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