The underground lake of Kow-Ata lies on the Turkmenbashy – Ashgabat road, between Balkanabat and Nokhur. It’s billed by local tour operators and travel writers alike as a magical underground lair, a holy and mysterious thermal spa; a swimming experience like nowhere else on earth.
Is it really like that?
Or does it smell a bit like pee?
Visiting the underground lake
Well, it definitely smells like pee, and it is unclear if this is due to the sulfuric gases that keep the water at a constant temperature of 30-something degrees Celsius, or because of actual discharge.
The whole place definitely gives off an atmosphere of uncleanliness. Then again, it’s a hot underground pond (lake is an exaggeration), and it’s popular with local Turkmen families, who are happy to meet you. So why not?!
The Kow-Ata cave also holds what some reckon is the largest colony of bats in Central Asia. You will not see them though – they are sleeping.
One final note: visiting the lake, you might see a Turkmen wedding as we did on our last visit.
It’s an interesting sight: a horde of people suddenly invades, starts making music, dancing and devouring the snacks on offer, only to leave about 10 minutes later, stuffing the bride back in the car (she only just made it out of her white Mercedes, hunched under a 10kg headdress) sufficiently blessed by the holiness of the place, and en route to the next one.