The Parthian site of Nissa, near Ashgabat, is probably best not visited in the snow. However, as our time was limited, we had little choice in the matter. It was treacherously slippery on the site, particularly because we couldn’t see what was under the snow. What looked like heaps of snow were actually column bases.
Nissa was founded in the 3rd century BC. Now it is a Unesco World Heritage site. The walls are made of mud brick, but they have been covered over for protection. In some places you can see where modern mud bricks have been used for resoration purposes and have been eroded by rain, unlike the originals.
The site includes a circular hall which was believed to be a Zoroastrian fire temple ( a model reconstruction of this can be seen in the Ashgabat museum- it's probably best to go to the museun before visiting Nissa),
We were show part of a decorative frieze/skirting. Most of it had now been covered up for protection after a tourist chipped a bit off as a souvenir. It was also possible to see the imprint of a wooden column in the mud wall. The colunn appeared to have been bound with rope for added strength.
Carpets are an important part of Turkmen culture and a visit to Ashgabat's carpet museum is therefore a must, even if, like me, you are not particularly interested in carpets. I found this museum far more interesting than I expected.
Yurts did not have furniture – they used bags made from carpet for storing cooking utensils, clothes etc. There are different types of carpet for the floor and walls etc.
Each of the 5 regions of Turkmenistan has its own specific carpet design. These five different designs appear in a stripe on the Turkmen flag. The designs are quite abstract and can be claimed to represent different things - some imagination is needed!
Near the entrance of the museum are the giant carpets. The largest of these is in the Guinness Book of Records as the largest carpet in the world. It is a traditional design, except that it has Turkmenbashi’s signature woven in to it. An earlier giant carpet was made in 1941, and used briefly as a curtain for the Bolshoi Theatre, but it turned out to be too heavy.
The museum also has some double-sided carpets. This are created when two carpets woven on a single backing, one on each side.
Carpets used to be made on horizontal looms, but now they use vertical ones which are more comfortable. Turkmen sheep are sheared twice a year but only the spring wool is used for carpets. The autumn wool is used for felt. Carpets are traditionally made with natural dyes, which don’t fade, though now carpets can be made with modern chemical dyes. A modern carpet with a bright green background came as something of a shock after all the natural shades.
The most valuable carpet in the museum is one in full relief which was created by two sisters who were killed in the 1948 earthquake, before they completed it. It was finished by their mother. The making of full relief carpets like this one is a lost art.
Photography is not permitted inside this museum. I took the picture I have used for this tip at the museum in Mary, where photography is allowed (for a small fee).
This mosque, constructed between 1995-8, was one of the first to be built after Turkmenistan gained its independence in the 1990s. It was funded by Turkey, and is designed to resemble the Blue Mosque in Istanbul.
The National Museum is housed in a very palatial white marble (naturally) building. Inside, we were slightly surprised to see that the decor was of dark wood. When we visited, in late December, preparations for a New Year party were in full swing, so the foyer was also decorated with a huge New Year tree and balloons.
The first hall we were shown contained Presidential memorabilia, along with gifts from other nations.
The archaeological and historical exhibits are upstairs, and cover the period from the stone age to the 19th century. including exhibits from the stone age, Bronze age Margiana, Parthian Nissa and Merv.
Sorry, no photos inside (you can pay for a photography permit, but I didn't).
Our Lonely Planet guide book described Tolkuchka bazaar as 'Central Asia as staged by Cecil B De Mille' so I expected it to be a bit like the Kashgar Sunday market we visited five years earlier. But since the guide was published, the old market has been replaced with a new one of gleaming marble pavilions, with cafés in the middle (closed for the winter season). The market still sells everything from traditional Turkmen clothing to fridges. And of course carpets. Though if you buy a carpet here you will need to get it valued and taxed at the carpet museum so it may be simpler to buy from a government shop.
There was also an animal market with cows, sheep and some very disgruntled camels. The local Bactrian 2- humped camels have been crossed with Arabian dromedaries, producing animals which have only one hump like the dromedaries, but are better-suited to the conditions in the Karakum desert.
This is a monument to the Ruhnama, the famous book written by President Niyazov. He wrote it between 1997 and 2001 and it gives his version of Turkmen history. The idea was presumably to establish a clear shared national identity for the new country.
Our official Turkmen guide told us that Niyazov used several historical sources in writing the Ruhnama - this probably didn't impress me with his scholarship as much as it was supposed to.
This is one of former President Niyazov's wilder schemes: a staircase in the mountains, for exercise purposes. According to our guide book he used to make civil servants all do the walk once a year. Well, personally, I would prefer that to going to the gym.
There are actually two routes - a short 8 km one and a longer 24 km one.
This giant ferris wheel, constructed in 2012 is Ashgabat's answer to the London Eye. This being Ashgabat, it is of course built from white marble, which does restrict the view a bit.
We visited in late December, and the concourse in front of the wheel was covered in a forest of New Year trees, in preparation for the New Year celebrations.
The memorial to those who died in the 1948 earthquake sits above the earthquake museum. Unfortunately the latter was closed when we visited in December 2012, apparently because of flooding during the summer.
Later during our trip, our guide pointed out a flour mill, which he told us was the only building left standing after the earthquake. He said that the architect had previously been in trouble for using too much cement.
The most remarkable thing about the Lenin monument is the way in which it is overpowered by the decorative plinth on which it stands.
There are two doors in this plinth - my husband almost mistook it for a public convenience.
The Monument to the Independence of Turkmenistan is also known as 'the Plunger', for obvious reasons.
It is surrounded by gilded statues of important Turkmen figures. There used to be a small museum underneath it, but we were told that this has now been closed.
Of all the many monuments erected by President Niyazov, the Arch of Neutrality is perhaps the most outrageous. It looks rather like an alien rocket ship, topped with a gold statue of President Niyazov.
There were rumours that President Niyazov's successor was having it dismantled, and I thought I might have missed my opportunity to see it, but it has just been moved from the city centre to a park on the outskirts. According to our guide, the official reason for the move was that it was affected by building work in the vicinity of its original location, but even he wasn't sure whether this was actually true.
You can take a lift up inside for 4 manat, but it was not working when we visited.
Turkmenistan is an oil rich country. The infrastructure development is very fast. Each & every building in the centre (near President Palace) is worth seeing. All these buildings are made up of marble & tinted glass. These are not sky-scrappers but still beautiful.
Recently built structures in the outskirts of the city are worth visiting.
Towards the south end of the city there is a beautiful garden ... a huge one... with a museum inside is just amazing! & the sky-scrappers standing opposite to this garden are just fabulous.
So don't miss it!
Arch of Neutrality, which is a large tripod, upon which a golden statue of Turkmen President Saparmurat Niyazov. This statue rotates in order to always face the sun during daylight hours. It is said to be made of pure gold!!!))))
Turkmenistan is Saparmurat Niyazov and Saparmurat Niyazov is the Turkmenbasi ( the leader of Turkmens) so the world and Ashgabat is turning around this personality.This is the palace of Turkmenbasi.Almost all buildigs carries his name..Now I am courious to know what will happen after his death...