DAYS 44 – 48: TURKMENISTAN
From Mashhad you head to the border with Turkmenistan. Nearly 80 % of Turkmenistan is taken up by the Kara-Kum (Black Sand) Desert, and almost all the attractions lie around the fringes of the desert and in its oases. The semi nomadic Turkmen people lead an extraordinary life in this remote region and you may have the opportunity to see them and their conical homes, known as yurts, from the roadside.
As you pass under the massive marble archway and head into the capital, Ashgabat, you will be faced with a sea of marble and golden statues of the once President, Turkmenbashi. This city really is like no other you will ever see!
The modern city replaced the one founded in 1881, which was destroyed in an earthquake in 1948. A visit to the Earthquake Museum will give you an insight into the devastation experienced and subsequent clean up effort in building of the new city. The sprawling Sunday market is another of Ashgabat’s major attractions, and is the best place to buy Turkmen carpets amongst livestock & household goods. Look out for the opportunity to try the staple local food whilst in Turkmenistan; plov – pronounced ‘plof’ – which consists of chunks of mutton, shredded yellow turnip & rice fried in a large wok.
While in Ashgabat you will have an included city tour, and at night there is an optional Night Tour – – bright neon lights up the city and it begins to resemble a Central Asian version of Las Vegas, which only serves to make it a more memorable and unusual destination!
From Ashgabat there is a gruelling desert crossing, but you will be well rewarded with camping out at night in one of the world’s most remote environments. You will also pay a visit to the Gas Craters at Darvaza – a result of Soviet-era gas exploration, and an amazing sight!
Before leaving Turkmenistan you will stop briefly at Kunye Ugench to see the 60m high minaret.