Turkmenistan, what do you know about this country? Would guess not too much, most of us just know that it is not that well knows for its democratic structure, to state it politely. And honestly, it leaves you with a lot of question marks, ones you manage to visit.
And there the problem starts; getting a visa for Turkmenistan is not that easy. Either you join for an organised tour with a guide, or you apply for a transit visa, which allows you to cross the country in maximum five days on a defined route. To ensure you do so, you even get a GPS tracker to your car.
We were lucky and got a transit visa, so we were able to cross Turkmenistan coming from Iran towards Uzbekistan. After a bit more than five hours of endless border procedures, car “security” check, searching all our boxes and each and every place we were in Turkmenistan. On the first 45km you are not allowed to stop or take pictures, basically a “neutral” border zone as they call it. And exactly here we had estimated 100 turtles on or next to the road, some of them the smallest we ever saw, but no pictures. 🙁
And then you get to Ashgabat, the capital of Turkmenistan. What a place, it left us in a way speechless, not sure how to deal with it. All building in white, officially home of one million people, but in reality I think “ghost town” fits best. No people in the beautiful parks and on the streets, basically no traffic at all. We were told by others that lot of buildings are even just a shell. This all carefully watched over by pictures of the president of this country.
Honestly, we are sure that the author of the Panem Trilogy has been inspired after visiting Ashgabat.
Being aware this is a lot of text, but still one more story prior to some pictures. When trying to reach a certain point in town, we got always redirected by the police and we started wondering about the reasons. Bit later we heard that rumors say that this happens if the president goes cycling or for a walk in the city. Who knows?!
But maybe it is now time for some pictures from Ashgabat and our time in Turkmenistan overall.
Still for us Ashgabat was also a good place to get some car maintenance done and now with fresh oil, and fresh filters we are ready for the next 10.000 kilometres.
While doing the maintenance, we were told that the garage is basically fully booked by end of August this year, not for car repairs but for car repainting. There is a law that requires you to have a white car in Ashgabat so they now repaint all cars in the coming months.
However there are also beautiful things in Turkmenistan, like the “Gate to Hell”, a gas crater burning since tens of years.
And when you are lucky, you can also spot some wildlife while crossing the desert.
Coming further to the North and more and more away from Ashgabat everything changes. Roads are not good anymore (rather really bad), buildings are not white and people are more and more open and friendly, hence like in the Panem Trilogy?! Suddenly you start liking Turkmenistan and its people. If it would be overall like this, just a nice place to be and worth weeks of visit.
So if you ones get to Turkmenistan, our advice would be to spent most of the time in the North as it seems that this is the real Turkmenistan with so friendly people and a lot of culture and historic places.
Beside that, you also meet other travellers here, as the way options are rather limited and most of them are crossing between Iran and Uzbekistan or the other way round. So we had a wonderful evening with a bunch of other people in front of a museum.
Leaving Turkmenistan we both (and also others we met) had the feeling of happiness being born in Germany and overall in Europe. Surely not everything is perfect in our part of the world, but we are free, free to talk to whomever, move around and travel. Something we to easy forget and take for granted.
So four days was enough for us and from here heading into Uzbekistan. More on that part of our journey will come very soon.