Turkmenistan is a Central Asian country, whose landscape is dominated by the Karakum Desert. The country was barely visited while it was under the dictatorship of Niyazov, till his death in 2006. Turkmenistan in recent times, however, has piqued the interest of travellers and this ancient land, with its rich heritage and culture is slowly gaining popularity.
After arriving in Turkmenistan’s capital Ashgabat, its cityscape scattered with lavish white marble structures, will be the first thing you notice. After all, it holds the Guinness world record as the city having the most number of white marble buildings. The Mausoleum of Sultan Sanjar, Ruhy Mosque and Artogrul Gazi Mosque are fine examples of the city’s architectural wonders. The National Museum will give you insights into the country’s history and the Turkmen Carpet Museum displays the finesse of its carpet industry.
With its sophisticated and sumptuous architecture, Ashgabat feels like a modern and progressive city, but the government exercises a lot of control in the country. Unlikely to affect travellers much, restricted internet access, empty public buildings and constant government surveillance might be a turn-off for some.
In the central region, lies the Darvaza Gas Crater in the Karakum Desert, a truly unusual sight to witness. This so-called “Door to Hell” has been burning since 1971. It was formed when a group of geologists stumbled upon a methane gas chamber while drilling for oil. They set fire to contain the spread of the gas hoping it would die out in a few years but it has never stopped burning till date.
Yangykala Canyon in north-western Turkmenistan is a natural wonderland displaying a colourful rocky terrain in shades of red, yellow, brown, orange and pink. Camping in this astounding location and exploring its unique landscape are an interesting experience. Konye-Urgench, the ancient capital of the Khorezm empire, in northern Turkmenistan is a UNESCO world heritage site. Here, you can explore the ruins of its mausoleums and minarets that date back to the 13th-century. In south-eastern Turkmenistan you can visit the ruins of the city of Merv, believed to be one of the world’s largest cities during the 12th-century and an important commercial hub on the Silk Road.
Turkmenistan is undoubtedly a unique place. Its rich history, interesting landmarks, untamed natural landscapes and distinct culture, offer a memorable experience for a lifetime. If you are a history buff or a fan of off-beat destinations, then Turkmenistan will definitely impress you!
The Darvaza Gas Crater is known as “Door to Hell” and has been burning since 1971.