One of the most famous attractions in this country is called “the Door to Hell”. That should give you a hint of what to expect. By the way, that door represents a burning gas crater near the town of Derweze (or Darwaza). It has burned consistently since the early 1970s due to a collapse of a gas field into an underground cavern, and the concern over the methane gases escaping so it was ignited. Well, where is Turkmenistan located anyway?
It’s a sovereign country in Central Asia that borders the Caspian Sea to the west and widely recognized for its archaeological ruins along the famous Silk Road trade route. A majority of the country is covered by the Karakum (Black Sand) desert. The capital is Ashgabat which was rebuilt Soviet-style in the middle of the twentieth (20th) century. It is also bordered by Iran to the south, Afghanistan to the southeast, Kazakhstan to the northwest, and Uzbekistan to the north and east.
Some Historical Background
It has historically been inhabited by the Indo-Iranians. A part of the Oghuz tribes that migrated from Mongolia to current Central Asia in the eight (8th) century AD comprises the ethnic base of the modern-day Turkmen population.
The name “Turkmen” came into prominence in the tenth (10th) century as the Oghuz tribes accepted Islam. The Turkmen were scattered about in the twelfth (12th) century by the Mongols. From the sixteenth (16th) through the eighteenth (18th) centuries the nomadic Turkmen tribes remained independent.
Russia began occupying the territory late in the nineteenth (19th) century. It was annexed into the Russian Empire in around 1881. The Turkmen Soviet Socialist Republic was formed in 1924. The nomadic lifestyle of the people dissipated and was pretty much gone by the late 1930s due to the reorganization of agriculture by the Soviets.
The country was not prepared for its independence in 1991. Communism was replaced with a form of independent nationalism, and the president was put into place pretty much for life, and dissenting government officials and organizations were purged as well as restrictions were put on the media. These arbitrary policy changes continued with the closure of rural libraries and hospitals outside of Ashgabat.
The country pretty much isolated itself from regional and international organizations with China being the only country with which it had any sort of relations. The current president, Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedow, took over in 2007 after the death of Saparmurat Niyazov. Berdimuhamedow was re-elected in 2012 with 97% of the vote.
- The country is also known as Turkmenia
- The population is about 6,031,200 people
- It is one of the least populated areas in Asia
- Formerly under Soviet control, it gained its independence in 1991 with the collapse of the Soviet Union
- The city of Merv has a long history being one of the oldest oasis cities in Central Asia as it was one of the main stops on the Silk Road
- It has the fourth (4th) largest reserves of natural gas anywhere in the world
- The President is Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedow
- It is set up as a secular democracy but it leans more on the authoritarian side controlled by the president and his inner circle. It is considered one of the most secretive countries in the world and hasn’t done all that well with its human rights record. More formally it is known as a Presidential Republic with the President as both heads of government and head of state. It has the third worst press freedom in the world next to North Korea and Eritrea.
- The country has a neutral foreign policy and has diplomatic relations with one hundred and thirty-nine (139) countries
- It has a desert climate with subtropical temperature ranges and little rainfall. The Karakum Desert is one of the driest in the world.
- It has substantial oil resources and the fourth-largest natural gas reserves
- In recent years tourism has grown mainly due to medical tourism. A visa is needed to enter the country, and tours can be arranged in advance for historical sites, beach tours, and medical tours. It has one of the fastest-growing economies in the world with intensive agriculture in irrigated areas.
- The currency is the Turkmenistan manat (TMT) [1 TMT= 0.29 USD)
- The official language is Turkmen (from the Turkic language family). Russian, Uzbek, Turkish, and some English is spoken. Turkmen and Russian are predominant.
- The official sport is soccer with archery also being popular
- Ashgabat Airport is the main international airport. One of the main ways to get about the country is by rail.
Things to do in Turkmenistan
Let’s check out this video and then explore some stuff to do around here in more detail:
* Ashgabat — this is a rather strange place, but after a few days you will get used to its weirdness, such as its no photo policy as well as no locals hanging out on the streets during the day. But this white marble city tends to grow on you with its architectural wonders. You may think you are in Las Vegas but without any people around. Some places to check out are the Independence Monument, the Constitution Monument, the Wedding Palace, the Alem Center, Bitaraplyk Binasy, and the Sculpture Of Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedow. The Russian bazaar and Oguzhan Palace are worth checking out as well.
* Yangykala Canyon — the beauty of this country is most apparent outside the city in remote areas where you can camp. This canyon is a most spectacular area with its banks of pink, orange, and red across the canyon walls. The windy plateau above the canyon gives you an 180-degree view and a good place to camp. Make sure you take in sunrise and sunset as it is well worth it for your viewing pleasure.
* Darvaza Crater — this is the “Gateway to Hell” that I mentioned earlier. This is quite a sight and for many the main reason to come to Turkmenistan. Its never-ending burning is best viewed at night where you can camp nearby in the desert if you desire to spend the entire evening. You don’t get its full effect during the day, but it is still amazing.
* Guided Tours — this is the most expensive way of seeing the country, but it makes things a lot easier to get about. There are a variety of tours that you can experience including archaeological, ecological, day trips, cultural, multi-day, city, extreme adventure, beer tasting, food, distillery, tea & coffee, and bar, pub, and club tours.
This country is extremely isolated from the outside world and one of the least visited countries in this part of the world, but it is an interesting and mysterious place. It is run by an authoritarian regime that controls everything. Although tourism is promoted, many stay away as the guided tours are expensive, and you have the police watching you very closely at all times.
One plus of traveling here, in addition to the interesting sights and the culture, is that it will give you a greater appreciation of freedoms you have that you may be taking for granted. Even given all of these restrictions, you can have a very worthwhile experience as long as you do a bit of research and plan ahead.
It is a relatively safe country with hardly any crime. But like anywhere you go it pays to stay alert. It also is important to follow the rules and laws as they tend to take that stuff extremely seriously here.
The best time to visit is March through May or September through November where the temperature is not so intense 73.4 to 95 F (23 – 35°C). In the summer it is around 114 F (46 C) with the temperatures in the desert getting as high as 122°F (50°C) , and the winters on average 23 F (-5°C) but it has gotten down to -8°F (-22°C) as well.
As far as lodging is concerned you have a variety of choices at different price ranges. Here’s a website that explains it quite well.
Although not your standard vacation experience, there is quite a bit to see here, and if you are the outdoors type plenty of sights to take in. Also, you get to experience what it is like living under an autocratic type of governmental regime. As I previously mentioned, this most definitely increases the appreciation we have for our individual freedoms and reminds us never to take them for granted. All in all, it is a much different type of vacation experience.
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