"Why Turkmenistan?" Turkmenistan by Solivagant
Turkmenistan Travel Guide: 200 reviews and 605 photos
Uzbekistan is well on the tourist map for its "Silk Road cities" and Kyrgyzstan is gaining popularity for its scenery, trekking and generally relaxed and friendly atmosphere.
Is it worth fitting in a visit to nearby Turkmnenistan however?
It has its "historic sites" - particularly Merv (A World Heritage Site) and Konye Urgenche and the Parthian capital of Nisa (both on the "WHS Tentative List"). But these sites are largely dusty ruins and not in any way comparable with Khiva or Bokhara (which are perhaps "over restored") - at least to the casual visitor. Important and atmospheric, yes - but more of the "Worth a Visit" variety than "Worth a Journey"!
What is perhaps most interesting to the non-specialist visitor to Turkmenistan is the amazing personality cult surrounding its leader Nyazov - given the honorary title of "Turkmenbashi" - Father of the Turkmen. Perhaps only in N Korea and Libya does this level of "official adulation" of the leader still exist. Statues, photos and the sayings of the man are inescapable. "Pride of Place" goes to the tripod tower, in the capital Ashgabat, topped by a gold statue of the "great man" which rotates so that he always faces the sun! Ashgabat is being transformed into a modern Versailles with domed and porticoed marble palaces. Hidden away in a city park is a single remaining statue to an earlier man whose thoughts for a few years impacted Turkmen history - that of Karl Marx. The dusty ruins of Merv provide cause for reflection on the impermanence of the works of all those who claim a particular wisdom as to how society should be organised!
His photo is usually the same one -a not particularly flattering one of him looking a bit like a younger Dean Martin with his hand under his chin - often accompanied by 3 of his great written works. We suggested to our local guide that this pose was to hide a double chin. "No!" was the reply "It is because he thinks a lot!" His "thinking" has given the people "free" Gas, Electricity, Water and Salt (!) together with petrol which (at black market rates) costs US$1 for 60 litres. We were told not to photo 1 particular statue as it was outside "The KGB HQ" .. plus ca change! Our car was regularly stopped by police who fined the driver for non existant misdemeanours. Turkmen TV has gold bust of the great man permanently in its top right hand corner to accompany the programs about new textile factories and the "successful" cotton harvest
- Pros:The Cult of Turkmenbashi, Carpets, Ruins
- Cons:Bureaucracy, Road Checks, Customs examinations
- In a nutshell:Worth a journey - once!
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