glass cases offering displays of minerals and fossils and a mock-up of a cave, replete with stalactites and stalagmites. The latter exhibit reflects one of the other great attractions of Kugitang. Beneath the limestone hills lies one of the most extensive networks of caves in Central Asia

Kugitang a considerably difficult place to reach due to the road condition and remote location. The drive from Turkmenabat, through Atamurat, should take around six hours. Since you are still in Turkmenistan you need a permit for these spots therefore plan accordingly and get a permit beforehand from the travel agencies.

Hojapil Zakaznik

Hojapil Zakaznik one of the most exciting places to visit it lies in the northern part of the range. You can get there taking the road through Koyten, which then runs in an easterly direction towards the Uzbek border. Ammonites found in the rocks here were once believed by local people to be the marks left by a stamp used by the Emir of Bukhara to mark his territory. Next to the lower edge of the village of Hojapil, a path up the hillside to the south takes you after a stiff but not difficult 20-minute climb to the Dinasaur Plateu. 

Another significant attraction that lies nearby, just outside the village of Hojapil on the road back towards Koyten the cave of Kyrk Gyz (40 Girls). Hojapil zakaznik also offers fine hiking opportunities and many places of natural beauty like Kugitang is the steep-sided Umbardepe Canyon that includes a waterfall with a drop of 27m.

Dinosaur Plateau

Dinosaur footprints have been discovered at other locations in the Kugitang Mountains more than 2,500 trails in total, dating from the Jurassic period. Turkmen scientists claim that the footprint evidence is suggestive of at least three previously unknown dinosaur species, and have suggested the names Gissarosaurus, Hojapilosaurus and Turkmenosaurus. Furthermore, the residence of the villagers believed in legends that the tracks at Hojapil were created either by the elephants of Alexander the Great’s army or elephants brought back from India by a local holy man returning from a religious pilgrimage. 

Koyten Dag is also well-known for its “Dinosaur Plateau” with 438 fully preserved fossilized dinosaur tracks, and its caves are rated the most impressive and intriguing caves in the former Soviet Union. If you wish to discover the mountain can be discovered you should follow climbing and trekking paths placed along the entire ridge. Dinosaur Plato lies in the northeast part of Reserve, in Kugitangtau mountains, at the height of 1,500 meters. It is a large limestone slab lying on a hillside, the extent to which, from the small village of Khodjapil, takes half an hour.  The spot was first investigated in 1980, which soon gained a great as at “Repository“of dinosaur tracks. Alike dinosaur footprints were also found in Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, China and even in the United States, yet none of them is equal in number to Turkmenistan. There was discovered about 150 paw prints of different sizes and conditions. 

Kyrk Gyz Pilgrim Cave

Kyrk Gyz (Forty Girl) Cave lies near the plateau, outside the village of Hojapil. The cave, located in a striking canyon, contains an unmarked tomb. On the roof of the cave, you can see bits of mud from which dangle strips of cloth. According to local tradition, a wish come true if the pilgrim can fling the mud pie and cloth to the ceiling and make it stick. Numerous rare species inhabit here including the spiral-horned markhor goat, and the Bukhara urial, a mountain sheep.

There are some local legends about the place. The Legend says that 40 girls were warlike Amazons, defeating those who tried to take their land. In others, the girls have a less military role. Facing capture by bandits, the innocent girls prayed for protection and it was granted by the mountain itself, into which the girls found they could miraculously walk.

Karlyk Caves

Ninety million years ago, while the current desert territory of Central Asia was covered by plentiful rains and a large ocean reached the foothills of the young mountains, the water started to dissolve the rock and to seek shelter in new caves. Later, the caves were packed with clay and stayed that way for a long time, from the Neogenic to the Middle Quaternary. The mountains rose, along with the caves full of clay, whereupon the clay was washed away and the karst cave system was born.

Karlyuk Caves or Garlyk Caves are the limestone caves that are considered the most extensive network of caves in Central Asia. They have been known since ancient times, they have been mentioned in Greek texts, however, the Soviets were the first to fully explore and utilize the caves. It was during their rule that onyx was harvested from the caves. The caves are also home to the blind cave loach, a sightless fish.

Kapkytan Cave

Kapkytan Cave is one of the accessible caves for visitors since other caves have not been prepared for the tourist crowds. Trekking deep into the caves with one of the park rangers could be both scary and exciting, with some astonishing stalactites and stalagmites. Some of these natural miracles have been named by locals according to their form, including Medusa, a maiden and others of a more phallic nature. 

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