For the participants of The Central Asian Studies study abroad program, a trip to Turkmenistan was arranged during the last week by The London School of Bishkek and The School of Russian and Asian Studies. I being a part of the team to visit, I left Kyrgyzstan in order to join the participants. The program included to visit a few cities of Turkmenabad, Ashgabad, Merv, Mary and Geok-Tepe, spending a few days therein.
We have been missing a lot in not visiting these marvelous cities of Turkoman earlier was realized at last. Every year lots of European and Asian tourists full of busloads are arriving into this magnificent historical, fascinating and beautiful city of Turkmenistan. I would not wonder if you have not heard about the tourist importance of these cities, especially to my American fellows to book your tickets as soon as possible, to join them.
Turkmenistan is sharing its border by Afghanistan and Iran, but the country is not locked and is a permanently neutral country since 1995. Some of my American fellows may be considering Turkmenistan to be a closed country. But nothing to fear about this. Next to Independence day, Turkmenistan celebrates its day of Neutrality on 12th December every year.
There could be several reasons in convincing Americans to visit Turkmenistan, but I would like to present ten reasons to state.
- There are several closed countries in Central Asia. Why let the tourists from Germany, Switzerland, Japan, France and Portugal only have fun and enjoy the enormously decent and magnificent cities of Turkmenistan depriving Americans of all the fun? But you have to be cautious of not shoot any picture of the Government Buildings in Turkmenistan and simultaneously do not wander in the mountains slipping into Iran.
2. The capital city of Turkmenistan, Ashgabad is boasting several Guinness World Records to its credit being famous for being the largest number of fountains in a public place, World’s largest flagpole, carpet and representation of a star. Therefore, why not to be in a place where everything is Bigger in global proportion, “Go Big or Go Home” is the right phrase for the city.
- Ashgabad is also famous for its underground swimming facility located in mountains about an hour travel. You can swim in an underground lake “Kow Ata”. The underground lake is about 65 feet below the mountains and can enjoy the pool of naturally heated water with temperature around 96 degrees Fahrenheit.
There cannot be anything more quixotic and fantastic experience than in wading into a pool of water by descending into a dark cave with music of screeching bats all around. The mineral enriched and hot water is claimed to have as many as 38 chemicals all, believed by health cautious tourists to be helpful to cure skin ailments, naturally by swimming into it. There would not be anything so refreshing to kick off your shoes and enjoy the freshly served grilled shashlik with hot black tea over low wooden tables, most relaxing over colourful carpets spread all over. It might be difficult to be more relaxing than this.
- Do not forget to ride over the strongest and fastest horse breeds, the world-famous Ahal Tekke horse, found in Turkmenistan. After the collapse of Soviet Union, about 12 years ago, these horses are steadily increasing to be with the private ownerships. Turkmenistan has adopted. The Ahal Tekke Horse to be their national animal and unlike their fellow central Asian Compatriots, they do not eat these horses. Bolsheviks have been slaughtering these horses for their food, and because this their population has been limited to around 2800. You cannot avoid riding these horses while in Turkmenistan.
- Old Mery with Empires of Russia and Soviet Union, Changez khan, and Alexander the Great, is the Biggest Archeological place in Central Asia and this tangible history of the Turkmenistan, at its finest and worst, would certainly inspire you to become an archaeologist. You would notice, and you may find many tourists bending down and picking up some dusty fragment of its ancient history and keep into their pockets. Though it is a common practice here yet not advisable to do so. The ruins of Old Mery have not been simply excavated to its full extent, and its riches won’t find a place in any museum. You will understand this entire episode for yourself.
- The central Asia is uncommonly much crime free as compared to other parts. The Tolkuchka bazaar in Ashgabad is extremely spacious, calm, clean and peaceful. You may buy anything from camel to Turkmen rugs and even Iranian fruits at quite reasonable prices for tourists, without getting cheated because you are a foreign tourist or locals. This is contrary to our experience at the hands of gypsies, who even tried to manhandle us at the Samarkand bazaars in Uzbekistan or the chaos faced at the Dordoi bazaar in Bishkek. Bazaars in the life of Central Asian communities have significant facets of everyday life and moving in this bazaar is a unique experience and worth experimenting and appreciating. Visiting the bazaars may be helpful in gaining experience and insight of the real life on the ground.
- During the year 2006, the first President Niyazov built the Mega Mosque, providing services to about 15000 worshippers at any time, the biggest in Geok-Tepe. It has an underground parking lot to accommodate about 400 cars and 100 buses. President Berdymukhomedov pays a visit on the Turkmenistan’s Neutrality Day celebrated on every 12th December.
- UNESCO, in the year 2007, declared the old Nisa, a 2nd century BC Parthian Empire fortress to be a World Heritage Site. It is advisable to visit the fortress along with a knowledgeable guide, who can bring the rich past of Old Nisa to life. During olden times, the Turkmen red wine use to flow between the rooms through wine pipes and used as cooking wine into the kitchen.
- A small Lenin statue installed on the top of a beautifully decorated with coloured tiled foundation has remained my favorite monument in Turkmenistan which is located in the humble Lenin park. The monument is unique in nature and distinguishable from other Statues in central Asia. The name of Lenin is written in Arabic script. The soviet monument is neither monstrous nor ostentatious and nor it is torn down as in Tashkent. The soviet history, worth appreciating, has not been ignored by Turkmenistan, however, painful, it might have been.
You would love to celebrate the birthday wearing a fuzzy black colored afro sheep hat and with the country’s ancient red wine from old Nisa and certainly with a Snickers-flavored cake but without listening to any English channel of course you may opt for the Italian news. You will enjoy an unforgettable birthday party.
I would appreciate the adventurous travelers to pay a visit to Turkmenistan and venture out the nature, history and much un-explored world at the frontiers of Central Asia you may have to be like Indian Jones in exploring the world off the map. But remember that the getting over here may not be easy. You must apply for a tourist visa and should also hire the services of a knowledgeable guide preferably through out your journey. Do remember that there are restrictions in photographing but it is worth taking that trouble to reach the final golden destination like Turkmenistan.
Contrary to the general myths, spoofs and stories of silly Dictator spread over by the western media, Turkmenistan is a country which is historic, gentle and more stunning than the common belief you might have heard elsewhere. You would find the beauty of Turkmenistan in its people, its natural landscapes, pottery shards and also with camels in its unique bazaars and monuments.