6 – 10 July – Bizarre Turkmenistan

I’m now in Iran heading for Tehran…Frankly I’m delighted to have left Turkmenistan and as soon as I crossed the border I felt a curtain lifting! 

The last few days in Turkmenistan can only be described as bizarre….The country is still suffering (in my view) from the personality cult of it’s previous President and it is the most restricted and closed place I have visited.  .

President Saparmurat Niyazov took control of Turkmenistan after independence in 1991. He turned this oil rich country into his personal kingdom until his death in 2006.

He called it “The Golden Age” and spent most of the oil profits on the construction of his Capital Ashgabat …He built huge white marble buildings set in a “Disney like” version of Rome at the time of Julius Caesar! . He placed “golden” statues of himself everywhere.


He named the “months of the year” after his relatives.!.He banned music in cars.!.He started to run out of money so he cut pensions and more. To placate the masses however,he gave everyone free gas and electricity and petrol prices were near zero.

He is, I think, to us Westerners, a total nut case …. but nobody speaks badly about him in Turkmenistan!

His successor has toned down much of the above stupidities and seems genuinely popular. He has increased pensions and spent money on Education but still Turkmenistan is extremely odd…..to say the least…. and very restrictive. It is tightly controlled and the Police are everywhere.

I was not allowed to take photos of many places including the Presidents residence and the main street so my photos don’t truly give a full picture of Ashgabat. Google Ashgabat to see better photos!

Acquiring a Visa is a challenge! You can get a Transit Visa for 3/5 days and can travel UN-escorted or you can get a Tourist Visa in which case you have to have a GUIDE.

I opted for the Tourist Visa as I mistakenly thought I could only get a 3 day transit visa which I thought gave me insufficient time..

My guide met me at the Customs.. I’m glad he was there because it was chaos. Even the guide was confused!…. Uzbekistan has been bumped to 3rd on the “awful customs” scale. Turkmenistan and Honduras are equal first!

I followed the Guide’s car to Mary about 250 k from the border. it is all desert and was stinking hot


I checked into a Hotel which from the outside looked MAGNIFICENT but inside was cold and empty. It was all rather depressing……


My Hotel in Mary…Magnificent? Just go inside! a big cavern!

Luckily a nice German couple on a KTM Motorbike arrived so we could commiserate together!


Nice German Bikers…We were mutually dumbfounded by the place

The next day i visited “OLD MERV” which I enjoyed very much

Merv is just a ruin. It was once one of the great Cities of Islam alongside Damascus and Baghdad and a major centre on the Silk Road

The city was totally annihilated by the Mongols in 1221 for failure to pay tribute. Apparently, Tolui, Genghis Khan’s son arrived with 80,000 warriors and surrounded the City. He cut off the water supply and when the City surrendered he killed EVERYBODY, some 300,000 people. Imagine!




Somehow knowing this, made walking around the city very sad. It’s unbelievable how tough times were.

The next day we set out for Ashgabat.

Before we went, I had a bit of a scare with Azulo. He developed a squeak in the front wheel. I thought it might be a bearing which would be nasty. Mohammad my guide took me to a car service place (there are NO motorbikes here) The man reckoned it was the brakes so we changed the pads but still the squeak persisted!

Anyway we set out with Azulo sounding like a frustrated mouse. About 20 k further along the speedo stopped working….The cable had snapped.  So now I have NO SQUEAK and NO SPEEDO! but my bearing is OK (touch wood!)

I spent the next day in Ashgabat. As said earlier it is bizarre.

As said earlier, the Guide insisted I DON’T take photos of many of the most “impressive” places. If you’re interested in seeing more, Google Ashgabat photos”







The thing that makes it even MORE bizarre is that the squares and monuments are EMPTY and most places are closed. I was told that the Museum has photos of the President in just about every exhibit!



Mosque in Mary

There are big and impressive apartment blocks (in white marble of course) Most of them look empty to me as the windows all look the same.and are mostly blacked out



DSCN0918 DSCN0916



Really tacky statues – Mary


Library Mary – Completely empty of people

 The next day I was very pleased to leave Turkmenistan!

Arriving in Iran was like returning to the “real world’ Suddenly there were no Police asking to see your Passport and a real life buzz in the towns!

It would be interesting to return to Turkmenistan in 10 years. Hopefully the legacy of Niyazov will be consigned to History.






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47 thoughts on “6 – 10 July – Bizarre Turkmenistan

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  5. Hello Geoff, I have a lot of catching up to do as I had completely forgotten that you were on your epic trip until now. How brave you are! That smiling face and even temperament are worth their weight in gold. Do all of these guys that you come up against speak English or do you have to resort to sign language?
    It seems strange you feeling so happy and relaxed to be in Iran after all the media hype we have been fed over the years that would lead you to feel just the opposite. Good luck & safe riding. Rod Murrell

    • Hi Rod
      Great hearing from you. To answer your questions….yes, lots of hand waving and single words….they all know Kangaroo…. As for Iran, it really isn’t anything like what the media makes us believe. The people are hospitable and you feel totally safe here. The biggest drawback is you can’t get a glass of wine or beer….it’s also incredibly hot in July…40 degrees plus!

  6. Hi Geoff,

    Hi Geoff,

    did you see the FIFA world final in Iran? We had to wait 24 years to get it again;) It was crazy…

    I was reading, that the people are very friedly. Hope you can enjoy it.
    Good ride.

    • Hi Tino and Johanna
      I bet you’re still celebrating…I would have a glass for you but no booze in Iran!

  7. Thanks for your blogs and pictures! I realised I don’t know anything about those countries. I have to admit that it is not very attractive to go visit Turkmenistan. Hope you have a great time!

    • Hi Juul
      Yes it’s amazing how little we know about some of these places… Were all too wrapped up in our own little world.

  8. Hi Geoff, you’ll be pleased to know that the Tiges knocked of Port Adelaide today in a spirited performance. Wen and I sang on your behalf. It is amazing that a guy can rule like that for 16 years without being knocked off.
    Could I suggest that an excuse for speeding being that your speedo cable has broken may not get up in some of the countries you are travelling in. Be careful.
    Rod and Wenners

  9. Feel envious of you enjoying such lovely, warm weather, Geoff, freezing cold
    here in Melbourne…a bleak, wet wintery day!! It is a treat to brighten the day
    with your wonderful photos and blog.
    Wendy and Rod.

    • Hi Wenners
      Glad you enjoyed Tassie. Merry said you had nice tea at Japan Inn …. My blood alcohol is now 0 unfortunately!

  10. I have looked up Google to see more on Ashgabat and found an extremely appropriate quote from a guide book: “Only the insane or deeply unfortunate end up in Ashgabat in the hottest months of July and August!!”
    For those who are interested, there is a great site with great photos (some of the buildings Geoff wasn’t allowed to photograph) and very interesting comments: http://www.theatlantic.com/infocus/2013/06/the-city-of-white-marble-Ashgabat-Turkmenistan/100528/
    (Though I found tithe easy way by just googling Ashgabat).

  11. Amazing buildings & it all looks so clean – where are the people? what sort of society is it? 1984 is a good comparison. Keep travelling safely!

    • Hi David and Gail
      There are lots of people but the sights are all empty and many are closed. It’s very strange place , yes very Orwellian….people appear very guarded. Glad to be out of there

  12. how amazing and weird and scary. actually its scary when you go thank god i’m in iran , somewhere normal.
    Thanks again Geoff.

    • Hi Phil
      Yes, absolutely….Our media misleads us about Iran. The people are nothing like what we perceive from the TV shots of screaming mobs of young blokes with guns etc! Nothing like that at all. Very friendly and helpful. It is however under the control of the Mullahs and riddled with restrictions such as no booze, no shorts, women having to cover up etc

  13. Hi Geoff, what a spooky place. All those public areas with the massive buildings, and no people around in broad daylight. Very interesting to see on your post, but right off our bucket list to visit! xx

    • Hi Val and Nev
      Very spooky as you say but worth seeing and I bet in 10 years time it will be different so maybe go now!

  14. wow, I’ve heard of ghost towns but from your pics Turmenistan looks like a ghost COUNTRY! there’s no people!
    seems a bit eerie to me, good job you didn’t stay long or you’d probably start to fade away or something…

    part of Life’s rich pageant I suppose Geoff & by ‘eck is yours rich! I’m still insanely jealous & loving the pics.


    • Hi Moon
      Actually it’s only the big Public buildings and sights that are empty, so it’s not as if there are no people so don’t want to mislead you!
      Getting closer now to seeing you in Auxerre. Is it still OK to park Azulo?
      Maybe you could send me address etc to email…..gbransbury@gmail.com

  15. Your description of Turkmenistan makes be think of Orwell’s 1984!
    What a bizarre place; amazing modern buildings in “evacuated” areas.

    But what an experience to recall.

    Hopefully the tachometer is still working, so you should be able to get some idea of speed.
    Finding a replacement speedo cable may not be easy!

    Really looking forward to your impressions of Iran.


    • Hi Vic
      Yes Tachometer working fine but also GPS gives speed and distance so nothing really lost. May ask Merry to bring cable so I can get it fitted in UK

  16. Phew Geoff – what an escape; you gave a fantastic “pen picture” of a place that I’m now convinced I will avoid like the plague. Hope that Azulo is recovering from the loss of the speedo and that there are no speed cameras in Iran!
    Go well
    Alan & Wendy
    PS And very best wishes from the sunny channel islands; we actually experienced an earthquake today – 4.2 on the Richter scale just off Jersey. The earth certainly moved for us today!

  17. So glad you’re out of there. Wherever were the people??? I gather a speedo isn’t the kind you wear! Hope its not too important.

    • Funny… No my other speedo’s are fine!
      The people are around just not in the flashy public buildings, library’s or museums, squares etc and as I mentioned I suspect many of the Apartment blocks have been built speculatively and are empty although I might be wrong there

  18. do you want me to organise a replacement speedo cable? If so, lemme have (again) year&model. If you have the VIN# somewhere, that would be even better.
    Also think about an address I could send it to.

    • Hi Axel
      Thanks for the offer but my GPS gives me speed and distance so nothing really lost. I will fix it in UK

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