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2019 †N9-10(174-175)
Those who happened to visit Turkmenistan are well aware of the unique underground lake of Kov-Ata. Lying one hundred kilometers west of Ashgabat, the lake is fed by the thermal hydro sulfuric springs. This place has long been listed on all tourist guides, and every tourist cherishes a dream of visiting this place. The unique natural monument of the Turkmen land is good at least because it is a stone throw from the capital city. It is not surprising that there is an endless stream of visitors to this place.
The equally remarkable sights are much less fortunate because they lie far from the popular tourist destinations. Located far from the air, rail and road routes, they do not enjoy mass popularity, yet they could have been top-rated tourist attractions in terms of beauty and uniqueness.
First of all, one should recall the Kugitang mountain range - one of the fabulous places in Turkmenistan. This ridge is the southwestern tip of the Hissar mountains. Dinosaur footprints, one of the world longest systems of karst caves, high mountains, cascades of waterfalls, canyons with steep walls, a deep freshwater lake, the unique cultural and ethnographic heritage ... such long listing of sights can lead to the erroneous conclusion that they occupy a sufficiently large area. In fact, all these "miracles" populate a relatively small area of Koytendag in the mountainous part of the eastern Turkmenistan.
It was no accident that several years ago this region was the venue of the country's first comprehensive international scientific expedition "Nature of Turkmenistan: the untold wonders of Koytendag" that aimed to establish cooperation between foreign and Turkmen scientists, conduct a joint study of natural landscapes, the diverse flora and fauna of Turkmenistan as well as natural and ethnographic sites.
At that time, the expedition brought together over fifty leading scientists from eight states, such as USA, Canada, Great Britain, Italy, Spain, Finland, Russia and their Turkmen colleagues. They included paleontologists, speleologist, botanists, zoologists, ecologists specializing in the preservation of natural sites as well as the UNESCO representatives were eager to see the beauty of Koytendag.
The acquaintance with the underground world of Koytendag was of great interest to the expedition members. To do so, they had to go down to the karst cave of Kapkotan. The length of the underground passages of the Kapkotan cave exceeds fifty kilometers, and, as such, there are not so many caves around the world similar to those of Koytendag. At the same time, their interior is quite richly decorated with many stalactites, stalagmites, stone draperies of semiprecious onyx. Scientists focused on the study of caves as unique natural "archives", the significance and history of research work and contemporary issues related to studying and protecting the fauna of underground hydraulic systems of Koytendag and a number of other important topics.
No matter the scale of that expedition, not all natural monuments of Kugitang were explored by the impressive group of scientists and specialists. One of the examples is a unique freshwater lake, located in a karst cave on the southern slope of the Kugitang ridge, right at the foot of the mountains, in the place called Akdzhar. This lake emerged following karst accumulations. The aboveground part of the lake fell into the depths of the mountain, thus opening access to the underground lake. To all appearances, before the emergence of the 30-35 meter deep gap, there was one underground surface of the lake that split in two parts following the collapse of the arches.
The arches of the cave are the multi-layered tiers of light-gray gypsum and anhydrite. The total thickness of these tiers in this area is 800-850 m. The entrance to the cave is on the south side of the gap. The cave is inhabited by bats, pigeons and some other species of birds.
The entrance to the cave is wide. The length of the path to the lake and the surface of the water is 50-60 m. The entire path to the lake and the floor of the cave are covered with large anhydrite stones that fell from the arches of the cave, making the descent very hard. In spring, when it rains heavily, the water level in the lake rises up to 20-30 m, that is, almost to the cave entrance.
Until now, there has been no practical opportunity to make accurate scientific measurements of the size of the cave and lake. Yet, even quick visual estimation makes it much larger than the lake of Kov-Ata, and therefore the largest in the country.
The memorable comprehensive international scientific expedition "Nature of Turkmenistan: the untold wonders of Koytendag" laid the foundation for the new area of Turkmenistan international cooperation that aims to study in detail and preserve the natural monuments of Koytendag. The unique natural monuments that open up for a detailed study, including the underground lake in Akdzhar, deserve a place among many significant sites of the world scientific and cultural heritage.


©Turkmenistan Analytic magazine, 2005