|Orientation, Climate, What to see
Turkmenistan is the second largest Central Asian republic and shares lengthy borders with Iran to the south and Uzbekistan to the north and east. The country also borders Kazakhstan to the north-west and Afghanistan to the south-east. The Caspian Sea, where the major port of Turkmenbashi is located, is to the west. The Kara Kum desert comprises over 80 per cent of Turkmenistan"s total area. The Kopet Dag mountains extend along Turkmenistan"s southern border with Iran and Afghanistan.
The climate is continental. Winter is short & not too cold (January average -10 to 3°C). Summer is hot & dry (July average 35 to 45°C). Autumn & spring are warm with plenty of sunshine. Precipitation is low (250mm per year).There are occasionally falls of snow from December to March. Precipitation takes place between March and June in the form of light showers. Turkmenistan is very hot and the dry in the summer and can be cold, rainy, and muddy in the winter.Be prepared for the weather and for the lack of air conditioning or heating in most places.Ashghabat is the southernmost capital city of the former Soviet republics, on the same latitude as San Francisco and Cordoba.http://english.wunderground.com/global/stations/38880.html
Originally founded as a Russian garnizon town in 1881, Ashgabat has suffered more from natural disasters than man-made ones. It has been hit by several earthquakes, the biggest being in 1948 resulting in the death of 100,000 people. The city has made great strides to spruce up its image in the last few years. With huge reserves of natural gas, it is the richest country in the region. The grand buildings of the Soviet era in the town centre have been painted while on its fringes modern buildings, complete with silver, gold or blue tinted glass, are being erected. Most are business centres or banks. New multi-lane roads are being constructed & new apartment blocks are being put up. However, a tour of the older residential quarters & the industrial sites are a stark reminder of its recent past.For the past centure, this small village has grown into a prosperous city with a population of circa 600 000.Most hotels, restaurants, supermarkets, museums and theatres are concentrated in the centre of city & in the Berzengy District on the city"s outskirts. The capital city of turkmen boasts four theatres (The Music Drama Theatre, the Turkmen Drama Theatre, the Theatre of Russian Drama & a children"s theatre), cinema halls. The turkmen horse circus has earned high acclaim abroad.
Since independence, Turkmenistan has seen an increase in the number of cars, leading to heavy congestion on major routes in Ashgabat during rush hour. Roads can be hazardous & drivers should exercise extreme caution, especially in cities. Most of Ashgabat"s major roads are well-maintained. Taxis are cheap but not always easy to find, though it is possible to flag down any passing vehicle & negotiate a fare. However, it is suggested that you do not get into any vehicle that has occupants other than the driver. Buses operate from early in the morning but stop at around 1800 resulting in overcrowding towards the end of the day. Hire cars are also available with drivers through Respect Information Company (Tel: 35 49 19). Street names can be confusing: some have been changed to Turkmen names while others still use their Soviet names & not all maps show the current ones in use.Taxis and buses are easily obtainable in most major towns and cities. Speaking Russian (or Turkmen) is almost a requirement, though, since very few people understand English. Taxi drivers usually try to charge foreigners higher rates. If you feel ambitious, you might want to haggle about the price. You should probably fix the price before you get in the taxi, unless you have a feel for the local prices.
WHAT TO SEE
National History Museum :
Founded in 1899, this is one of the oldest cultural institutions in the country.The current museum is exhibiting archaeological finds from all over country. On show are flints & pottery items dating from the Palaeolithic, Mesolithic & Neolithic periods, a room devoted to the unique Bronze Age civilisation of Margiana. In addition, many unique items from Nisa, a Parthian site very near Ashgabat, are on display including several beautiful ivory "rytons" or drinking vessels, marble statuettes & silver & gold ornaments.
Now the museum situated in the Berzengy District on the city"s outskirts, opposite "hotel row". 30 Novofiruzinskoye Street; open daily (except Tues), tel: 51 90 20 r 51 90 21, 51 90 22. Expect to pay $10 for enter. In addition, if you want you can pay $10 for excurcion in English.
Union of Artists :
Paintings & sculptures by contemporary Turkmen artists, some of which are for sale in the gallery shop. 33 Zhitnikova Street; open daily 0930-1730 (exept Sun) Tel: 39 55 43
Exhibition Hall of the Union of Artists of Turkmenistan :
Exhibits Turkmen artists" work and also has a shop that sells some of these items. The shop has paintings, jewelry and handicraft souvenirs.3 Gorogly Street; open daily 0930-1730, tel: 39 54 39.
Sunday Market :
"Tolkuchka " Market (it" s means - Hustle, Crowding) - turkmen"s premier outdoor bazaar held on Thursdays, Saturdays and Sundays. This is the largest market in Central Asia & some would argue comparable with the great market in Kashgar. The main site covers 2 hectares selling everything from carpets, national costumes, produce & foodstuffs. Consumer & electrical goods from Russia, Iran, China & Turkey are also available. At the main entrance individuals gather to buy & sell vehicles; everything from scooters to buses are traded.
At the rear of the market, livestock is bought & sold including horses, camels, goats & sheep. Here too, bulk goods are sold from the back of lorries, perhaps soap powder from one & light-bulbs from another. Aim to be there before 0800. A one-way taxi fare should cost about $5. Other bazaars in Ashgabat include Teke Bazaar, the Russian Bazaar.
Carpet Factory :
You can watch the 200 or so staff producing the so-called "Bukhara" carpets, & if you decide to buy one you don"t need an export permit. 23 Liebknecht Street; open 1000-1800, closed lunchtime 1300-1400.
Carpet Museum :
An impressive collection of antique carpets as well as the world"s largest Turkmen carpet - weighs more than a ton, it"s about 300 square meters large, and there are more than 100 million knots in it!. It has been being woven by turkmen womens for nine months. Carpet making grew from the nomadic way of life of the people: as well as being used for floor coverings & wall hangings, carpets were used to decorate camels, for saddlebags & as part of wedding processions. Carpets purchased in the museum shop do not need an export permit. 5 Gorogly Street; open daily (except Sundays) 1000-1800, closed lunchtimes 1300-1400, entry TMM25,000 Manats (US$5). Tel: 39 88 79 or 39 88 87
Carpet Museum Shop :
This shop next to the Carpet Museum sells turkmen carpets. If you buy a carpet here, they will provide you with a certificate for customs. 5 Gorogly Street; open daily 1000-1900
Taking Carpets Out of Turkmenistan
Turkmen carpets can be bought at the Tolkuchka Bazaar, the Carpet Museum Shop, the Carpet Factory and some other stores. If a carpet is bought at the Carpet Museum Shop or the Carpet Factory, you will receive a receipt free of charge that will be accepted by customs at the airport. If you buy a carpet at the Tolkuchka Market, it is much more complicated. Follow this procedure: Export permission must first be obtained from the Carpet Museum, 5 Gorogly Street. If the carpet is determined to possess no unique cultural or historical value, they will issue you a certificate giving permission to export.
Mukhammed Private Art Gallery .
This gallery sells paintings, drawings, and souvenirs. The owner is Allamurad Mukhammedov. 12A Gorogly Street, open daily 0900- 2100, tel: 39 59 31.
Leyla Private Gallery :
This small private gallery sells Turkmen dress, carpets and jewelry, some antique. The owner is Leyla Khaidova. 8 Reutova Street, open by appointment. Tel: 34 19 25
Art Studio :
This studio sells jewelry, icons and various handicraft souvenirs. 31 Shevchenko Street, open by appointment. Tel: 47 42 27, 47 45 42.
On Sundays, beginning on the last Sunday in April through the end of May, and from last Sunday in August through the end of October, you can observe horse riding at the akhal-teke at the Hippodrome, where tourists can also ride horses or camels. For the Turkmen people, horse riding has always been the most popular sport, and in the ancient world, they were regarded as the best horse breeders. At all stages of its development, the Akhal-Teke horse was superior to any other species. Turkmen ancestors highly appreciated battle qualities of their horses, and through several thousands years of breeding, Turkmens have been perfecting the breed. Come see how their labors have been rewarded!
30 minutes by car from Ashgabat, Nisa was the one of the centre of the Parthian empire. Founded in the 3c BC this fortress then included the palace & temple buildings, the depositories & the treasury of the king of the Arshakid Dynasty. In the Akhal Velayat settlement of Bagyr; open daily (except Tues) 0830-1700; entry: 5000 manats.The ancient city of Nisa is mentioned in the Zend-Avesta, the sacred book of Zoroastrianism. In the 4th century B.C. Parthia was a part of Alexander the Great's kingdom, then it became an independent state. It was a large city and the family residence of kings.
The period of Parthia's military success and political might occurred during the 2nd to 1st centuries B.C., when its possessions stretched from modern-day Syria to India. An army led by Roman commander Crassus, famous for his defeat of slaves' revolt headed by Spartacus, was crushed by the Parthian army. During the Old Nisa excavations, the temples wer exposed. The ritons (ritual vessels of ivory) are of special interest, with their griffin motifs.
Geok-Depe Fortress :
A 19c fortress in the Akhal Velayat (Region) town of Geok-depe, 40 minutes by car from Ashgabat, the fortress was the site of a fierce battle in 1881 between the Turkmen & the invading Russians. In 1995, a muslim mosque was built to commemorate the battle.Tel: 32 23 24; open daily 1000-1700.
Bakharden Underground Lake "Kov-Ata" :
90km from Ashgabat this natural underground cave is 220m in length & contains a 80m long lake. The water is believed to have healing powers & remains at a constant 36A°C. While descending the 266 steps it is possible to view the wonderful stalactites & bats that hang from the walls & ceiling.Most attractive features of lake are the warm and azure coloured water. It is known to have medical qualities. The lake is open year-round because of constant temperature of the water and air.
The Koughitang Mountains :
another mountainous landscape of the Gaurdack-Koughitang region, located on the boundary with Uzbekistan. The highest point in Turkmenistan, Airy-Baba (3,730 m) is here. There are a number of other natural sights to see in this region, including the cave, the karst lakes, the river, the waterfalls at Oumar-Dere (Khodjepil Settlment), the onubai grove in Kouitan Settlement.The Koughitang Mountains are also home to the famous "Dinosaurs' Footsteps" (1,200 km/744m from Ashgabat, 2hrs by plane). Along the sloping plateau are the well-preserved footprints (over 2000, ranging from 60-90cm across) of dinosaurs.
The special pride of this region is the Karluick Caves, with interest to geologists (the richest wandering rock formation), hydro-geologists (underground thermal waters), biologists (cave fish and dinosaur footprints), and archaeologists. The caves are navigable for approximately 20km/12m, and they represent the height of visual and natural scientific beauty in Turkmenistan, with their underground halls, stalagmites and stalactites, and other colorful rock formations.
The Badkyz National Reserve :
The Badkhyz National Reserve is located in the South, between the Tedjen and Mourghab rivers in the territory of the Taghta-Bazaar and Serakhs districts. It is roughly the same latitude as Northern India in the vicinity of the town of Kushka, and covers 88,000 hectares. It"s landscape is similar to the African savannah, and is often compared to the Africa"s famous Serengheti National Park in Kenya. The reserve is home to over 600 species of plants, 30 species of reptiles, 35 mammals, and approximately 250 species of birds. The reserve was set aside in 1941 for the purpose of rescuing the koulan wild horse from extinction. Presently, there are nearly 2,000 koulan horses in the reserve.