UNDERGROUND BEAUTY OF KUGITANG
On a low vault of one of the halls of the Kap-Kutan cave, lanterns spotted a small growing stalactite that looked like a lowered fist with two protruding fingers - a thumb and a forefinger. It is symbolic that a clear drop of water hung from the tip of the forefinger. This drop has come a long way through a winding path, leaking to the lower layers after snow and rain falls over the Kugitang ridge. It will fall down smoothly in a moment, like many other subsequent drops, and, perhaps, a stalagmite will start growing very slowly in that place. Together with the stalactite, let alone "draperies", wall and cover crusts, they are the products of the same crystallization medium. Everything that grows in a cave, with a few rare exceptions, grows from aqueous solutions.
Water is the main builder, architect, sculptor and decorator in this amazing underground world. Karst manifestations are especially intense in the southern regions of Lebap province of Turkmenistan. As is known, karst is the process of destruction of geological formations, during which a rock is leached by moving waters. As a result of precipitations, when facing hardly-permeable or impenetrable rocks in their path, moving waters begin to move horizontally, thus forming caves. There are about six dozen registered caves on the slopes of the Kugitang ridge. They are called Garlyk, as all the roads lead to them from the nearby village of Garlyk. They have no analogues in the world by their geology and mineralogy.
Geologist Sultan Yalkapov was the first explorer of the Garlyk underground galleries. He made the schemes of the large caves in the mid-50s of the last century. All subsequent expeditions also noted that the process of karst formation, like millions of years ago, continues in the dry upper layers due to the internal water cycle and chemical factors.
The longest cave, Kap-Kutan, whose total length together with branches reaches 56 kilometers, is the most accessible for untrained people. The entrance to the cave is located at the mouth of the gorge with pebble deposits. It can be reached by walking down a winding path marked by stones. There is a long tunnel in the limestone, whose black semi-oval is visible from afar. In the past, it was cut through to make it easier to pull out the semi-precious onyx mined inside. Later, about four decades ago, mining was put to stop under public pressure.
It is much easier to get into the Kap-Kutan cave (unlike other large ones that require speleological preparation and special equipment) through the mentioned artificial corridor. The farther you go, the darker it gets. A large karst cavity begins at the exit from the gallery. One can see water that gathers in depressions, leaking from the upper layers, continuing to simultaneously destroy and create the mysterious underworld.
On the right side of the cave, one can see a unique miracle - two stalagmites, big and small ones, which have grown closely to each other in the form of snow-white gypsum trees. They were called Santa Claus and Snow Maiden, apparently by analogy with winter and different sizes. Everyone who visited this place likes to be photographed standing between them. A big light-colored "rose" rising from a low dark-stone bush is another beautiful sight.
On the opposite side of the cave, there are unique onyx dripstones. They are the wall-covering crusts (or draperies in a more poetic language) of different shapes with the characteristic light-brown color. A fragment picked up from the ground and illuminated from the back side shows a pattern in the form of fancy strings - such transparency is inherent in onyx. In the depths of this huge underground hall, nature created the fancy folds on the walls, called "curtains" or "blinds", of this soft semiprecious stone.
On the way back, we halt on a spacious and fairly even ground, where expeditions of speleologists repeatedly stayed for weeks. This is evidenced by a special place for campfire to cook hot meals. It is time to return after taking rest. And again steep descents are followed by ascents, and finally we enter the gallery. We come outside and see that a completely different world that we got used to from birth and even the overcast in the sky do not look so dull. One begins to clearly see how complex and fragile this world is, and how important it is to preserve it in all its diversity.
This is especially true of Kugitang, about which much has been written, filmed and shown. And yet, it is still of interest to people. It should be mentioned that there are picturesque gorges, silver waterfall Umbar-Dere, karst lake Katta-Kel, hydrosulphuric healing spring Gainar-Baba. Along with the Garlyk caves, there is another major attraction - a plateau with numerous dinosaur footprints left 150 million years ago.
As regards the underground palaces of Kugitang, Turkmen scientists believe that other than Kap-Kutan there are two more out of six explored large caves - Intermediate and Hoshm-Oyyk (House of Jewels) that are suitable for speleological tourism. Each of these caves is interesting and beautiful in their own way. The first cave has elegant dripstone decoration with spotty marble onyx. In the second one, stalactites have giant branches, while the snow-white gypsum forms icebergs. Similar to Kap-Kutan, there are also amazing gigantic images of animals and plants created by the tireless nature-sculptor.
Not so long ago, there was discovered another cave Tyaze-Charva on the western slope of the ridge. It has rich dripstones of marble onyx. Surely, a number of phenomena are still awaiting discovery in Kugitang.