This 12th century Mausoleum is one of the most beautiful structures around Merv, the best restored anyway.
Not only the building but also it's surroundings are really attractive. Mystical bush and trees where camels wander around.
The caretaker is a very frienly old mullah who's living there in a mystical cave like room.
Turkmenbashi City (former Krasnovodsk), is beautifully situated on the Caspian Sea shore, but, although the atmosphere is relaxed, there's nothing of much interest to a traveller besides being the port to/from Azerbaijan.
After I arrived from Ashgabat by plane (which cost me $1,80/1 hour), I decided to go for the most pleasant thing to do -according to LP- and tried to hike up the mountains behind town for spectacular views over town and the Caspian. Scrambling on the scree slopes I encountered 4 agressive dogs and while I tried to hit one of them I fell and hurt my lower arm badly. the wounds were so dirty and bleeding so badly that I had to go down.
I decided to relax a bit on the beach for the rest of the day but there was no shade and the sun burned intensely. I ended up sleeping on a kind of covered stage at a deserted playground.
The most memorable was that evening when Mr. President himself showed up at a festivity amidst of thousand schoolchildren waving with his portrait and the Turkmen flag. But he actually didn't come out of he car in public so I couldn't question him ;-).
After a sleepless night in the filthiest -insectwise- and noisiest hotel (*) I had been so far, the only thing I wanted was to leave, so I booked a ticket on the train to Mary (which cost me $1,10/28 hours) later that day, close to the ancient town of Merv -that I wanted to visit.
(*) Hotel Turkmenbashi ($3/night).
Tip: I met a traveler who managed to bargain down the luxurious sea shore Hotel Tolkun from $80, - to $9 a night!
In Ashgabat we found the Psychiatric Institute mentioned in the LP for possibly cheap accommodation ($5/bed) and were friendly welcomed with melon and tea.
Besides some patients also some friendly Iranian traders were guest here with their families. Unfortunately I got a bad fever that evening, which lasted for 3 horrible days while my friends had already left for Iran.
I visited the Arch of Neutrality, the 75m high tripod with the 12m high rotating golden statue of President Mr. Niyazov on top. Boots creep up one leg to a cheap bar and from there elevators bring you to the top for grand views over Ashgabat, including the golden domes of Mr. Nyazov's palace.
Then there's the -reputedly- world's biggest fountain, and that in a country that is 90% desert!! A extravagant 5-star hotel strip waits already half a decade for the wealthy oil barons to come.
I went to Ayan Travel to do have my police registration done and found internet connection at the friendly American Institute.
With one of the students of the Institute I walked around town to see some monuments, palaces and bazaars, but there was not much in the city that really attracted me. Walking around is the highlight itself.
Ashgabat is one of the strangest capitals I've ever visited and maybe that's it's main attraction...
After 28 sweaty hours in the train I arrived in early evening in Mary, close the ancient cities of Merv..
It took an hour before I found a room -terribly overpriced ($12) and again one plagued by insects- and when I wanted to eat there was nothing else to find than a watermelon. That evening I watched TV with the servant, browsing through the 3 channels. The president starred in each of them. We chose the one in which some girls were dancing nicely for him.
Anyway, next day I hired a Lada taxi for the morning (about $10/4 hrs.) and set off for Merv, that used to be the 2nd most important centre of the Islamic world after Baghdad in the 12th century. We asked around but apparently we asked something strange, nobody seemed to know where it was.
After an hour of driving through sandy steppes with grazing camels, the driver stopped the car and told me "this is it". We stepped out of the car and I saw a big, earthen and ruined circular wall, a bit overgrown. We scrambled over it and we found here and there some pieces of stone, including some fortress like structures. Nice, but...is this all, I wondered?
A thousand years ago, Konye (Old) Urgench was an important oasis on the Silk Road, bigger than Samarkand. Although the ancient town was sacked several times, a few remains still can be admired.
On the serene, atmospeheric site, full of graves and tombs, well maintained paths leads you around the monuments while signs tell you about their history.
The minaret is most striking, built around 1300 by Jenghiz Khan's followers, and is the highest in Central Asia, but it's in bad condition and badly repaired.
Only few other structures, mainly mausoleums, survived Timur. It's an interesting walk if you imagine what was here so many years ago!
From Konye Urgench we travelled to Dashoguz, a major city ca. 103 km away, where we chartered a beautiful old Lada for $30 for the 580km/12 hr ride through the desert to the capital Ashgabat
Fortunately the tight road was sealed all the way and only covered by sand sometimes. Although it's one of the hottest deserts in the world, the heat is bearable thanks to very low humidity.
Part of the road crosses some stunningly shaped sand dunes while other parts are flat sand or dunes with some low scrub.
No horses, cows or sheep here for food and milk but camels.
It's very weird to find some villages along the road in such a barren and dry area. The villagers cater mainly for travellers, serving kebabs and tea and selling petrol..
The Turkmens, who live here in yurts, were very friendly and welcoming as we found shelter to have some lunch and shade in the heat of the day.
If you want to stay here for the night you should have no problems finding a host, but don't forget to bring a gift!
The Bazaar, wow, a Cecil B. Demille movie set! This is the jewlery section, they still use old time scales! Visit the ruins in Mary/Merv. Please check everything out before you go, it seems different parts of the country are closed off at different times. The place is sureal, and can be dangerous. It is very much a police state.
If you can, travel to Merv/Mary and see the archeological digs and museum.This is the site of many religious roots of many religions in Central Asia. This is a very ancient part of the world with a history filled with different cultures and religions. Study the religion and trade correlation to get he whole picture! Attend a fashion show in Ashgabad. See the Golden Statue downtown as well!
The fashion show includes antique clothing as well as new designs.
A bit more outlying is the 14th century gate of probably the Dash Kala Caravansarai. With some efforts you can climb up to the roof and have perfect views over the whole area!
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
This hotel is no longer run by Sheraton, and the five stars on the sign outside may be overstating...more