Saturday, May 18, 2024

Merv, Ashghabat & Darvaza, Turkmenistan

We crossed the border into Turkmenistan via land through Uzbekistan and it was quite the process to get through immigration, the country is actually known to have the most restrictive visa policies in the world and that's why a tour company comes in handy because they handle everything. As I had mentioned in a prior post, I chose Advantour and I can't sing their praises enough! they were amazing.

We had to take a covid test before getting to immigration then at immigration, we waited for about an hour as our Turkmen guide handled the immigration process. Even though the whole process was rigorous, the border agents and guards were so friendly and seemed excited to see folks who looked different from them. Once we were done with immigration and were let through, we got onto our tour bus and begun a 4 hour bumpy ride to an ancient city called Merv, where our tour would begin.

The Silk Road metropolis of Merv was believed to be the largest city in the medieval world, boasting a population of over a million. It was known as the Gate to Central Asia and was important for trade and politics in the 9th - 10 century, it has such a long history that's fascinating and it was known by various names through history as it fell under various rulers. The city unfortunately got razed by the armies of Genghis Khan in 1221 and never recovered after that. 

Sultan Sanjar mausoleum built in 1157, Sanjar was the longest reigning Muslim ruler until the arrival of the Mongols.

From Merv we took an evening flight to the capital city, Ashgabat. We arrived late at night and what stood out was the contrast between where we had come from, and the capital city. During our drive to Merv from the border we passed through places that looked so remote and since Turkmenistan is 80% desert, everything looked so dry as you would expect in a typical desert setting. Ashgabat was all about the bright lights and grandiose buildings and monuments, I felt like we were entering an arcade with all the array of lights.

The following day we had a walking tour of the city, it was overcast so everything looked dull but I can only imagine how all the white marble buildings would have looked like in bright sunshine. Ashgabat is actually known for it's white marble buildings and grandiose national monuments, they are even in the Guinness book of world records for having the highest concentration of marble buildings.

Monuments of historical figures through the country's history.

We left the bright and shiny lights of Ashgabat to head back to the desert to visit the popular Darvaza gas crater. This crater is located in Karakum desert to the north of Ashgabat, the drive was really bumpy which once again, is such a stark contrast from the smooth roads in Ashgabat. The crater, also known as Gate to Hell or Door to Hell, is a burning natural gas field that was unintentionally created by Soviet geologists when an accident led to equipment falling into a newly formed hole, from which gas begun to escape.

Concerns about the potential release of poisonous gas led the geologists to ignite the gas with the hope that the fire would be extinguished after burning through the fuel but over 50 years later, the fire is still burning. 

During the day the crater looks like a regular fire pit and there is nothing outstanding about it, until nighttime. At night is when the fire really gets illuminated and draws your attention.

We stayed overnight in Karakum desert and got the opportunity to sleep in a yurt which was actually pretty comfortable. 

That's it folks! Turkmenistan was an interesting experience and I am glad that we got to visit even though I think living there would be somewhat boring. It just seemed so empty without much to do, that was my personal impression of the places we visited. I could be wrong so take it with a grain of salt.

Quick Facts:

Capital city of Turkmenistan is Ashgabat

Main languages spoken are: Turkmen, Russian and Uzbek

Their currency is known as Manat and $1 is equivalent to 3 Manat

Turkmenistan is a large country but is sparsely populated by about 6.4 million inhabitants 

A large territory of the country is desert, Karakum desert occupies 80% of the country

Photos are restricted in certain areas and you are not supposed to take photos of the police, army and security. Even when you see the president's photo hang somewhere, you are not supposed to take a photo of it, several folks in our tour group tried taking photos but were stopped by security. 

Ooh! and one more thing, just don't discuss the politics of the country while in the country. 






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