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September 13, 2013

Turkmenistan: Konye-Urgench to Ashgabat

October 30, 2012

Cemetery in Khojayli, near the Uzbek-Turkmen border

This morning we bid a farewell to Uzbekistan and crossed the border into Turkmenistan, where we were met by Kalashnikov toting soldiers wearing peaked caps that were about five sizes too large for their heads. The border crossing took a few hours since luggage must be x-rayed or opened on both the Uzbek and Turkmen sides and passports and visas checked and then checked again, and then checked yet again. So it goes.

Our first stop in Turkmenistan was the ancient city of Konye-Urgench, which has its origins in the 5th or 6th centuries AD. Urgench was a major trading center on the Silk Road from the 10th – 14th centuries and the second most populous and well-known city in Central Asia after Bukhara. And, like many other cities in Central Asia, it was razed to the ground by Genghis Khan in 1221. The citizens of Urgench fought valiantly against Genghis Khan, but were ultimately drowned when he ordered his army to divert the Amu-Darya River and flood Urgench. Urgench was rebuilt, only to be destroyed again by Tamerlane in the late 14th century. The destruction of the city, and the change in course of the Amu Darya River led to the city’s complete abandonment.

Mausoleum of Turabeg Khanum, the daughter of Uzbek Khan who converted the area to Islam.

The 11th-century Gutluk-Temir Minaret. At a height of 197 feet, this used to be the tallest brick minaret until the construction of the Minaret of Jam in Afghanistan.

Circling the minaret, touching the minaret, then putting their hands to their face. Not really sure why.

Sultan Tekeş Mausoleum

We drove another two hours to Dashoguz. A city of 210,000, Dashoguz is very Soviet in character, with the typical communist block apartments, monuments, and wide boulevards. We were here only because Dashoguz has an airport, from which we had a late evening flight to Ashgabat. We had some time to kill before our flight left, so we visited the local market.

It was in Dashoguz that we first encountered one of the many Saparmurat Niyazov aka Turkmenbashi monuments that have been erected throughout the country. Niyazov was the first president of Turkmenistan, a position he held from 1990 until his death in 2006. Statues of Niyazov replaced those of former Communist heroes of Marx and Lenin. Towns, airports, schools, and even calendar months were renamed after Turkmenbashi (“Leader of Turkmen”). His autobiography, Ruhnama, became required reading for all students, and job applicants could expect that their knowledge of the Ruhnama would be tested.

When we finally boarded our plane to Ashgabat, we were greeted by portraits of Niyazov and current president Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedow (say that three times very quickly!) hung over the entrance to the cockpit.

When we landed in Ashgabat, I could hardly believe how “Las Vegas-ish” the city looked; gleaming white marble buildings lit with multicolored flashing lights and billboards. Quite a change from Bukhara and Khiva! Someone pointed to a giant colored orb sitting atop a hill and asked our guide what its purpose was.

“That, ladies and gentlemen, is your hotel,” he replied.

Wow, seriously? Yes, seriously. This is where we stayed, the Wedding Palace “Bagt Koshgi” (Palace of Happiness).

July 11, 2013

Photos from Central Asia (yes, finally!)

I’ve finally gotten around to uploading the nearly 2,900 photos I took on my three week trip to Central Asia. You can check them out here. Next up, my photos from Southeast Asia. And perhaps within the next 20 years or so I will find the time to actually write about these trips. Until then, here is a sample of the photos I took in Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, and Turkmenistan.

Earthquake monument, Tashkent, Uzbekistan

Kid’s in Tashkent’s Old Town

Meat for sale at the bazaar in Khujand, Tajikistan

Seller at the market in Khujand

Fish market in Chinoz, Uzbekistan

Melon vendors near Chinoz

Bukhara, Uzbekistan

Mirbozor, Uzbekistan

Samarkand, Uzbekistan

Shakhrisabz, Uzbekistan

On the road from Shakhrisabz to Tashkent, Uzbekistan

Qashqadaryo Province, Uzbekistan

Muynak, Uzbekistan

Khiva, Uzbekistan

Termez, Uzbekistan

Ashgabat, Turkmenistan

October 12, 2012

Off to the ‘Stans

Just a super quick note before I head off to the airport. For the next three weeks I will be traveling around Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, and Turkmenistan. So after a few years of being stuck stateside, I will finally have some new content and photos for this blog.

(Courtesy WikiTravel)