Ashgabat, Yangikala, Darvaza, Konye-Urgench
10.05.2016 - 15.05.2016
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.
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.
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!
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!