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Stan: Turkmen

Ashgabat, Yangikala, Darvaza, Konye-Urgench

The Central Asian adventures began with my flight into Ashgabat, Turkmenistan. I had a tour for this country booked, primarily because a booked tour is a requirement to get the tourist visa. So I was accompanied for most of the time by my Turkmen tour guide Nadya, who gave me a good insight into life in Turkmenistan as well as a daily update on running skirmishes with her mother-in-law. I was free to walk around the capital (Ashgabat), although there's a uniformed presence on nearly all city centre intersections and photography of government buildings is prohibited - although not always signed, making it tricky! There was, however, fantastically weird futuristic buildings to photograph, including the world's largest 'indoor ferris wheel'. (Hmm, yes).

Ashgabat

Ashgabat

Within Turkmenistan I was lucky to visit the west of the country, near the Caspian Sea: a breathtaking vista of pink canyons, known as Yangikala. The pink and white layered canyons just loomed out of the desert as we drove up and there's one dirt road leading to the peak of the canyon. Even though it had been cloudy in the morning, the sun fortunately decided to come out by the time we reached the top, making the pink rocks shine. Some early rain did manage to ensure enough mud that our 4WD got stuck at the most isolated spot - phone reception, what's that?! - but our driver walked off and was very lucky to find a local family with a sturdy Soviet era vehicle to pull the 4WD out.

Yangikala

Yangikala

The next day, driving to equally isolated Dekhistan ruins in the south-east of the country was more straightforward, other than nearly getting lost when we ran out of actual road. The ruins, and their desert setting, were fantastically evocative, and there were also grasses and small plants that added vibrant, unexpected colours, green, yellow and purple, to the desert landscape.

Dekhistan

Dekhistan

We drove back to Ashgabat that night. The next morning another traveller Jason joined me, and with Nadya and our driver Aslan, we drove northwards to the Darvaza gas crater where a massive gas crater is permanently alight after a misjudged 'burn-off' set it going. Soviet geologists believed that setting the collapsed gas field alight would burn off the gases, and the fire would die off after a few weeks - it's now been burning for four decades. We camped there, which was great as it was spectacularly bright and eerie at night time. You can walk right up to the edge (no safety handrails here) and when the wind blows the hot air towards you, the heat washes over you - nearly an alternative to shaving!

Darvaza Gas Crater

Darvaza Gas Crater

The next day we visited ruins in the north of the country, Konye-Urgench, which is also a site popular and special to Turkmen people, a pilgrimage site in fact for some. Local Turkmen were at their most animated as well, particularly when they noticed Westerners to have their photo taken with, constantly asking Jason and/or me for group photos. I've never been so popular!

Posted by ksbacon 01:03 Archived in Turkmenistan

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