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Kugitang Nature Reserve -- Any Thoughts?

Posted: Fri Jun 02, 2017 8:34 pm
by Gilgamesh
Many years ago I made a trip to Turkmenistan, coming in from Bukhara over the Farap-Alap crossing. There I was met by a driver, taken to Ashgabat, where I met my guide and saw sights mainly in the Ahal and Dashoguz Provinces.

Now I'm thinking of going back. I have friends who recently moved to Astana, and while that's not exactly close, it's close enough for a side trip. This time, however, I'd like to explore somewhere else. So here's where I can hope some of you can weigh in:

1. What can anyone tell me about the Kugitang Nature Reserve? If you've been, I'm particularly interested what you thought, what you saw, and if it was worth it. How many days were needed to see it, and about how much did it cost? Naturally this would need to be with a guide, that's one cost, but also any additional points where you needed to shell out USD.

2. What do people think is the best way to get into Turkmenistan from Astana. Flying into Ashgabat looks prohibitively expensive. I could fly through Almaty and Tashkent into Bukhara, however, not too painfully, then get a ride to the border like I did years ago. Since this would be a short trip, with my interests this time mainly wild country and nature, I'm really looking at the Lebap Province. Can I get in and out of Turkmenistan through the Farap-Alat crossing -- never going to Ashgabat -- or will I have to for registration and other paperwork? I suspect I know the answer, though this would add days and start to make it less of a side trip.

3. There are several other nature reserves in Turkmenistan -- the Repetek, for example; also in Lebap, which could worth seeing in the spring, and is right on M37. What can anyone tell me about any of the other ones? I did visit Darvaza in an overnight trip from Ashgabat, and had a few good looks at the Karakum. While roughly 75-80% of the country is covered by this desert, are these nature reserves something different?

I do appreciate any information and feedback you can provide. I don't have a timeline for this trip yet, but just want to look at the time, money, and logistics involved; also get a sense of if going to Kugitang would be worth it, compared to a simpler trip just spending a couple days in Almaty and heading into Kyrgyzstan. Thanks for the help.

Re: Kugitang Nature Reserve -- Any Thoughts?

Posted: Sat Jun 03, 2017 6:01 am
by steven
Hi Gilgamesh,

great to read you are contemplating it!

1. I just have the info in my Bradt Turkmenistan guidebook. We have some Australian paleontologists going this year, but otherwise, I haven't heard of anyone going there who wasn't Turkmen.

2. You do not need to go to Ashgabat. Just in and out through Farap-Alat will be best. It's a long drive to Kugitang.

3. Never been. Yangikala canyon is really cool though. I had a brief look at the Kopet Dag mountains - not sure if they are so spectacular. We have to wait for the country to open up one day to really see what tourists make of it, but at first sight, I wouldn't think them amazing for the general audience.

4. I've been twice now to Turkmenistan. It was really worth it each time. For someone like me who has already spent a lot of time exploring KG and KAZ, it's something else. Then again, big trips around Kazakhstan are also always worth it for me. Couple days in Almaty? Nice to slurp coffee and ogle girls over your shades, but not all that exciting imo.

Re: Kugitang Nature Reserve -- Any Thoughts?

Posted: Mon Jun 05, 2017 7:56 pm
by Gilgamesh
Hi Steven --

Thanks, and you raise some good points. A good friend of ours just took a job in Astana, which seems as good a reason as any for a return trip to Central Asia. Of course he'd still have to work for some of the time we'd be visiting, so I've been starting to think about side trips. Admittedly I haven't looked very closely into what else to see and do in Kazakhstan -- through the grapevine I've heard Almaty is a much better place to hang out then Astana, which may or may not be true. Also it seems a good jumping off point for a few days in Kyrgyzstan, but there's just something different about Turkmenistan -- OK, many things different about Turkmenistan -- that make me consider a second trip. "Something else" is a good way to put it.

Flying into Ashgabat is just too expensive. In the past I found getting from Tashkent to Bukhara was not difficult, nor was it getting a ride to the border and the Farap-Alat crossing. I'd need a double entry Uzbekistan visa, which unless something has changed very recently, is also not difficult.

My interest in making a quick in and out trip to Turkmenistan, this time, is the Lebap Province. I did a lot of driving on my first trip. I saw Mary/Merv, the Darvaza Crater, and saw a lot of the Karakum Desert -- which is pretty unavoidable. So I'd like to see a new part of the country, and with it hopefully some new terrain. If anyone has anything to share about Lebap, I'd love to hear it.

My plan would be to visit the Kugitang Nature Reserve, only I have heard a rumor that no permits are being issued for nature reserves. I wonder if anyone can verify that, and if so, whether this is something new or that's been in place for several years. The Nature Reserve runs right along the Afghan border, and news is not encouraging from the Faryab Province, so if closed it may not open up again soon. I haven't been able to verify this though.

I think it's possible to still get into the Kugitang Mountains, but Google the nature reserve and you'll see pictures of high-walled canyons, caves, dinosaur footprints, and waterfalls and streams. I would wonder if we could get close enough to see these things. Turkmenabat itself is not a huge draw -- compared even to looking over my shades in Almaty. Then again, I haven't spent any time there; just drove through there once.

Re: Kugitang Nature Reserve -- Any Thoughts?

Posted: Tue Jun 06, 2017 6:04 am
by steven
Turkmenabat is not really interesting, that's true.

You need at least 3 days for the reserve, since it is a 6 hour drive 1-way. 4 is better still.

Let us know if you make it!

Re: Kugitang Nature Reserve -- Any Thoughts?

Posted: Wed Jun 07, 2017 5:04 pm
by Gilgamesh
I'll let you know if we make it, and thanks. Through some other channels, I've heard chatter that permits are not being issued for Turkmenistan nature reserves, and haven't for the last several years. I'm wondering if anyone can verify that.

I'm also hoping someone can weigh in on Lebap Province. I suppose it goes without saying, one of disorienting things about Turkmenistan is that difference between Ashgabat and the rest of the country. I thought it would be interesting heading upstream along the Amu Darya, and see a region less traveled.

Perhaps part of the reason it's closed is its location on the Turkmen-Uzbek border; plus it's close to the NW Afghan provinces of Balkh, Jawzjan, and Faryab. I probably won't make this trip until next spring, or the year after, so I'm starting to look into how things are stacking up in SE Turkmenistan. If I can't get into the reserve, and/or the situation dictates otherwise, a side trip to Kyrgyzstan instead would not be all bad...

Re: Kugitang Nature Reserve -- Any Thoughts?

Posted: Mon Jun 12, 2017 10:01 am
by steven
First off, it is possible to get a permit for a nature reserve in Turkmenistan. I know that. Doesn't mean you will get it, though.

Secondly, things can change. By next year, who knows what we are looking at? Turkmenistan is really suffering economically and it will be interesting to see how the situation develops. More repression is likely at first, but at a certain moment, something's gotta give.

When that will be and how it will play out is of course uncertain, but my guess is that Turkmenistan will be a different country within the next 5 years. just a wild guess of course.

Re: Kugitang Nature Reserve -- Any Thoughts?

Posted: Mon Jun 12, 2017 8:18 pm
by Gilgamesh
That's interesting to hear. I contacted a travel agency in the country, who replied that travel permits for nature reserves have been unavailable for the last 3-4 years. Apparently there's more to the story here.

Things will change there; I admit, looking from a distance now, it doesn't look good. On my one trip, the differences were stark between Ashgabat and the rest of the country, even between the outskirts of Ashgabat. Turkmenistan's greatest natural resource are its natural gas reserves -- which unfortunately Russia, Iran, and Qatar have in greater quantities. What with being landlocked, and with hydraulic fracturing accessing additional, previously unobtainable, reserves in other countries, that's a problem. With the increased supply, the price of natural gas has dropped, and Turkmenistan really only has China as a trading partner.

That's the global view, but the more interesting question to me is how the life of the average Turkmen has changed since I last visited 10+ years ago. I've wanted to return and see a different part of the country, but there's a chance the nothing will quite look the same by next year.