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Koytendag Mountain And Nature Reserve


This place is home to the highest mountains in Turkmenistan, the deepest lakes, the longest and weird caves and the most majestic natural waterfall in the country. There are curative hydrosulfide springs and the biggest in Central Asia grove of rare Zizyphus trees disinfecting the environment. Moreover, one can walk along the bridge of time as long as one hundred and fifty million years and touch the eternity petrified footprints of dinosaurs that these places count so many as nowhere else in the world. This wonderful land in the south-east of the republic is called Koytendag, which means "deep canyon mountains".

To conserve extraordinary beauties of this area that deserves to have a status of natural monuments the Koytendag State Reserve was set up. In the search for exotic impressions people from all over the country and abroad visit this place. In the future, on the basis of the Reserve a national natural park will be created in the Koytendag Mountains. Preparations are already under way and the Ministry of Nature Protection is developing tourist routes.

The Koytendag charms guests at once. Extraordinariness begins already from its foothills bearing all tones of red color. Soil gets such uncustomary appearance due to exposure of speckled rocks to the surface. A little higher, the Koytendag will spread out a soft carpet of golden from sun herbs. If you go up further, the carpet will become golden green. And then it changes to the saturated emerald color and is adorned with many flowers miniature sky-blue bluebells of medicinal gentian, yellow starlets of windflower, pink primroses. What a true fairy tale of light and paints it is!.

Far away, at the skyline, one can see the Amudarya river, but from here, in the distance of dozens of kilometers, the mighty river looks like a silverfish ribbon. The vast Magdanly plateau is located closer to this place. And the surrounding slopes are covered with sparsely growing juniper trees or archa. These trees don't differ from the ones growing on the Kopetdagh Mountains. They have the magnificent attire of evergreen branches of conifer. They are tall and slender. However, where the wind is strong the powerful archa branches creep along the ground, quaintly curved as if an avant-garde artist has decided to do so.

At the mountain tops, junipers give way to more fragile but, as it turns out, even more enduring honeysuckle. Thorny cushion plants and tender inflorescence of saffron - crocus, which bravely open amidst snow and ice towards the sunrays, embellish the stone placers. The mountain tops themselves are covered with thick snow for half a year or even more. The refulgent majestic mantle on the Koytendag lasts until the hot summer days and slowly yields to the pressing Turkmen sun. It is here, that the highest mountain peak in the country, Beyik Turkmenbashi peak, proudly rises up to the point of 3139 m above the sea level shining with snow-white attire surrounded by wonderful forests.

Having melted away, snows do not disappear completely. Waters of melted snow feed numerous streams that make the Koytendag a green island surrounded by arid plains. A contrast is especially noticeable in the long narrow gorges or dere that have cut up the mountains and where cool and clear streams with melodic tunes flow amidst bushes of sweet-scented mountain mint. There are cases when floods roar here rolling smooth the pointed edges of large boulders into a round pebble and making gorges deeper and more severe.

Each gorge is unique by itself. For instance, in Bulak-dere, long ago hydrophilic fern maidenhair Venus Hair grew out of the cornice of a cliff at the outlet of subsoil waters from which a waterfall falls down. And nowadays, locks of Goddess of Love adorn the cornice from which crystal drops trickle down and the waterfall itself is called "Venus's Hair".

Almost 800 year old mulberry tree Kyzyl-tut-baba embellished with many colored shreds tied up in order the most cherished wishes of visiting travelers could come true welcomes guests in the Hodja-Karaul-dere gorge.

The Umbar-dere's pearl is a 27 m waterfall bearing the same name. To reach it one has to make a long walk along the winding rocky corridor with high vertical walls. The corridor is so narrow that the sky above is seen as a thin stripe and any sound is reflected with a resonant echo. The waterfall is very beautiful. The water falls to the ground with a noise and thousands of splashes form a brilliant water curtain bordered with the thinnest muslin of the smallest drops.

The Daray-dere is the widest and longest gorge stretching out 30 km. Bushes of Caucasian Joshua tree, fluffy maple tree, dog-rose and wild grapes that make difficult to traverse provide a reliable shelter for many inhabitants of the Reserve.

The Koytendag is home to argali, Turkistan lynx and other animals listed in the International Red Data Book. The Reserve boasts forty species of mammals alone. Markhoor is especially notable among them. According to beliefs, "markhoor" means "eating snakes". However, its food doesn't differ from the feed of other hoofed animals. Markhoors' appearance is unique the male markhoor's head is crowned by unusual turbinal horns. These animals are perfectly fit to inhabit rocky precipices. Their each step is adjusted and accurate. Otherwise, one wrong step can result in markhoor's falling down into the deep abyss. Its favorite habitat is high in the mountains on the rocky ledges and stone shelves.

The birds of prey hawks, steppe eagles, long-legged buzzards are the most representative among the endemic birds. Feathered creatures with the peace-loving temper including such rare species as brahminy starling and incredibly attractive paradise flycatcher are of particular interest as well. One can meet over two dozens reptile species in the knee-high grass and amongst the scatterings of stones. They are venomous cobras and lebetina vipers, and the awesome in appearance but harmless phrynocephalus mystaceus. The lucky ones can see the biggest of lizard species a monitor lizard.

However, perhaps the weirdest inhabitant of these places is Koytendag blind loach, the miniature fish devoid of eyes and true scales. It is an outstanding specimen of the freaks of evolution. Most likely, long ago a population of its ancestors accidentally got into the expanded system of the subterranean water ponds with developing karsts processes. The vision is useless in complete darkness, thus the rational nature deprived loaches of the ability to see. Perhaps, people would have never known about the wonderful fish if there was know a karsts depression with a lake connected to the underground caves located near the settlement of Karlyuk. It is the habitat of the blind loach inscribed in the Red Data Book of Turkmenistan.

The plant life in Koytendag is peculiar too; tall, dressed into the lace of leafage Joshua trees, huge mulberry trees growing in the gorges, centuries-old plane trees. The hollow in the plane tree bearing the name Uchdogan can easily accommodate a dozen of people. About 2,000 trees grow in the Zizyphus grove which the local people esteem as a holy place. Since the ancient times, Zizyphus (often called as Chinese date palm) has been known for its medicinal properties. As a legend says, once upon a time an old traveler halted there. Feeling sad about little verdure and shade, the old man stroke the stony ground with his stick. A crystal-clear spring welled out then, a miraculous garden appeared, and that magic stick was the first tree in the Zizyphus groove. Since the ancient times, the mealy fruits of this rare deciduous plant have been used to treat heart, kidney, liver and stomach diseases.

The Koytendag Mountains are the southwestern spur of the Hissar mountain ridge, the western (Turkmen) mountainside of which is formed by the upper Jurassic limestone. A number of the limestone caves were discovered there. Some of them stretch out many kilometers; they are the real subterranean labyrinths, wonderful and mysterious. Water, carrying dissolved limestone, like a skilful designer diligently renews the decor of the caves droplet after droplet. Many years will pass till the stony icicles stalactites and rising up towards them stalagmites adorning the underground vaults grow few centimeters. At last they meet turning into the stalagnate columns. This magnificent landscape has been created over many thousand years; it is vulnerable and needs careful treatment.

A number of well-known limestone caves, including Kap-Kutan one of the most beautiful and longest caves in Koytendag, are located in the territory of the Karlyuk Reserve.
"The scientists-speleologists used to examine the luxurious decoration of a cave and its labyrinths without coming out to the surface for several days and sometimes several weeks," Erkin Aralov, an inspector of the Karlyuk Reserve tells.

Indeed, not far from a cavern entrance the torch beams snatch out from the complete darkness the cascades of the stony bowls filled with water or karrs divided with fine crossbars.

We, like the obedient schoolchildren in a museum, are turning our heads trying to discern all the exhibits'. There is something to look at. A weird medusa lies prone on the wall in one of the halls. It is difficult to guess straight away that it is actually a huge stalactite of the quaint shape. There is a "Father Frost's Hall" called so for two stalagmites of the queer shape. One needs no superb fantasy to guess the silhouettes of Father Frost and his granddaughter Snow-girl in the sculptured figures. The "Gothic Hall", as if in the cathedral, is adorned with the tracery colonnades, quaint stone flowers, curtains and water pools'. Only the "Pearly Hall", the walls and floor in which are prodigally incrusted with the calcite formations resembling pearls, can compete with it in the luxury of decor.

The labyrinths are tangled; there are many holes and narrow passages. The "Main Hall" of the cave has dozens of exits - finding of a necessary thing would be impossible without an experienced guide. Furthermore, one must be ready for any surprise. A monster that in fact turns out to be a big lump hides in one of the halls. A "stony heart" a stalactite of the queer shape, showing off its beauty on the ceiling in an underground gallery, seems to be natural.

The Koytendag caves system is very complex. According to scientists, the underground passages and water flows connect caverns, karst holes and lakes into a tangled network. The 59 m deep Kattakol lake is one of the most striking ones. Very seldom, once in dozens of years, absolutely incredible things occur: all of a sudden the boiling up whirlpool evolves and sucks in over the third of the reservoir capacity. However, some time later the Kattakol fills up again.

Weird things are observed in other places too. For instance, the surface of the Lake Hordjun is usually still as if in an aquarium and water is clear. But sometimes, during a rainy season in spring mud rises up from out the karst caverns, leaves and objects apparently coming from the surface emerge. It is still a mystery where they really come from.

A place called Kaynar-baba is very interesting. There are two springs there the Karasu and Aksu. The first feeds a small picturesque lake in the emerald setting of rush, which is a habitat of numerous carp fish and rare mollusks. According to a legend, it was a dwelling place of an old righteous man. It is revered and no one fishes there. The medicinal hydrosulfide source Aksu is also famous among people. Water in it is saturated with many bubbles as if it is boiling. The word "kaynar" itself means "boiling".

The Khodjapil preserve is famous for its Dinosaur Plateau. Khodjapil is translated as "Elephants of a Saint". There existed a belief that many of those large unusual in form footprints spread all over the plateau had been left by fairy tale elephants of an errant khadji, who returned from India with interesting animals. They were also associated with Alexander the Great's elephants. However, in the course of time scientists determined that the footprints belonged to enormous, extinct long ago, reptiles walking in shallow waters 150 million years ago during the Upper Jurassic period when there were no mountains yet. When the sea receded, tracks on soft limestone petrified and were buried in the thickness of sediments. When the powerful mountain forming process began and Koytendag rose up, the tracks were brought to the surface by underground forces.

Because it all happened long ago, it is difficult to guess why dinosaurs liked these places. They left 2.5 thousand footprints preserved till our days. They belong to three earlier unknown species of two-legged reptiles named Turkmenosaurus, Khodjapilsaurus and Hissarosaurus. All of them were phytophagous. Turkmenosaurus and Khodjapilsaurus were three-fingered and Hissarosaurus four-fingered. Turkmenosaurus was the biggest among them. Its footprint's size is 70x65 cm. Most likely, they were as long as 20 m and moved with the help of mighty rear legs. The front ones were much smaller and the reptiles never used them while walking.

An athlete's rock, or Palvan's rock, is another interesting site. A Turkmen palvan is a man with unknown strength, who has no match in wrestling competitions. According to the legend, the Khodjapil athlete was so strong that many bold men who dared to fight with him died in the unequal competition. Therefore, Palvan put a big rock on the road to the village so that anyone who wanted to compete with him had first to prove his strength by lifting the bolder. If he was unable to do that, he would have risked. Nowadays, the big rock that our contemporaries will have no strength to move reminds of big athletes that lived there once.

The gloomy grotto Kyrkgyz, or Forty Girls, is also full of legends. According to one of them, long ago forty wonderful beauties hid in here from merciless enemies until they revealed the mystery of the grotto. The girls appealed to God with a request to turn them into stones so that the enemy couldn't captivate them. Since then, Kyrkgyz has been revered among people. On coming here, visitors usually make a wish and having dipped a piece of ribbon prepared beforehand in moist clay throw it up to the grotto vault. It is believed that if a stripe of cloth adheres to the ceiling, the wish will definitely come true. Many thousands of ribbons in a quaint fringe hang down from the grotto vault reminding of the dreams that came true.

Indeed, after visiting the Koytendag, it is difficult to believe that magic is impossible. So astonishing and bright the nature is here, so many memorable encounters the Land of Deep Canyons harbors for a inquisitive traveler. And throwing up the ribbon to the Kyrkgyz grotto vaults, the visitors wish to return here again and again.

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