We say this again and again… and we are saying it yet again- we hate boring and ‘done to death’ travel trails! So this time we picked Turkmenistan- a fascinating country by the side of Caspian Sea in Central Asia and a former part of the erstwhile USSR, to explore. A fellow traveler who visited this country recently opened our eyes to this part of the world…..and weren’t we impressed! This little known country is every off-beat travelers’ OMG destination and has a lot to offer. Since we have so much to tell you about Turkmenistan, we better start with 14 compelling REASONS why you have to make it to this place…like now!
1. Door to Hell
How can Bohotraveller be away from drama and this led us to “door to hell” in Derweze that looks and sounds like it comes straight from a Sci-fi Hollywood flick! In 1971 Soviet geologists discovered what they believed to be a huge oil deposit here but as soon as the drilling began they realized it was a gas deposit. A big section of the area collapsed releasing gas from underneath. Geologists assumed it to be poisonous and set the place on fire (Yeah and you thought only you held patent for utterly moronic stunts!). Well, 44 years on and the fire is still burning. This is one sight you will not get to see anywhere in the world so it easily makes the first reason why you should be here! Also, rumors have been afloat that the government of Turkmenistan might order a closure of this crater…. So hurry guys!
Where to stay: Ashgabat which is 266 kilometers (165 miles) away. (Scroll to the end for more on Hotels and how to reach)
2. Underground Lake!
Located in Baharly this underground cave lake is what you definitely need on a long travelling trail. Imagine the pristine lukewarm waters in emerald hues and better still, imagine you are taking a dip in it. Heavenly!! The cave is about 230 m wide and 20 m high and has a picture pretty sulphur lake nested in it. Every Bohotraveller’s dream!
Where to stay: Ashgabat which is 101 kilometers (62.75 miles) away. (Scroll to the end for more on Hotels and how to reach)
3. The Fresh Appeal
If you had ever kept your eyes and ears open in a history class, you would have heard a lot about Turkmenistan’s rich history and vibrant culture that has stood the test of times. But, the capital city of this Country- Ashgabat is just about ten years old! The city existed before but was devastated by an earthquake in 1948. This city is packed cosily in a valley which is surrounded by barren rocky hills. All the buildings are new and made in white marble! Yesss…we are talking exotic here! The splash of blues and gold is also in abundance here. The architecture is an impressive blend of modern, traditional Ottoman and Russian influences. Rows of manicured gardens, fountains, magnificent statues, remarkable monuments and monolithic buildings in white reflect the prosperity and recent emergence of this city. So simply put, when most of the world with its cities has become this super old dinosaur, better head someplace that is as new as iphones!
Where to stay: Ashgabat Of course!. (Scroll to the end for more on Hotels and how to reach)
4. Historical Extravaganza
Buried ruins of Gonur Tepe
From the very new to seriously ancient times - 7th Millennium BC that is! If ever Armageddon came, it would look like the city of Gonur Tepe. Okie so don’t get spooked, this one is a marvellous piece of archaeological discoveries! Gonur Tepe was the center of flourishing trade in Margiana region which covered over 3000 square Kilometres and numerous settlements on the banks of Murgab River. This place is about a three hour long drive from City of Mary. It is believed to be the birthplace of Zoroastrian religion and happens to be the 5th oldest civilisation in the world! Soak in some astonishing sites of old temples, palaces, earthenware, bronze artefacts and stone carvings strewn across this site. It was discovered in 1972 by a Greek-Russian Archaeologist and we are definitely thankful to them because now it is one more place for the Bohotraveller to put his footprint on!
Where to Stay: Mary which is over 60 kilometers (37 miles) from here (Scroll to the end for details on hotels and How to Reach)
Ancient City of Merv
A look at it and you will know why you need to be here. Part of the ancient silk route, it is believed that Merv was the biggest city in the world in 10th Century! What you see above is what is left of its walls now, however it is the most well-preserved cities of that era. These walls have a grand mausoleum inside and the entire area is now a UNESCO World Heritage site. This place is a chance of a lifetime to get face to face with the history of our world.
Where to Stay: Mary which is 30 Kilometers (19 miles) from Merv (Scroll to the end for details on hotels and How to Reach)
Parthian settlement of Nisa
Our tryst with history seems to be getting more interesting as we take you to the next site which used to be the seat of Parthian kings in 3rd Century BC and today it is a jewel in the UNESCO’s Heritage sites. The ruins are still under excavation so you may get to see the real action here. Entry fee is nominal and you need just about an hour to see the entire place. Cute Archaeologist anyone?!
Where to Stay: Ashgabat is only 13 kilometers (8 miles) from Nisa (Scroll to the end For more on Hotels and how to reach)
Konye-Urgench Monument complex
Presently a UNESCO World heritage site, this place was ones a part of Achaemenid Empire and has a number of monuments within walkable distance from one another; major ones being Minaret of Kutlug-Timur, gates of Caraven-sarai, Najmeddin Kubra mausoleum, Mausoleum of Turabek Khanym, Fortresses , Mausoleum of Sultan Tekesh and a huge complex of really old graves.
Mausoleum of Sultan Tekesh from 12th Century has a distinct conical turquoise dome and has historians divided on their opinion. Some believe that it is a mausoleum whereas others opine that it could be a palace or living quarters of the Khorezm Shah. Some say that he lived here and thereafter was buried within the four walls of this structure. If history is your thing, then Kunya- Urgench is unmissable for you.
Where to Stay: Ashgabat which is 536 kilometers (333 miles) from here.(Scroll to the end For more on Hotels and how to reach)
5. Desert Reserve- Seriously!
Before we came across this one, we did believe that deserts were mostly dead, had a few camels here and there with lovely golden dunes that were always worth a long gaze. Repetek nature reserve changes the way you see deserts. Right in the middle of Karakum desert about 70 kilometers (43.5 miles) from Turkmenabat, this reserve is spread over an area of 135 kilometers (84 miles). And with one and half thousand species including invertebrates and other small animals, this place is teeming with life. There is vegetation of shrubs and thorny plants too to spread some colors around the dunes. With such myriad life forms thriving on desert sands this place was accorded the status of Biosphere Preserve by UNESCO in 1979. Shifting sands, dry lake beds and lot of info on climatic history of this region make it worth a definite visit. For us BTW that gazing across golden sand dunes for hours still tops the list!
Where to Stay: Turkmenabat which is just 50 kilometers (30 miles) from here. (Scroll to the end For more on Hotels and how to reach)
6. Shopping at Tolkuchka- Basar
If you are someone who loves to get a close view of the local culture and lifestyle of natives on your travel then Tolkuchka Basar or Bazaar is a must-visit for you. Tolkuchka Bazaar is full of colour, sounds, smells, aroma and wonder for the first timers. This place is a mix of flea market, fair, pop up bazaar and street shopping – all in one! There is a festive mood to this place and a lot of drama with vendors putting the spread of their goods on the ground and frantic bargaining with the customers. It is also a great place for you to pick sovereigns for your friends! Right from cattle, carpets to clothing, everything is on sale here and everything finds a buyer too! Local traders, men and women dressed in ethnic clothing add to the fervor of Tollkuchka Bazaar.
Where to Stay: Ashgabat (Scroll to the end for more on Hotels and how to reach)
7. The Museum Hopping
With a brilliant history that goes back million of years back and a vibrant culture, museums are expected to be a big part of travelling in Turkmenistan. Good news for those who are hard pressed for time - all the three major museums of this country are housed in the capital city of Ashgabat. National Museum of Turkmenistan also known as Main Museum of Turkmenistan stuns you with its grandiose right from the word go! Even with its artifacts viewed with serious suspicion on authenticity, this museum is a must visit for its visual pampering. Besides how many times have you set foot in a museum that might be hosting fakes! Next on our museum trail is National Museum of History which exhibits ancient Art, drawings, sculptures, fabrics, clothing, vases and statuettes of mythological figures.
The third museum – Turkmen Carpet Museum is quite unique and is home to the largest collection of ancient Turkmen carpets. The intricate designs and vibrant colours sway you off your feet even if you are not a carpet person. And if you are a carpet person…..then you are sure to walk out with a carpet in your shopping bag! Last but not the least- the museum of Fine Arts has over 6000 works by Turkmen and foreign artists from Russia, Italy and many more. All in all, a day in museum is something you can put on your travelling plan in Turkmenistan.
Where to Stay: Ashgabat (Scroll to the end For more on Hotels and how to reach)
8. Mosques of Turkmenistan
Turkmenistan proudly portrays itself as a liberal Muslim country with approximately 89% of its population being followers of Islam. This bit of info translates into presence of some of the most spectacular mosques you will ever set your eyes on.
The Gypjak mosque in Ashgabat with its gleaming golden dome rises amidst beautiful lush green gardens that create a sight to behold.
Ertugrul-Gazi mosque is another centrally located mosque reflecting Turkish architecture. The spread of carpets and high ceilings find special mention when referring to this landmark in Ashgabat.
Any discussion on mosques of Turkmenistan is incomplete without mentioning Turquoise domed dazzling white Geokdepe mosque. Huge expanse of white pathways leads to the mosque and the sight in its entirety looks holy brilliant!
Another mosque belonging to 1400’s in Anau, Seyit Jemaletdin mosque is worth a mention and visit too. This is one mosque where you will find statues of dragons facing each other. Why is this strange? Because Islam specifically disallows use of living beings in its religious places. Again one of its kind!
Where to Stay: Ashgabat (Scroll to the end for more on Hotels and how to reach)
9. Of Studs and Racing
From earlier times men from these regions have been known for their skill of riding horses. After all, it was horses on which the warriors from here conquered provinces in countries as far as India! The tradition continues with Hippodrome here in Ashgabat which witnesses’ horse racing on every Sunday and draws massive crowd. BTW this place is the best one to see Akhal Tekin horses. Akhal Tekin? An oasis which is world famous for its horse breeding and their horses are known for their impeccable pedigree, matchless agility and speed.
10. Monumental Tour
There are many countries that proudly display their monuments but the specialty of monuments here in Turkmenistan is that they have emerged in the last decade or so!
Monument of Independence
Let us start with Independence monument which is the tallest structure of Ashgabat rising to a dizzying height of 91 metres! A pillar in white emerging from dome with eight legs and white waters rushing on each of the legs make it a remarkable structure. Visit it in the night amidst the dazzling light nights, you will be blown away!
Monument of Neutrality
We won’t be surprised if you mistook this monument for an alien spaceship…..just take a look at it. It is like a rocket (very aesthetically done up….NASA learn something) ready to take off! On a more serious note, this structure represents Turkmenistan’s policy of non-alignment with any of the world’s powerful states and blocs.
Health walk stretch
In the outskirts of Ashgabat, there is a long trail of winding staircases approximately 8 kilometers (5 miles) long called Serdar Health path. Personally, a week doing this will get you size zero!
Saparmurat Niyazov is the father of this nation and his statue in gold perched over a pedestal with a backdrop of Akhal-Teke horses is another example of this nation’s obsession with sculptures and structures. One more thing, Saparmurat statues- there are way too many of them and each one worth a click!
Ashgabat Teleradio Center
When we started we told you that Ashgabat is a new city and so there are many building that will look a little bizarre and amusing to the visitors. One such remarkable and eye catching structure is that of Ashgabat Tele Radio center.
Ashgabat ferris wheel
And this 47.60 m structure holds the World record of being the largest Indoor Ferris wheel in the world. Do we need say more?
This is one place where even the registration of marriage happens in style! Only if we could get ours done there……
It is one of the most beautiful presidential residences in the world. This $250 Million marvel was built by a French firm and the moolah that went in making it shows for sure!
Turkmen State Circus
Turkmen Circus is really famous. Of course the building is marvelous and so are their shows. The circus team has won quite a few international awards too. Whether you have over-enthu kids with you or not…..when here, it is time to indulge in some fun right in the heart of Ashgabat! Do check out our tips for traveling with kids
No you are not in New York and this picture is not put here by mistake. Yyldyz hotel is right here in Ashgabat and impressive as hell!
Fountain Shopping mall
Shopping has also been taken to completely another level here. Even if you are not an avid shopper, your camera needs to capture this amazing building. We mean….who makes such shopping malls!?
11. Food….Of course
We are foodies and so is every Bohotraveller! We believe that no journey is complete without amusing your taste buds with heaps of local delicacies and exploring the general food culture. When it comes to food, Turkmenistan does not disappoint. Their spread consists mainly of meat specifically mutton, lamb, beef and chicken. Of course other meats like that of Hare and Gazelles can also be tried here.
Kebabs and Chorba are a big part of their cuisine. You can also try sundried meat called Kokmach and sand heated delicacy known as Garyn. Rice preparation of Pilav or pilaf goes with all the variety of meats and is the national dish. Apart from these do not forget to try two famous dishes made out of Mutton- Chekdirme and Govurma. The list is surely long but again we have some more on plate for you- Manty, Ku’urma and Gutap! Now that we are full, it is time for the traditional tea- Gok Chai which is something like Green Tea but with herbs and dry fruits.
12. Beat the Crowd
This one is a big reason why Turkmenistan must be visited in the near future. There are hardly any tourists there so this place has still retained its virginity. Besides the country itself has a very small population so no one is there to really disturb or annoy you unnecessarily. With the country making new strides and reaching out to the rest of the world, there is real possibility that throngs of tourists will begin to pour in very soon.
13. Nomadic Trails
Now if you want to spend more than five days in Turkmenistan, you have to hire a guide which costs some money, but is completely worth every penny spent. Having said that, let us look at the off-beat paths of this off-beat country. The spirit of Turkmenistan is in the countryside of this beautiful country. Quite a few travel agencies bring you the countryside experience where you can stay with locals learning the ways of village life. Nokhur, Bokurdak, Konnegumez and Bekuri villages can offer you the rustic experience of living in typical Turkmen villages. You can taste and learn to make local food, milk camels and bake breads. Absolutely rustic absolutely Boho!
14. Wind in my Hair, Sand on my Feet and Blues in my Eyes!
We know you were not expecting it but well Turkmenistan does have a gorgeous seaside in a town called Awaza, thanks to Caspian sea that is lined along its western border. However, do not expect Hawaii or a Caribbean atmosphere there. Caspian Sea is known for its cold waters and so you really need one hot sunny day to offset that factor. There are plenty of resorts if you are looking for luxurious high rises! Walk on the warm sands, get a Spa treatment, take a dip or spend a day lazing on a boat- choices are many and all of them are available!
Where to Stay: Awaza (Scroll to the end for more on Hotels and how to reach)
If the idea of setting foot in Turkmenistan inspires you then also see 10 things to do in Turkmenistan!
Wait for a bit and read on the best hotels to stay in at various destinations in Turkmenistan:
How to Reach: Ashgabat International Airport is your way in to Turkmenistan.
Sofitel Ashgabat Oguzkent
How to Reach: Mary is 465 kilometers (289 miles) from Ashgabat by road. You may take one of the four flights on domestic air carrier which takes you to Mary in 40 minutes.
How to Reach: Awaza is 588 kilometers (365 miles) from Ashgabat by road. You may take a plane on domestic air carrier which takes you to Awaza in One hour. 2-3 such flights operate everyday between the two cities.
How to Reach: Turkmenabat is 610 kilometers (379 miles) from Ashgabat by road. You may take a plane on domestic air carrier which takes about 50 minutes and 3-6 such flights operate everyday between the two cities.
Know more about the best time and weather to visit Turkmenistan. Click here.
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