The former president Niyazov edited the Ruhnama, book of the soul. This book sets out Niyazovs version of Turkmen history, culture and spirituality. The book was published in 2001, volume II in 2004.
The Ruhnama, telling about traditional Turkmen values, is compulsory to read by all Turkmen citizens from young to old. Even in the huge Kipchak mosque (picture 3&4), opened by Niyazov in 2004, you will find texts from the Ruhnama in its interior.
During our homestay in the desert village Kekirdek we had a traditional welcome ceremony. Two daughters of the family recited texts from the Ruhnama, holding the book in their hands (picture 1&2, see also the video).
In former years you could change you money at the black market or at the bank with huge differences in the rates. It was not easy to change money at the bank, I heard. They were hardly open and your rate was really bad. So the only option was the black market with good rates. How easy it was to find someone I don't know.
Now the system has changed. In Ashgabat are kiosks at several places in the citycentre where you can change money for a fixed rate. This rate is somewhere between the old bankrate and black market.
In Ashgabat I know anyway two kiosks. One is at the entrance of the Russian Market and another is in the shoppingcentre opposite the Russian market at the groundfloor. Be prepared to get huge heaps of billets and be almost a 'manat' millionnair during your stay in Turkmenistan.
Turkmenistan is famous for breeding horses. Experts say "that nowhere in the world man's efforts succeeded in breeding such a beautiful, tireless, intelligent and noble animal as the Akhal Tekin horse."
Since the Parthian times (3d century BC - 3d century AD) horse breeding has been an ancient tradition in Turkmenistan. The Akhalteke horse was developed over more than three thousand years and influenced the development of horse breeding throughout the world. Meanwhile the akhalteke horse has been declared a national treasure in Turkmenistan.
In appearance the akhalteke horse is similar to its descendent, the Persian Arab, though in size it is more comparable to another of its descendants, the English thoroughbred. The akhalteke has a small thin head, long ears and large eyes. It has a short silky mane or no mane at all, and a short tail.
Unfortunatily I didn't see real Akhalteke horses when I visited Turkmenistan. But everywhere in the country I saw images of these famous horses, for example in the hotel lobby in Dashoguz (picture 1) and at top of the glorious monument of the 10th anniversary of independence in Ashgabat (picture 2, 3 & 4). Also at the state seal of Turkmenistan the akhalteke horse is depicted.
In the Ashgabat hippodrome, located on the city's eastern outskirts, you can observe horse racing.
The Karakum or so-called black desert occupies an area of about 35 million hectare. This is more than 80% of the whole country of Turkmenistan. Unlike the Sahara the Karakum desert is largely covered bushes.
The population is sparse in the Karakum desert. There are a few nomadic oasis villages. The average of the population in the in the Karakum desert is one person per 6.5 km².
We crossed the desert from south to north by train. It was a trip of about 16 hours. From our window we had a nice view at the sandy desert scattered with small bushes (picture 1&2). We sat also at the right side to watch the sunset (picture 3). We stopped at some small railway stations. Mostly we saw only tracks leading to the station and cars waiting in the sand to pick up or to bring passengers (picture 4).
Fondest memory: Not only because I like deserts, but also because you haven't seen Turkmenistan without visiting the desert, we stayed two days in Kekirdek, one of the nomadic oasis villages north of Ashgabat. It was interesting to stay with a local family in their compound. From here we could walk directly into the small sanddunes which surrounded the small village (picture 5).
For Turkmenistan you need a visa. Turkmenistan was part of my Silk Road trip visiting 5 different countries. Because of the time needed to get all the visa in advance and the extremily long time it took the get the Turkmen visa, the travelagant decided to get it first at the airport of Ashgabat. The costs were 95 euro (july 2008). The travel agency DN Tours in Ashgabat arranged all necessary paperwork. DN tours ( email@example.com) can also provide an invitation - visa support letter for a maximum stay of 2-3 weeks.
At the airport it took some time before all the required papers were ready. Except the visa in our pasport we got an Entry Travel Pass (see picture 1 and 3) with three pieces. The first one is needed for registration in the City Tourist Board in Ashgabat. We had to leave our passport at the hotel reception for this registration. The other two parts of the Entry Travel Pass they first took when we crossed the border to Uzbekistan. Anyway at the homestay in the desert and in the nighttrain they didn't ask for the papers. We also got a 'departure sheet of the foreigner'. This one we had also to keep till we left the country. The same with the declaration form.
I read at the website of DN Tours that the tourist visa don't allows to stay longer than 15-25 days and that the tourist visa never can be prolonged.
Wowww... hard to pick one favourite thing when you're still discovering all its different facets. This time round we had a longer wander around the markets and areas in the outskirts of the city... and we discovered that some of the folks, especially the kids, are actually very keen to have their photos taken! And some of them were really very serious about posing for the camera, which was great! But do be careful and let them come to you rather than snapping them without permission... mainly the older generation in the villages and outskirts were very uncomfortable with the camera for they believe that the photographer 'takes' away part of their soul with each picture and so when they die, they believe they won't completely move to the other side u know? That parts of their soul are still on the earth, being seen by those still alive, through those pictures that were taken of them... I felt very moved at this story, and must say that though I'd never thought about it that way, it kind of makes sense doesn't it? You see the point anyway... I still do think sometimes that a camera is one of the greatest inventions of all time, and so surreal! Being able to capture a living moment in time in a shot. It's bewildering!
Fondest memory: Oh, so many great memories in just 2 days. We tried to go on the cable car ride up those beautiful mountains which is the backdrop of Ashgabat. Unfortunately, on Mondays they close for maintenance. This is one country serious about their maintenance, i totally salute them on this! Their streets are polished and shiny, their markets spotlessly clean, their greens watered and irrigated with tender loving care.
So then we went to another hill to these beautiful "Health Roads". You can see them beautifully lit up at night looking like gold necklaces on the mountains. There are 2 of them, an 8km "baby" road and a whopping 25km "mother" road... and if you think that the Great Wall of China is steep (which it ISSS!!!) you may think about skipping this one... but the way the locals throw themselves up those stairs... they are seriously fit!!! We met a 75 year old grandpa who just underwent an operation that was keeping pace and then overtook us up those stairs. Phew!
Then we went to the Canyon Road, a narrow strip wedged in between two mountain ranges. Beautiful!!! With a spring running through it... I couldn't believe we were in a country that was 80% desert, everything was so green here!
We also managed to stop at the ruins of Nisa - one of the last remaining ancient cities in Central Asia - and I was ecstatic because, of course, i managed to do my Lara Croft tombraiding thing *tee hee* and took my shoes off to run barefoot in the sand amongst the ruins... which may not have been so wise since the kids we met excitedly brought me to little caves where snakes apparently lived... indeed we saw the dead skin shed by 2... *eek*
I'll be writing more about the history and background of these places in other tips, if you just give me a chance, so bear with me ;)
The idea of visiting Turkmenistan was very exciting for me as I'd never even been to Russia, much less any FSU countries before. So u do your search on VT and rest of the Internet for info on the country, and there's certainly not much. And must say i was disappointed with the tips i'd read anyway, because it painted a scary picture of a police state, bad cops, lots of suspicion and such like. But having been to Sudan and Niger and places like that in Africa that have gotten a bad rep I was sort of prepared for the worst.
So wasn't i absolutely surprised to find it to be very safe, remarkably clean and orderly, with great food, cosy cafes and the luvliest people u'd find anywhere! And a lot to see n do behind the gleaming marble facades you see in the city. Yes maybe it was only 2 days for me here so far, but you know what they say. First impressions count!
Fondest memory: Of course, there were bits that were a little bit intimidating, like the visa-getting when we landed, meeting the govt folks who were very serious during the meeting (but pleasant when the meeting was over) and going through customs when we left. You can tell there's still some heavy bureaucracy going on possibly, but what new transitioning economy isn't going through that sort of thing? And all this foreigner critic about the former President's cultish book... nonsense. I read the book and it was more patriotic than trying to impose anything on the people there.
Actually the worst bit of the whole trip? There were some awful expat oilmen, real roughnecks, on our plane. And they ended up in the queue behind us waiting to get visas. Properly drunk after boozing their guts out on an 8-hour flight, THEY were the scariest things in that country. Slurring and cursing their stupid opinions, crudely, rudely, loudly in English so the locals wouldn't understand, that was just base and unnecessary.
So yes, it may be a little long and tedious trying to get in and out of the country, but it's worth going in there to have a look! Don't let that stop you. There are worse immigration officers elsewhere in the world!
The hardest thing about Turkmenistan it to get a Visa. There are many embassies scattered all around the world. In Europe(15 days to be issued!): France Germany UK Belgium but not in Italy. If you're travelling in Central Asia you can get the Visa in Bishkek(Kyrghystan), Dushambe(Tajikistan), Astana(Kazakstan) and Tashkent(Uzbekistan). Transit Visa(Maximum stay 5 days ) takes some 8 to 10 days to be issues and cost 31 US$. If you want to stay more than 5 days in Turkmenistan you should apply for Tourist Visa which require a LOI(Letter of Invitation). It's impossible to have one unless you have some friend here. Many travel agency(In Central Asia but also in Europe) can issue the LOI.
At the Airport there is no Bank. Just pay some dollars(3-4) to the Taxi driver for a 15 minutes drive to the center. Don't Change Money in the Bank but only in the Market(Russian Markets give the best rates). The official bank rate is 1US= 2400 Manat. Street Moneychanger rate 1 US= 24000 Manat
Police Stops are at every corner. From Turkmenabat to Ashagabat(BUS 650 KM) i counted 15 Checks!! Be gentle and smile every time. They don't ask any bribe and dont give any hassles.
I only got to the ruined city of 'Kunya Urgench', situated just inside Turkmenistan, accessable from Urgench and Khiva in Uzbekistan, but it was more than worth it. An example of the combined works of Genghis Khan, Tarmelane (from Uzbekistan) and the odd earthquake. To call this place spooky is an understatement - see my main Uzbekistan page for more information.
Look for a ceratin hill...
...read the following.
Fondest memory: Not exactly a fondest memory, but...
We climbed a small hill nearby the main landmark (a giant minaret), with a small excavation in it. It was full of human skulls. We asked when this had happened and who had done this. The answer was that it was the sum total of the devastation wrought on the area, when Kunya Urgench was attacked by Genghis Khan and a century later by Timur Lange (see my website for more information)...
...and the entire hill was full of skulls. I didn't stay on the hill very long.
Beefy at http://www.geocities.com/beefnetuk
Favorite thing: Check out the Talchouka Bazaar, and buy a Turkmen Woolen Hat! These are woolen, but they sell all sorts of fur, please be careful, some of the furs are from endagered species! Rugs, Jewelry, traditional clothing, hardware of all sorts,animals and just about anything can be bought here. It is the modern day silk road. The vendors are very agressive but things are so cheap and the people need the money so buy! Be careful of pickpockets, and remember everything is priced too high in expectation of haggling, it is expected!
I stayed at Nissa Hotel for two weeks. Service and food are good. Nice facilities including: -...more
Archabil Shayoly str. 54, Ashgabat, Turkmenistan
Good for: Families
The Ak Altyn Hotel is situated in a more residential part of Ashgabat, with several embassies...more