Sometimes referred to as the ‘North Korea of Central Asia’, Turkmenistan in the present day is alluring for many outsiders partly for this perception and also because it is rarely spoken about in international media. Having been at the crossroads of various civilisations for centuries and being an important trading point along the Silk Road network, there’s a surprising amount of sites to discover inside this country that is otherwise engulfed by the desert of the Kara Kum.

KARA KUM DESERT

Photo by Matthew TraverThe southern brother of Uzbekistan’s Kyzyl Kum Desert, the Kara Kum (“Black Sands”), covers 70% of Turkmenistan. Despite its prevalence in the country it remains sparsely populated, but there’s considerable swathes of the interior that have likely never been explored by all except the nomadic Turkmen.

ASHGABAT

Ashgabat - Martijn Munneke - Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0)Sandwiched between the Kopet Dag mountains range and the Kara Kum, Ashgabat is the largest and capital city in Turkmenistan. Given its grand, Soviet style architecture it makes for quite a visually unique city which is hard to compare with anywhere else. Such sites include the Independence Monument, National Museum of History and the rocket-ship like Neutrality Monument. 

DARVAZA GAS CRATER

Darvaza Gas Crater TurkmenistanSometimes called the ‘Door to Hell’, if you’ve heard of the Darvaza Gas Crater you may well have seen the images of explorer George Kourounis dangling in the middle of this flaming pit. Located in the isolated centre of the Kara Kum desert, there’s not much else to see in its vicinity, but given it is a true oddity on the world’s landscape, it’s not to be missed.

MERV

Merv TurkmenistanListed as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO, Merv was once a major oasis city in Central Asia and considered by some to be the largest city in the world in the 12th Century. Naturally so, there’s a considerable amount of ancient sites to see here ranging from Bronze and Iron Age Settlements; the ErkGiaur and Sultan Fortresses, along with numerous mosques and bazaars.

KONYE URGENCH

Kunyaurgench TurkmenistanNearly 2000 years ago Konye Urgench established itself as an important trade town along the northern section of the Silk Road which lead to the Caspian Sea. There’s dozens of mausoleum’s, due to it once being an important center of the Islamic world.

VISAS

Letter of invitation will be  provided by Untamed Borders in order to obtain visa on arrival.

WEATHER

It can get cold in Central Asia, especially at night. Temperatures at night can drop below freezing.

MONEY

For up to date exchange rates please have a look at www.xe.com

ELECTRICITY

Strong agricultural sector means rich in vegetables and fruits. Chorek – national bread. Normal meals similar to other Central Asian countries featuring meat alongside noodles or rice.

WIFI

Poor internet connection/speed.

FOOD

Bread is a staple. Regional variations but popular dishes include dumplings, grilled meats and rice, all frequently served with vegetables.

ALCOHOL

Alcohol is permitted and is widely available.

LANGUAGE

Turkmen. Russian commonly spoken.

RELIGION

Islam with Christian Orthodox minority.

DRESS CODE

No special dress code.

SAFTEY & SECURITY

The FCO considers Turkmenistan to be a low risk region to travel.

RECOMMENDED READING

Christopher Baumer – The History of Central Asia (tetralogy)

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