Howdy all. Following on from last’s week’s post of essential tips for visiting Central Asia’s most mysterious country, I thought it best to do a post on what are the things to see whilst you are there. I only had the five days in the country, so certainly there is plenty I left unseen, so I think I can run through pretty much all the things that I DID see whilst I was there. Best to start at the outlandish capital of Ashgabat and work my way around the country for there. So, let’s look at the highlights of destination – Turkmenistan.
The capital city is something pretty much of a tourist attraction in itself and if you’re just going to one place, this is the place to go because just moving around the city – if you’re on tour like most people in a car – leaves you with jaw sufficiently dropped to scrap the carpet below your feet.
As for things to see and do, well, check out Independence Park for starters, a huge park in the centre of the town, beautifully manicured and with statues and an interesting building too. The statues are mostly of famous Turkmen poets, and there is one gold statue of Turkmenbashi, the first President of the post-Soviet Turkmenistan who is considered father of the nation. Also, there is a giant green book, which represents the book he wrote of the history of Turkmenistan, which was basically erased by the Russians under the Soviet Union.
The National Museum is next door to the Museum to the current President, Berdimuhumedow. I went into the National Museum and it’s pretty interesting, in a largish space I guess but it’s not that big and would probably only require an hour. I had a tour included which helps a little and you get to talk to another person from Turkmenistan, and one regret I have is that I didn’t speak to many people when I was there.
The place is big on memorials. Check out the monument to the ‘Great Patriotic War’ (WWII) which stands next to this giant statue of a bull holding up the Earth. Now that is a statue to the victims of the 1948 earthquake which struck Ashgabat, incredibly and horrifically killing 90 percent of the population.
If that has you excited, well don’t miss the Arch of Neutrality, which is on the outskirts of town. Turkmenistan is nominally neutral and proud of it. Then there is the breathtaking Turkmenbashi mosque, in honour of the first President. His mausoleum sits next to it.
On top of those sights, there is also a Ferris wheel which is completely encased, I didn’t ride it and don’t think it was running – at least when I passed it, and then there is a gondola ride too which I was planning on doing on my final day but opted for sleep instead before my flight.
Not too far from Ashgabat is the ancient city of Nisa. It dates back to around 250BC and was the seat of power for the Parthian Empire which at one point spread from the Indus River to as far as eastern Turkey. The city today is a bunch of ruins and it’s being slowly excavated by archaeologists and there’s not a lot to see but a guided tour is interesting because I knew NOTHING about the Parthians before visiting or this history of this part of the world and how it inter-connected with other parts.
Also there’s the Kow Ata Cave, which isn’t too far away. You walk down into a cave where there’s a small lake heated by sulphur below the surface. I was keen to swim, until I got there. It was pretty grim and the cave was full of pigeons and bats, and their droppings.
Nohor is a small town also around Ashgabat where I was taken on my tour. It’s a bit of a weird place, it’s a bit of a closed community and the residents believe they are all descended from Alexander the Great. And it’s basically forbidden to marry outside the town. The cemetery with graves decorated with rams’ horns as apparently Mr the Great used to wear on his head is the highlight. Some nice views.
Elsewhere in Turkmenistan
The Darvaza Crater is Turkmenistan’s number one tourist attraction. It’s a large hole in the ground which is basically on fire. It was created in the 1970s when a team searching for gas found some under the earth, and it caught fire I guess. They said it would stop after a few weeks, it’s still burning today. You want to visit this at night, and if you’re on a tour that’s when you’ll arrive. There are yurts right next to it owned by tour companies where you stay. It’s pretty cool but you know, it doesn’t take that long to experience.
The city of Mary has a glittery centre which is a little bit of a mini-Ashgabat. The market there is nice to explore, and I also visited a Russian Orthodox Church which was nice and saw a plane on a stick which was significant in some way (lol). Not far from Mary is the ancient city – in fact three ancient cities – of Merw (pronounced Merv). There are some buildings over this wide site that are still standing. It’s well worth the visit.
The Mausoleum of Sayd Jameldin is on the road from Ashgabat to Mary and is worth a stop. It was mostly destroyed by the 1948 earthquake but is still beautiful today and this is where I was able to meet a few locals as they prepared a feast. I also stopped on the road at a place called Abiwert, another ancient site which hasn’t yet been fully excavated.
Also on the road we stopped at a horse farm where the Akhal-Teke horses are bred and I was shown these beautiful horses which the President has a bunch of and loves. So that’s something that if you’re a horse lover you will love.
Konye-Urgench is in the north of the country and it is another ancient site spread out over quite a large area with some beautiful mosques and a tower which is great to visit too.
That covers what I saw in Turkmenistan. Then there’s opportunities to hike, mountains and more. And the Caspian Sea – the city of Turkmenbashi is apparently really cool and modern, and from here you can get a ferry to Baku, Azerbaijan.
So there you are. A pretty reasonable introduction to the sights of Turkmenistan. Thanks for popping by today, take care, and May the Journey Never End!