3 Sep 2015

Turkmenistan Strange and Eccentric (24 Pics)

Watching over you
There aren't that many options for flying into Turkmenistan, but if you want to get right into the experience, Turkmenistan Airlines is your top choice. They fly from London, Birmingham, Paris, Frankfurt and Istanbul. Onboard, the stewardess does her job, and the president's portrait does the rest.

Hello World!
Inside your hotel, you will again meet the cheerful president, Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedow. I know. It's a mouthful. He seems to be in charge of a great many things.

Hot spots!
In the marble streets of Ashgabat, we soon grow a bit tired and sweaty. In theory, we could rest a bit inside one of the many bus stops, designed to be air-conditioned. The air-conditioning has stopped working, so instead they are now glass ovens where you can bake yourself. We decide to wait outside.

Braidsmaids
It's not only the bus stops that are hot. The streets of Ashgabat are full of young girls wearing the exact same red dress and braids. They are graduating students, and this is how they must present themselves. The only room for variations is when it comes to footwear. You see all kinds, from extreme high heels to basic sandals. Oh, and they're allowed to have individual faces. Body shape seems to be rather standardized, though. It's quite cute, but it's difficult to see how it would work back home.

White Marble Road
Here's a view from high up of the city outskirts. This very posh road connects the city centre and the airport, and it's all lined with white marble buildings. Italian marble only, of course.

An Architect's Dream
The buildings along the street Garaşsyzlyk şaýoly look like some kind of architect's dream. It's almost too perfect.

Large and small

In addition to all kinds of purpose-built buildings, Ashgabat has a large number of monuments. Not many people can be seen around them, and those few you see are either huge and made of metal or stone, or they work there. Neither category seem to enjoy being there very much. Here's an example of both at the Independence Monument.

Lady in reddish
While Ashgabat is a bit dull and grey/white, the women there aren't!

Golden
Oh, look, someone made a mistake! A statue of the OLD president was requested, but someone must have thought the request was for a gold president. Oh well. There he sits, outside the Department of Domestic Affairs. It's not a good idea to stop here and take photos. The police may come running and demand that you delete your photo. So just take the photo while you move. Just next door to this statue I found the "Supreme Control Chamber of Turkmenistan". It sounds like an awesome place to work!

Our Saviour
At the top of the Halk Hakydasy monument we find the Ruhy Tagzym sculpture. It shows a bull rocking the Earth, symbolizing an earthquake that killed almost everyone in Ashgabat in 1948. A woman lifts her child to safety. This is loosely based on a true story that obviously involves Turkmenistan's first president, so the child/president must of course again be golden.

Rush Hour
Driving around in Ashgabat, I have a flashback from North Korea. It may be partially because it's Sunday, but the roads are empty enough that you start looking around for zombies to watch out for. It's a bit eerie, but it enables us to move around quickly.

Jurashgabat Park
When we meet this guy in a public park, we realize that there are too many things in Turkmenistan we don't know nearly enough about. Unfortunately, just plastic.

Goats are us

These aren't plastic. Live goats in transit at a market. In the back there you can see several veterans from the Soviet war in Afghanistan. When the Soviets retreated, many of the vehicles they used during the war were sold to people in Turkmenistan. They still run just as well or as bad as they did in the 1980s.

Where the streets have no names
While Ashgabat struggles to seem like a modern city in a modern country, just an hour or two outside it we find towns with very basic conditions. Little by little civilization disappears as we drive. Gas pipelines end. The electricity grid looks ever more vulnerable. The road cover gets spotty. People basically live harder lives. Not that I saw any sign of anyone complaining about it.

This Hole Area
We have driven a long way from the capital and reached our goal. It's that hole over there, to the right. For safety reasons, we put our tent camp a few hundred meters away from it. Staying too long too close to it may damage your health.

Burning Hot
This is what we came for! It's the "Door to Hell", a burning gas crater near the village Derweze in central Turkmenistan. It's been burning like this for more than 40 years, and now there are plans to extinguish it. While of course it is great for the global climate that this place stops burning, it's such a spectacular sight that it's well worth going there now, in time to see it.

Admire the fire
The burning hole looks best at dusk, when you can still see the surroundings, while simultaneously appreciating the warm glow from the fire.

Derweze dancing

Our group (a majority of all the tourists in the country at the time) performing the worst rendition of the YMCA routine ever, right at the Door to Hell. It looks better than it felt at the time.

Not Ashgabat
On our way back to Ashgabat we stop by at another desert village. I could spend a full day here just walking around and looking at how people construct their fences out of a million different things.

Crossing Legs
Turkmens are proud of their horses. They love to show us how tall their horses are. The horses seem a bit stressed by our visit. But they are impressive animals, and we can see their blood pulsing through their veins when they have run around a bit for us.

Ferris Crueler
Back in Ashgabat. In most of the world, people build Ferris wheels to create an artificial vantage point from where you can have a nice view of the surrounding area. In Turkmenistan, they built a Ferris wheel, and then they built a building outside it, so that although you lose the view, at least you can claim to have the largest Ferris wheel in an enclosed space. Congratulations.

Hook up here!
This is the Wedding Palace, a place for celebrating the love between two Turkmen citizens. You can see the eight-pointed star, a national symbol, all over the place, but the disco ball is not quite as golden as it may seem in this light. Many couples can register the marriage here simultaneously, and then have their wedding party right after that.

Faces of Ashgabat
Walking around a cemetery in Ashgabat, I feel like someone is watching me all the time. But that's okay. I can stare back, and I use the opportunity to observe the fashion trends of the region during various times.  

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