Sept 24-26 : Turkmenistan

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September 30th 2014
Published: October 1st 2014
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Sept 24 -26 Turkmenistan

Early morning start from Nukus to the old cementry near the Turkmenistan border, the Mizdakhan cemetery. Inhabited from the 4th BC until 14th AD, Mizdakhan continued to be a sacred place with tombs being placed here until the 20thC. Was an interesting collection of tombs dating back to 10thC , and some pretty spooky mausoleums to explore, some underground and still containing their ancient sarcophagus's.

We made the border crossing with no issues, other than the barking guard dogs, and the 1km walk in no-mans land between the two guard posts. Got our Turkmenistan visa on arrival - country no. 73 - so that was a relief after reading about all the potential dramas that can occur on this border. Our customs 'interrogation' was limited to "do you have guns? , and "are you carrying Methodone ?"

Met our driver and off to Konye Urgench (old Urgench) - to explore the remains of the ancient Khorzem capital which was destroyed by Chinggis Khan and a few others. A few very interesting tombs, mausoleum, a portal to a palace, and a substantially complete temple with an amazing tiled dome were the highlights here. The Turabeg Khanym complex is considered one of Central Asia's most geometrically perfect buildings with 365 (days) mosaics on the inside of the dome, 24 arches under the dome(hrs), and 12 bigger arches (months)' and 4 big windows(quarters). An impressive minaret which had a obvious wobble near the top, but given was originally built in 1011, destroyed by the Mongols in 1222, rebuilt in 14thC, damaged by earthquake in 1895, we could forgive it not being perfect!

On the drive from Konye Urgench to Dashgouz where we were to catch our flight to Ashgabat, we saw lots of cotton fields and women picking. Turns out Turkmenistan is also big on cotton, and with the forced labour in the picking season.

Few Interesting facts re Turkmenistan

@ Is the 7th least visited country on earth

@ Has 'dictatorial' but very popular leaders who have exploited the vast oil and gas resources of the country, at the price of rampant corruption, no press freedom, no political opposition, and a xenophobic culture.

@ People get FREE medical, education, gas, water and electricity - petrol costs 25c per litre(was free until last year !)

@ Everyone is 'forced' to pick cotton in the season. Government servants (about 35% of population) spend their weekends and 'holidays' picking cotton for free !

@ No two-door cars are allowed to be imported, nor anything over 3litres.

@ No Opera houses cos the first President didnt like opera - he didn't like music in cars until a few years ago ! But we attended a Theatre production for 0.80c !

@ Cannot smoke outdoors ! but inside restaurants is OK

Drove 115kms to Dasghouz from where we flew to Ashgabat - the capital, short 50min flight in an Turkmenistan Airlines Boeing 717 which had very interesting landing. ie it fell the last 10m's and hit the runway with mighty bang. Checked into the Ak Altyn Hotel - bit like a Russian faulty towers.

Sept 25

Sightseeing around Ashgabat - comprises the 'old' city (which was built to replace the original city which was virtually totally destroyed in the 1948 earthquake), and an amazing new and growing city built in last 10 years. The new city is indescribable - we couldn't photo many parts of it as there are tough restrictions on photography and a ton of police to enforce that ban. But it is like Putrajaya on steroids - but every building is 5 times larger, there are 300 times more buildings, EVERYTHING is built with imported Italian and French white marble with gold trimmings, the roads are twice as wide, and there are virtually NO cars on the street and no people obvious ! They seem to have the worlds largest of everything; the largest mosque, the tallest flagpole, the biggest fountain, the largest enclosed Ferris Wheel, the largest Hotel that looks like a leaf, the tallest rotating gold statue of a president !! Apparently they even have a Guiness Book of Records entry for the most Marble Buildings. I believe that one. The (many) govt ministry buildings are massive, marble and gold of course, and include the Ministry of the CAR, the Horse, Oil and Gas, Turkmenistan Values, Defence, etc. and my favourite the Ministry of Fairness ! Massive sporting stadiums and facilities have been built to host the 2017 Asian Indoor Games. So limited photo opportunities, but you will get the idea.

Sept 26th

This morning after checking out, we visited the ruins of the ancient Parthian fortress called Nisa. Was inhabited from 400BC to 300AD - the original 25m high city walls were evident, and a small section of the city including temple, a throne room, and a reception hall. Some excavation and 'restoration' has started.

A short drive to Geok Pepe Museum which commemorated the last significant battle in 1881 between Russian troops and the Turkmen nomads defending their territory to no avail. Was a huge massacre in Turkmen history, that only since independence in 1991, has the country being able to commemorate.

Another short drive to see 'yup you guessed it' - the largest Mosque in Central Asia which is used only ONCE a year on Turkmen Independence Day. Is a massive structure with four 91m tall minarets. No photos inside so you can only imagine the splendour of the dome, and the decorations .

Off to the Ashgabat airport to catch the 1520 flight to Mary - here's hoping for a better landing this time ! O/N in Mary at the Ygsal hotel.

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