Turkmenistan – now for something unusual!
Turkmenistan – Land of the Turkmen – could best be described as an odd country. The former Soviet state became independent in 1991 and was until 2006 ruled by Niyazov, a communist-style dictator. Niyazov had absolute final say over the country when his party mandated his presidency for life and during this time, he banned any other political party. No wonder he kept winning the elections! While there may have been new leaders since Niyazov’s death in 2006, not a lot has changed in a political sense. It is considered one of the 10 most censored countries in the world and the vast majority of its citizens are forbidden to leave its borders.
But don’t let any of this put you off traveling to this fascinating, albeit odd, country – one of the five “Stans”.
The ancient cities of Merv, Nisa, Mary and Urgench, where you can walk among the ruins, were once thriving great cities. Merv continued to thrive during the medieval period and was an important stop along the Silk Road. If you like ancient history, you’ll love these places.
In great contrast, today’s capital city Ashgabat is a modern city. It’s a mix of Canberra, Las Vegas, Shanghai and Astana all in one – how is that even possible? It has tall apartment blocks which appear empty, marble and gold painted monuments on every corner and great government buildings to house the members of parliament. It also has a three-story museum dedicated to the life of the current president. (I can’t see this idea taking off in Australia).
Away from the capital and the ancient city ruins, there are some very interesting places to visit, among which is Dashoguz and its markets where you’re almost guaranteed to be the only westerner walking around. A trip to the Kov Ata caves with its hot spring is also very interesting and worthwhile. It’s a 60 metre walk deep underground, down dozens of stairs but don’t forget … of course this means it’s 60 metre walk up the stairs too!
It’s an unusual country but well worth visiting in conjunction with the rest of “The Stans”. The best time to visit Turkmenistan is April to June or September when there is bright sunshine and cool temperatures.
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By Brett Goulston