The Kugitang Nature Reserve is on the west slope of the Kugitang Stanto Mountains on the border to Uzbekistan. It covers an area of 27.140 ha. The name Kugitang (Koyentag in Turkmen) means 'almost impassable mountains'. The area was declared nature reserve in order to protect the unique ecosystem of the mountain range and the rare capra falconeri, a wild mountain goat included in the Red Data Book of Convention of International Trade of Endangered Species (CITES).
The most striking feature of the Kugitang Nature Reserve is the Dinosaur Plateau with more than 400 footprints of dinosaurs, about 150 million years old. The footprints were left by a dinosaur species called Magalosauripus in the Jurassic period.
The Kugitang Nature Reserve was created nature reserve in 1986.
The highest mountain of Turkmenistan Air Baba (3137 m) is situated in the nature reserve. The area constists of a great number of deep canyons. The Hodjachilgazbaba Canyon is 28 km long and the walls of the Daraya Canyon are up to 600 m high.
Flora and fauna
The upper parts of the mountains are covered by walnut, maple, juniper ans wilde grape forests. The nature reserve was established for the protection of the wild mountain goat (called Markhor in Turkmen). It is reported that their number has increased to 500 after the creation of the reserve. There are also about 300 mountain sheep (Arkhar in Turkmen), 100 wild cats. Occasionally Persian leopards have been seen in the reserve.
Average annual precipitation is about 400 mm, rising up to 800 mm on the top of the mountains. Mud floods and land slides may occur in spring.
You will need to ask a travel agent to organise the trip, who will get you the border zone permit and provide a driver.
Stantours offers a 6-day trekking tour to the Kugitang Mountains starting in and to Ashgabat and ending in Turkmenabat. After a one hour flight from Ashgabat to Atamyrat (Kerki) and a three hour car ride you will climb to the Dinosaur Plateau, visit the Grotto of the Forty Maidens at Kyrk Gyz Gorge and camp in the Gozel Gyzer Canyon. On the next day you will hike to the Maydan base camp and watch wildlife. Then you will ascent the Ayrybaba, the highest mountain in Turkmenistan (3.137 m). After a visit of the Kugitang Caves you will camp on the Lake Koytenkol and finally return by car to Atamyrat (Kerki) and by train to Turkmenabat .
It is about 6 hours by car from Turkmenabat to the reserve.
Fees and permits
You will need a special permit in order to visit a nature reserve, and it will be necessary to apply for it through a travel agent well in advance.
- Hodjachilgazbaba Canyon, 28 km long
- Daraya Canyon with walls up to 600 m high,
- Aira Baba peak, highest mountain of Turkmenistan, 3137 m,
- Um-bar Depe Canyon with a waterfall 28 m high,
- Plateau of Dinosaurs with more than 400 footprints of dinosaurs on a steep limestone slope. The largest of these footsteps has a diameter of 80 cm. According to the legend the footprints were left by elephants used by the armies of Alexander the Great. The footprints were left on the bottom of a shallow lake. When the lake dried up, the footprints baked in the sun. Later, a volcanic eruption sealed them in lava. The giant dinosaurs were accompanied by smaller ones whose footprints are similar to a human foot.
- Kainar Baba sulphur spring
- Kyrk Gyz Cave (Forty Girls Cave), one of the most revered pilgrimage shrines in Turkmenistan.
- Kaptykan (Kap Kutan) Cave, part of the most extensive network of limestone caves in Central Asia. The caves were already mentionned by the Greek geographer Diodorus Siculus They were used by smugglers in the 18th and 19th centuries and explored by Soviet geologists Yalkapov and Maltsev. The first hall of the Kaptykan Cave is known as 'Father Christmas and Snow Maiden' because of the two huge figures formed by the stalactites and stalagmites.
Turkmenistan Airlines operates flights from Atamyrat (Kerki) to Ashgabat daily except Mon. Flying time is 1 hour 50 minutes.
It is about 6 hours by car from the reserve to Turkmenabat.