There are places surrounded by an aura of legend. Places calling to mind confused pictures when named, as if their existence was not real; one of these places is Turkmenistan. Speaking about Central Asia to mention this country is often a way to impress the interlocutor, but who travelled there knows Turkmenistan is really more than a catchy name: is a wonderful country where the contradictions of Central Asia blow up under the sun making the Karakum Desert red-hot. Wherever you go, in Turkmenistan you are pressed by the desert and the burocracy, nowadays a spoof of the past Soviet control. Here mankind and nature flaunt their excesses.
The biggest issue about visiting Turkmenistan is getting in. The country is isolated, whit its natural boundaries closing it, located on an ocean of gas and populated by less more than 5 million of persons. The norms to enter in are complex, almost absurd, many sites cannot be visited and the police essentially will monitor all your motions. Tourist are allowed to visit the country only through organized trips or with a transit visa, meaning you are passing the border by car, usually living an adventure that brings you from Iran to Uzbekistan, rarely is the opposite.
The natural environment of Turkmenistan is truly fascinating and the already named Karakum covers almost the 80% of the country. Worth a visit the stunning crater emitting gas near Darvaza, it’s burning for decades, in memory of the Soviet incompetence. There are Natural Parks as well, several of them along the Amu Darja River that marks the border with Uzbekistan, there is the Kopet Dag Reserve, on the mountains separating Turkmenistan from Iran and there are the protected areas facing on Caspian Sea, in the western part of the country. However, the majority of these places can be visited only after obtaining special permits.
Turkmenistan is also History, both ancient with numerous archaeological sites, including the highland of dinosaurs in the Kugitang Mountains, and more recent. Whereas Nissa reminds to the Parthian Empire, Merv and Konye Urgench take us back to the Silk Road. Closer to us is the History of Geok-Tepe, last stronghold of the resistance against the Russian occupation of Turkmenistan. Attractions to visit are a lot, some of them are places sacred to Sufism, a doctrine with a key role in introducing Islam among nomadic populations of Turkmenistan. The Sufi masters are often buried in these holy places.
It’s impossible travelling to Turkmenistan without to stay open-mouth in front of the most famous destination of the country that is the capital: Ashgabat. A city where the personality cult has unsheathed all the moves up its sleeve, with rotating golden monuments of the former president Niyazov that follow the sun, an unbridled use of white marble in building luxury hotels always emptied. The capital has been the test case for every eccentricity of an autocrat previously Communist leader turned overnight in the “father of all Turkmens”. Nowadays the Niyazov’s successor, Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedow, has scaled down this aspect of turkmenistan renown all around the world, but Asghabat remains a spaceship in the desert.
Despite, or because, given the above Turkmenistan should be visited; but to do it themselves is a difficult challenge. In any event, whatever the reason that motivates you to come here, Turkmenistan is unmissable.