In landlocked countries, finding a place to swim can often be a challenge.
This is especially true for places like Turkmenistan, a sun-scorched Central Asian country, of which over 80% of the land is covered in desert. The country has access to the Caspian Sea, the world’s largest lake, but since it is a long way from the capital city Ashgabat, most people from the capital region prefer the country’s next best swimming spot – which is located over 200 feet underground.
A long metal staircase leads down into the Bakharden Cave, in which the 235-feet-long lake is located. The 35°C warm waters contain a high amount of different salts and minerals, most notably sulfur, which is responsible for the distinct smell within the cave. Thus, Köw Ata Underground Lake is also the closest thing Turkmenistan has to a thermal spa.
Aside from being a swimming spot and a thermal spa, the cave is also a natural monument, established to protect the largest known colony of bats in the whole of Central Asia. It is a question of personal taste, whether this fact adds to a pleasurable swim or not.
- Lonely Planet Central Asia; 4th Edition; July 2007