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Hojapil

Dinosaur plateauSome of the most interesting places to visit lie in the Hojapil zakaznik, in the northern part of the range. To reach this spot, take the road through Koyten, which then runs in an easterly direction towards the Uzbek border. Ammonites found in the rocks here were once believed by local people to be the impressions left by a stamp used by the Emir of Bukhara to mark his territory. Near the lower end of the village of Hojapil, a path up the hillside to the south takes you after a stiff but not difficult 20-minute climb to the dinosaur plateau, one of Turkmenistan's more unusual sights. The inclined plateau, some 500m long and 200m wide, was found by scientists in the early 1980s to contain more than 400 footprints of dinosaurs. The three-toed prints make clearly visible depressions in the surface of the limestone. The largest footprints reach diameters of up to 80cm, with the dinosaur step length reaching around 1.5m. Smaller dinosaurs wandered across the plateau too, their tracks the size of a human shoe.

Kyrk Kyz CaveDinosaur footprints have been discovered at other locations in the Kugitang Mountains too, more than 2,500 in total, dating from the Jurassic period. Turkmen scientists argue that the footprint evidence is suggestive of at least three hitherto unknown dinosaur species, and have suggested the names Gissarosaurus, Hojapilosaurus and Turkmenosaurus. Local villagers believed that the tracks at Hojapil were created either by the elephants of Alexander the Great's army or elephants brought back from India by a local holy man returning from a religious pilgrimage (the name 'Hojapil' derives from the latter legend).

Another worthwhile attraction lies nearby, just outside the village of Hojapil on the road back towards Koyten. This is the canyon and cave of Kyrk Gyz ('40 Girls'). The canyon, entered through an incongruously sited wooden gate, is itself impressive: steep-sided and imposing. The path along its floor leads to a cave, surrounded by little pyramidal piles of stones, constructed by visitors to what is considered a sacred place. There is a tomb in the floor of the cave, and a hearth with a couple of upturned cooking pots in the corner, for those wishing to cook a sacrificial meal at this place of pilgrimage. But the most remarkable feature of the cave is the ceiling, from which thousands of strips of material hang, held in place by pats of dried mud. These derive from the principal means of making a wish here: a piece of cloth is attached to some wet mud, which is then flung up against the roof of the cave. If the mud sticks, the wish will be granted.

Waterfall in HojapilThere are many local legends about the place. In some stories, the 40 girls were warlike Amazons, defeating those who tried to take their land. In others, the girls have Y    a less military role. Facing capture by bandits, the innocent girls prayed for salvation.

Protection was granted by the mountain itself, into which the girls found they could miraculously walk. And to this day in the rocks on the floor of the cave can be discerned items such as crumpled piles of clothes, the possessions of those 40 girls.

The Hojapil zakaznik also offers fine hiking opportunities, and many places of natural beauty. One site on the itineraries of most tour packages to Kugitang is the steep-sided Umbardepe Canyon, containing a waterfall with a drop of 27m.


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