The first question many of you will be asking is “There’s a dinosaur plateau in Turkmenistan?” and the answer is yes, there is. In a country already famous for the Gates of Hell, the large fiery crater in the middle of the desert, Ashgabat the white marble and gold capital with surreal out of this world architecture, as well as its silk road history and amazing natural beauty, Turkmenistan just got even better!
What is the Dinosaur Plateau?
The Dinosaur Plateau in Turkmenistan is in the far eastern corner of the country where Turkmenistan joins with Uzbekistan and Afghanistan. Very few visit the Dinosaur Plateau high up in the Koytendag mountains simply because it’s quite remote and there is already a lot to do in this country.
It is the best preserved and largest collection of dinosaur footprints anywhere in the world. The area is 300 metres wide and 400 metres long, far surpassing the second largest in the world in Portugal, which is only 147 metres long. According to Palaeontologists, there are footprints from three different types of Jurassic dinosaurs - Megalosaurus, Iguanodon and Tyrannosaurus Rex.
The nearest town with accommodation is also named Koytendag, a small town about a two hour drive from the plateau itself, while the footprints themselves are near the town of Hogjapil, which is about 3km from the site. The name of the village, Hogjapil, actually translates to Holy Elephants, which is an interesting description of dinosaurs, obviously named before the local population knew what dinosaurs were. In fact, local legend has it that what caused the giant footprints was giant elephants coming to this spot to perform ritual dances.
The truth is though that the footprints were created roughly 140-150 million years ago when the area was actually a shallow lagoon with a soft mud floor. A herd of dinosaurs passing though left their footprints, and over the following millions of years the lagoon dried up and the lake floor hardened to create limestone and permanently preserve these amazing historical artifacts.
It would be great if the plateau had stayed flat, but unfortunately another thing to happen over the following 140 million years was that with tectonic plate movement the plateau shifted onto a very steep 20 degree angle, making it quite the cardio work out to get upto it.
Despite the fact that locals knew about this piece of palaeontological history and had created legends around it, it only came to be known by the worldwide scientific community in 1983!
How to get there?
Until two years ago you needed to make your way to Turkmenabat, either via train, road or plane from Ashgabat, then drive eight hours along the one main road from Turkmenabat, following the course of the Amu Darya River to the town to Koytendag. Now you can fly directly to Kerki, however the most normal route is still to drive from Turkmenabat.
The International Airport at Kerki has two flights a week from Ashgabat and is then only a one-and-a-half-hour drive to Koytendag.
What else is there to do in the area?
The only other “famous” attraction nearby is the Kyrk Gyz Cave which means “Forty Girls’ Cave”, also known as the Virgins’ Cave. Hanging from the roof of the cave are thousands, if not tens of thousands of pieces of cloth hanging down. The locals in this area believe that anyone who can throw a piece of cloth threaded through a ball of mud and get it to stick to the roof will have a wish granted.
The story behind the cave is that forty local girls hid here while they were being hunted down by a gang of murderers and rapists. Inside the cave they prayed to be saved even as the gang knew where they were, but luckily they were shown an escape route and were saved, the first such wish to come true here. The story itself has no mention of throwing mud and cloth at the roof and no locals seem to have any idea where this part of the tradition began.
Then of course there is the local goat massage parlour. And by that we mean the house of an old guy who has goats and came up with this splendid idea. Here you choose your weight of goat, let the goat jump on to your back and then do its job. We’re not sure if the goat massage is likely to help you or actually make future physiotherapy more likely, however it certain is an experience having a goat give you a massage, and if you can manage to stand up with the goat on your shoulders, makes for some great photos!
We love visiting the Dinosaur Plateau and do so on many of our tours. Check them all out here .