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The beautiful country with no tourists that has the world’s best dinosaur fossils | World | News

Turkmenistan isn’t probably at the top of anyone’s bucket list of places to visit.

It’s famously hard to get a visa and the tourist industry there hasn’t quite gotten off its feet.

Yet, for the hardy traveller and adventurous type, there isn’t a better place to go.

Added to this are the country’s mysterious aura, long history, and the fact that it holds some of the best dinosaur fossils found anywhere in the world.

Dinosaur Plateau, as it has come to be known, is a large limestone slab situated high in the Turkmen mountains, and offers a unique snapshot into the planet’s ancient past.

The plateau sits in the very east of Turkmenistan, in the Koytendag mountains some 1,500 meters above sea level.

It is one of the country’s most amazing natural attractions, yet few people go there.

Along the hillside, the limestone slab rests as it has done for millions of years. A vast fixture, it contains across its surface the world’s largest number of dinosaur footprints in a single place.

News of the archaeological gem only left Turkmenistan in 1980, and it soon became known as the greatest “repository” of dinosaur footprints ever found.

Similar such regions are found across Central Asia, nearby China, and the US, but none matches Turkmenistan in number and preservation.

In all, there are 150 different dino prints of all shapes and sizes, from multiple species.

The plateau itself is 400 meters long and 300 meters wide, and scientists have found no fewer than 3,000 well-preserved dinosaur tracks and 31 trails in the area.

Footprints from the massive Megalosaurus are the largest ever found related to the Jurassic period some 200 million years ago, a record in and of itself.

Those who have had the chance to see the prints for themselves often start the trek in the nearby village of Hojapil.

Local Turkmen legend has it that the footprints belong not to dinosaurs but to the giant elephants of Alexander the Great’s army after he passed through the region. Hojapil, then, translates to English as “sacred elephants”.

The fact that the village had been called this for a while suggests that locals were aware of the fossils long before Soviet scientists — Turkmenistan was a part of the Soviet Union from 1925 to 1991 — stumbled upon them.

The Turkmen government is currently working to get the Dinosaur Plateau on the UNESCO World Heritage List.

If it achieves this, the site will undoubtedly be the best preserved and safeguarded UNESCO site anywhere in the world given that between 10,000 and 20,000 tourists visit the country each year.

The lack of tourism infrastructure and a tricky-to-navigate visa system means Turkmenistan rarely enters the minds of travellers.

It is, however, possible to visit the country. A tourist visa requires a Letter of Invitation from the Turkmen government and a mandatory guided tour.


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