Sunday, 10 June 2018

TURKMENISTAN: Don't Let Police Put Their Hands In Your Pockets, Don't Criticize, Insult, Speak Bad Of Citizens Or The President. Visit Gateway To Hell

Ashgabat Independence Park
Turkmenistan is a country in South-Central Asia with a population of about 5 million, and an area around half a million square kilometres, or almost the size of Spain.

Neighbouring countries are Iran and Afghanistan to the South, and Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan to the North. It has a coast on the Caspian Sea, but is otherwise landlocked.

Nearly 80% of the country is considered part of the Karakum Desert.

Turkmenistan is a sovereign state in Central Asia, bordered by Kazakhstan to the northwest, Uzbekistan to the north and east, Afghanistan to the southeast, Iran to the south and southwest, and the Caspian Sea to the west.

Ashgabat is the capital and largest city. The population of the country is 5.6 million, the lowest of the Central Asian republics.

Turkmenistan has been at the crossroads of civilizations for centuries. In medieval times, Merv was one of the great cities of the Islamic world and an important stop on the Silk Road, a caravan route used for trade with China until the mid-15th century.

Annexed by the Russian Empire in 1881, Turkmenistan later figured prominently in the anti-Bolshevik movement in Central Asia.

In 1925, Turkmenistan became a constituent republic of the Soviet Union, Turkmen Soviet Socialist Republic, it became independent upon the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991.

Turkmenistan possesses the world's sixth largest reserves of natural gas resources. Most of the country is covered by the Karakum - Black Sand Desert.

Since 1993, citizens have been receiving government-provided electricity, water and natural gas free of charge.

Turkmenistan was ruled by President for Life Saparmurat Niyazov also known as Turkmenbashi until his death in 2006.

Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedow was elected president in 2007. According to Human Rights Watch, Turkmenistan remains one of the world’s most repressive countries.

The country is virtually closed to independent scrutiny, media and religious freedoms are subject to draconian restrictions, and human rights defenders and other activists face the constant threat of government reprisal.

After suspending the death penalty, the use of capital punishment was formally abolished in the 2008 constitution.

Inhabited by the Indo-Iranians, the written history of Turkmenistan begins with its annexation by the Achaemenid Empire of Ancient Iran.

In the 8th century AD, Turkic-speaking Oghuz tribes moved from Mongolia into present-day Central Asia. Part of a powerful confederation of tribes, these Oghuz formed the ethnic basis of the modern Turkmen population.

In the 10th century, the name "Turkmen" was first applied to Oghuz groups that accepted Islam and began to occupy present-day Turkmenistan.

There they were under the dominion of the Seljuk Empire, which was composed of Oghuz groups living in present-day Iran and Turkmenistan.

Turkmen soldiers in the service of the empire played an important role in the spreading of Turkic culture when they migrated westward into present-day Azerbaijan and eastern Turkey.

The traditional life of the Turkmen is that of nomadic shepherds, though some have been settled in towns for centuries. The country is known for its fine carpets of which one is even featured in its flag, and horses.

Turkmenistan is a fairly poor and underdeveloped country, even though billions have been spent on modernization in Ashgabat, Turkmenbashi, and many other cities in post Soviet times.

While there has been much construction in Ashgabat, most of the downtown high rises appear empty.

And also, the country has extensive oil and gas reserves being developed, with recently opened pipelines to China, Iran, and soon Azerbaijan.

Turkmenistan is a very unusual regime. The government is in firm control of nearly everything. Officially tourism is welcomed, but the requirement for expensive guided tours may discourage visitors.

The presence of police and military personnel which will watch your every move and prohibit photographing of even mundane objects, make Turkmenistan the least friendly of the Stans.

It is unwise for visitors to discuss politics or the omnipresent police and military.

The cult of personality the previous president created for himself is truly amazing and reminders of the Turkmenbashi's legacy are everywhere.

Turkmenistan's former all-powerful President for Life Saparmurat Niyazov has had a surreal effect on Turkmenistan that will long outlive his presidency.

He adopted the title Turkmenbashi or Father of All Turkmen, named the city of Turkmenbashi formerly Krasnovodsk after himself, and built a 15m tall golden statue that rotated to face the sun in the capital Ashgabat, although it has since been removed.

The month of January was renamed Turkmenbashi after himself, while the month of April and the word bread became Gurbansoltan Eje, the name of Niyazov's mother.

Decrees emanating from Niyazov's palace have banned, among other things, lip synching, long hair, video games, and golden tooth caps.

Through it all, Serdar Saparmurat Turkmenbashi the Great which was his official title remained modest.

I'm personally against seeing my pictures and statues in the streets - but it's what the people want, he said.

Niyazov's government also spent billions in renovating the country, shut down libraries and hospitals, and even wrote the Ruhnama, a spiritual book to improve the Turkmen people.

Since Niyazov's abrupt if unlamented death in December 2006, his successor Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedov has slowly peeled back the worst excesses of the Turkmenbashi.

The Ruhnama has lost its popularity, Berdimuhamedov has continued in the process restoring pensions and old names, while cementing on his own slightly more subdued cult of personality.

One thing of paramount importance to any visitors who smoke cigarettes or cigars. It is and has been for several years absolutely forbidden to smoke in a public place.

Generally, this means outside. Smoking at any of the bazaars is a definite no-no, as there were two major bazaar fires in 2006-2007.

While it bothers non-smokers, those who enjoy tobacco products can enjoy them inside some restaurants, cafes, and nightclubs. They can also purchase snuff from most Bazaars. A good rule of thumb - if you don't see anyone else smoking, you shouldn't.

The people of Turkmenistan are predominantly Turkmen, also spelled Turkoman, in both ethnicity and language.

Turkmenistan traditionally was home to a sizeable ethnic Russian population, but they largely relocated to the Russian Federation following the break up of the Soviet Union.

According to the 1995 census 77 percent of the population are Turkmen, 9 percent Uzbek and 7 percent Russian.

According to the Ruhnama, the Turkmens originated from Oguz Han and all Oguz people descend from Oguz Han's 24 grandsons. The original homeland of the Oguz tribes was the Ural-Altay region of Central Asia.

The Orhun inscriptions of 6th century mentions the six Oghuz tribal union, referring to the unification of the six Turkic tribes. This was the first written reference to Oghuz, dated to the period of the Gokturk Empire.

The Book of Dede Korkut, the historical epic of the Oghuz Turks, was written in the 9th and 10th cent. They migrated westwards in the area of the Aral Sea and the Syr Darya Basin in the 10th cent.

A clan of the Oghuz, the Seljuks took over Islam, entered Persia in the 11th cent. and founded the Great Seljuk Empire.

The name Oghuz is derived from the word ok, meaning arrow or tribe and an archer shooting an arrow was shown on the flag of the Seljuk Empire. The term Oghuz was gradually supplanted by the Turks themselves by Turkmen or Turcoman. This process was completed in the 13th cent.

The main tribes of the Turkmen are the Tekke around the oases of Ahal, Tejen and Merv, the Ersari along the Amu Darya, the Yomud in the Balkan Region and Khorzem Oasis and the Goklen in the Southwest.

Turkmenistan is largely covered by desert, with intensive agriculture located in irrigated oases. One-half of its irrigated land is planted with cotton, making it the world's tenth largest producer.

About 80 percent of Turkmenistan's surface is covered by the biggest desert in Central Asia, the Karakum or Black Sand, which forms together with the Kyzylkum or Red Sand in Uzbekistan the fourth biggest desert in the world.

The Karakum covers about 350,000 square kilometres.

The Kopet Dagi Mountains in Southern Turkmenistan form the border to Iran. In the Kugitang Mountains in North East Turkmenistan is the highest mountain of the country, the Airbaba (3,117m).

The lowest point of the country is the Akdzhak depression, 80m below sea level.

The country measures about 1,100km from West to East and about 650km from North to South.

Holidays in Turkmenistan

January 1: New Year

January 12: Remembrance Day for the Battle of Geok Depe.

February 19: National Flag Day - Birthday of Saparmurat Niyazov.

March 8: Women's Day

March 21-22: Nowruz - Navrouz: Spring festival

First Sunday in April: Drop of Water is a Grain of Gold Day

Last Sunday in April: Ahalteke Horse Day

May 9: Victory Day

May 18: Day of Revival and Unity

May 19: Holiday of Poetry of Magtymguly

Last Sunday in May: Turkmenhaly bairamy - Carpet Day

Second Sunday in August: Melon Festival

October 6: Remembrance Day - to remember the earthquake of 1948

October 27 and 28: Independence Day

First Saturday in November: Health Day

November 17: Student Youth Day

Last Sunday in November: Harvest Festival

November 30: Bread Day

First Sunday in December: Good Neighbourliness Day

December 12: Neutrality Day

Turkmenistan has a continental climate with long hot summers. Winters are not too cold. The average temperature is 26 to 34 degrees Celsius in summer and minus 4 to plus 4 degrees Celsius in winter.

But in northern regions the temperature in winter months can decrease to -20 degrees Celsius.

The country possesses the world's sixth largest reserves of natural gas and substantial oil resources.

Turkmenistan has taken a cautious approach to economic reform, hoping to use gas and cotton sales to sustain its economy. In 2014, the unemployment rate was estimated to be 11%.

Between 1998 and 2002, Turkmenistan suffered from the continued lack of adequate export routes for natural gas and from obligations on extensive short-term external debt.

At the same time, however, the value of total exports has risen sharply because of increases in international oil and gas prices.

Economic prospects in the near future are discouraging because of widespread internal poverty and the burden of foreign debt.

President Niyazov spent much of the country's revenue on extensively renovating cities, Ashgabat in particular.

Corruption watchdogs voiced particular concern over the management of Turkmenistan's currency reserves.

Most of which are held in off-budget funds such as the Foreign Exchange Reserve Fund in the Deutsche Bank in Frankfurt, according to a report released in April 2006 by London-based non-governmental organization Global Witness.

According to the decree of the Peoples' Council of 14 August 2003, electricity, natural gas, water and salt will be subsidized for citizens up to 2030.

Under current regulations, every citizen is entitled to 35 kilowatt hours of electricity and 50 cubic meters of natural gas each month. The state also provides 250 liters or 66 gallons of water per day.

In addition car drivers were entitled to 120 litres of free petrol a month until 1 July 2014. Drivers of buses, lorries and tractors could get 200 litres of fuel and motorcyclists and scooter riders 40 litres free.

On 5 September 2006, after Turkmenistan threatened to cut off supplies, Russia agreed to raise the price it pays for Turkmen natural gas from $65 to $100 per 1,000 cubic meters.

Two-thirds of Turkmen gas goes through the Russian state-owned Gazprom.

The Galkynysh gas field has the second-largest volume of gas in the world, after the South Pars field in the Persian Gulf. Reserves at the Galkynysh gas field are estimated at around 21.2 trillion cubic metres.

The Turkmenistan Natural Gas Company or Turkmengaz, under the auspices of the Ministry of Oil and Gas, controls gas extraction in the country. Gas production is the most dynamic and promising sector of the national economy.

In 2010 Ashgabat started a policy of diversifying export routes for its raw materials.

China is set to become the largest buyer of gas from Turkmenistan over the coming years as a pipeline linking the two countries, through Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan, reaches full capacity.

In addition to supplying Russia, China and Iran, Ashgabat took concrete measures to accelerate progress in the construction of the Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan and India pipeline (TAPI).

Turkmenistan has previously estimated the cost of the project at $3.3 billion.

On 21 May 2010, president Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedow unexpectedly signed a decree stating that companies from Turkmenistan will build an internal East-West gas pipeline.

This allowing the transfer of gas from the biggest deposits in Turkmenistan at Dowlatabad and Yoloten to the Caspian coast.

The East-West pipeline is planned to be 773-kilometre (483-mile) long and have a carrying capacity of 30 bn m³ annually, at a cost of between one and one and a half billion US dollars.

The Trans-Caspian pipeline (TCP) project, backed by the European Union, has so far remained on paper, partly due to disputes about the Caspian Sea's legal status and Turkmenistan's refusal to sign production-sharing agreements with foreign companies for major hydrocarbon deposits.

Most of Turkmenistan's oil is extracted by the Turkmenistan State Company (Concern) Turkmennebit from fields at Koturdepe, Balkanabat, and Cheleken near the Caspian Sea, which have a combined estimated reserve of 700 million tons.

The oil extraction industry started with the exploitation of the fields in Cheleken in 1909 by Branobel and in Balkanabat in the 1930s.

Production leaped ahead with the discovery of the Kumdag field in 1948 and the Koturdepe field in 1959. A big part of the oil produced in Turkmenistan is refined in Turkmenbashy and Seidi refineries.

Also, oil is exported by tankers through the Caspian Sea to Europe via canals.

Turkmenistan is a net exporter of electrical power to Central Asian republics and southern neighbors.

The most important generating installations are the Hindukush Hydroelectric Station, which has a rated capacity of 350 megawatts, and the Mary Thermoelectric Power Station, which has a rated capacity of 1,370 megawatts.

In 1992, electrical power production totaled 14.9 billion kilowatt-hours.

In Turkmenistan, most of irrigated land is planted with cotton, making the country the world's ninth-largest cotton producer.

During the 2011 season, Turkmenistan produced around 1.1 million tons of raw cotton, mainly from Mary, Balkan, Akhal, Lebap and Dashoguz provinces.

In 2012, around 7,000 tractors, 5,000 cotton cultivators, 2,200 sowing machines and other machinery, mainly procured from Belarus and the US, are being used.

The country traditionally exports raw cotton to Russia, Iran, South Korea, Britain, China, Indonesia, Turkey, Ukraine, Singapore and the Baltic nations.

The tourism industry has been growing rapidly in recent years, especially medical tourism.

This is primarily due to the creation of the Avaza tourist zone on the Caspian Sea. Every traveler must obtain a visa before entering Turkmenistan.

To obtain a tourist visa, citizens of most countries need a visa support from local travel agency.

For tourists visiting Turkmenistan, there are organized tours with a visit to historical sites Daşoguz, Konye-Urgench, Nisa, Merv, Mary, beach tours to Avaza and medical tours and holidays in Mollakara, Yylly suw and Archman.

Most of Turkmenistan's citizens are ethnic Turkmens with sizeable minorities of Uzbeks and Russians. Smaller minorities include Kazakhs, Tatars, Ukrainians, Kurds native to Kopet Dagh mountains, Armenians, Azeris, Balochs and Pashtuns.

The percentage of ethnic Russians in Turkmenistan dropped from 18.6% in 1939 to 9.5% in 1989.

In 2012 it was confirmed that the population of Turkmenistan decreased due to some specific factors and is less than the previously estimated 5 million.

The CIA World Factbook gives the ethnic composition of Turkmenistan as 85% Turkmen, 5% Uzbek, 4% Russian and 6% other.According to data announced in Ashgabat in February 2001, 91% of the population are Turkmen, 3% are Uzbeks and 2% are Russians.

Between 1989 and 2001 the number of Turkmen in Turkmenistan doubled from 2.5 to 4.9 million, while the number of Russians dropped by two-thirds from 334,000 to slightly over 100,000.

Turkmen is the official language of Turkmenistan per the 1992 Constitution, although Russian still is widely spoken in cities as a language of inter-ethnic communication.

Turkmen is spoken by 72% of the population, Russian 12%, Uzbek 9%, and other languages 7%.

Russian 349,000, Uzbek 317,000, Kazakh 88,000, Tatar 40,400, Ukrainian 37,118, Azerbaijani 33,000, Armenian 32,000, Northern Kurdish 20,000, Lezgian 10,400, Persian 8,000, Belarusian 5,290, Erzya 3,490, Korean 3,490.

Bashkir 2,610, Karakalpak 2,540, Ossetic 1,890, Dargwa 1,600, Lak 1,590, Tajik 1,280, Georgian 1,050, Lithuanian 224, Tabasaran 180, Dungan.

According to the CIA World Factbook, Muslims constitute 89% of the population while 9% of the population are followers of the Eastern Orthodox Church and the remaining 2% religion is reported as non-religious.

However, according to a 2009 Pew Research Center report, 93.1% of Turkmenistan's population is Muslim.

The first migrants were sent as missionaries and often were adopted as patriarchs of particular clans or tribal groups, thereby becoming their founders.

Reformulation of communal identity around such figures accounts for one of the highly localized developments of Islamic practice in Turkmenistan.

In the Soviet era, all religious beliefs were attacked by the communist authorities as superstition and vestiges of the past.

Most religious schooling and religious observance were banned, and the vast majority of mosques were closed. However, since 1990, efforts have been made to regain some of the cultural heritage lost under Soviet rule.

Former president Saparmurat Niyazov ordered that basic Islamic principles be taught in public schools. More religious institutions, including religious schools and mosques, have appeared, many with the support of Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, and Turkey.

Religious classes are held in both schools and mosques, with instruction in Arabic language, the Qur'an and the hadith, and history of Islam.

President Niyazov wrote his own religious text, published in separate volumes in 2001 and 2004, entitled the Ruhnama.

The Turkmenbashi regime required that the book, which formed the basis of the educational system in Turkmenistan, be given equal status with the Quran, mosques were required to display the two books side by side.

The book was heavily promoted as part of the former president's personality cult, and knowledge of the Ruhnama is required even for obtaining a driver's license.

Most Christians in Turkmenistan belong to Eastern Orthodoxy, about 5% of the population.

The Russian Orthodox Church is under the jurisdiction of the Russian Orthodox Archbishop in Tashkent, Uzbekistan.

There are three Russian Orthodox Churches in Ashgabat, two in Turkmenabat, in Mary, Turkmenbashi, Balkanabat, Bayram-Ali and Dushauguze one each.

The highest Russian Orthodox priest in Turkmenistan is based in Ashgabat. There is one Russian orthodox monastery, in Ashgabat. Turkmenistan has no Russian Orthodox seminary, however.

There are also small communities of the following denominations: the Armenian Apostolic Church, the Roman Catholic Church, Pentecostal Christians, the Protestant Word of Life Church.

The Greater Grace World Outreach Church, the New Apostolic Church, Jehovah's Witnesses, Jews, and several unaffiliated, nondenominational evangelical Christian groups.

In addition, there are small communities of Baha'is, Baptists, Seventh-day Adventists, and Hare Krishnas.

The history of Bahá'í Faith in Turkmenistan is as old as the religion itself, and Bahá'í communities still exist today. The first Bahá'í House of Worship was built in Ashgabat at the beginning of the twentieth century.

It was seized by the Soviets in the 1920s and converted to an art gallery. It was heavily damaged in the earthquake of 1948 and later demolished. The site was converted to a public park.

While the provinces are a helpful way to break down large Turkmenistan into regional travel areas, bear in mind that there is one geographical region present throughout them all, dominating the country—the brutal desert wasteland that is the Karakum.

Ahal Province - The central region of the country, home to the capital.

Balkan Province - The western province situated in the Caspian Basin.

Dashoguz Province - Northern Turkmenistan, home to the historic city of Konye-Urgench

Lebap Province - The eastern province, largely empty, along the Amu Darya River and the border with Uzbekistan

Mary Province - Turkmenistan's southeast is a principal destination for travelers to see the ancient Silk Road capital of Merv.

Cities of Turkmenistan

- Ashgabat, the capital

- Balkanabat

- Daşoguz

- Mary

- Türkmenabat

- Turkmenbashi - a Caspian port

Historically, most of these towns were oases along the Silk Road.

Bagyr is a tiny village located about 10 to 15 km away from Ashgabat. Before, the village was part of the Ahal region but since 2013 government decided that Bagyr will be part of Ashgabat because it is close to it.

Bagyr has more than 8,000 people in it, but most of them work in Ashgabat. The climate is almost the same as in Ashgabat but it is a little colder at nights and a little warmer in the afternoon.

Bagyr has many trees and the air is extremely fresh. Also Bagyr has many mini-markets and a few super-markets. The products are quality and cheaper than in Ashgabat.

Bagyr has two schools; one is located on the North side and the other on the South side. Bagyr is also a good place for farming and keeping domestic animals. Visit Bagyr, learn more about Turkmen.

Nokhur or Nokur is a small village about 100 km northwest of Ashgabat. The village has a Zoroastrian-style cemetery and shrine, and local silk weaving, as well as hikes and views from the nearby mountains of the valleys, including Iran.

Avaza - a multi-billion dollar construction project near Turkmenbashi aimed at creating a national touristic zone of over 60 world-class hotels, shopping, and a new international airport.

The government likens the project to Dubai, but there is little foreign investment thus far.

Darvaza Flaming Crater — At this spot near the town of Darvaza, an oil rig accidentally struck a large pocket of natural gas in 1971. The rig collapsed into the cavern, resulting in a large crater filled with fire.

It was decided to let the fire burn rather than let the poisonous gas escape into the nearby town. The fire, while expected to burn itself out quickly, burns to this day and it is popularly nicknamed The Gateway to Hell.

The gas crater is best viewed at night. There are no facilities around the gas crater. Camping in this area is common. Getting to the gas crater with a small personal car can be difficult.

The last 7 kilometers from the main road are on desert sand and small cars often get stuck. If you want to avoid getting stuck it's better to walk the last part.

Pay a visit to Kow Ata underground sulfur lake, found in the mountains an hour or so outside Ashgabat. It is possible to swim in the year-round warm, mineral rich, and medicinal waters.

Expect a walk down increasingly slippery steps, and a corrugated shack to change in - unless you're handy with your towel. Kow Ata means Father of the Lakes.

The cave is more than 200 meters long, 20 meters high and at some point more than 50 meters wide. The water has a constant temperature of 33 to 37 degrees Celsius.
National Museum of Turkmenistan — The National Museum of Turkmenistan is a museum in Asgabat. It is split into three sections: natural history, science, and the current president of Turkmenistan.

Entry is $30, and the museum is sparsely visited. Photography is not allowed anywhere in the museum, and during your visit you are accompanied by a museum employee who follows you and ensures you abide by their rules.

It is quite an experience, and very entertaining as many items in their collections are not genuine - most obviously photos in the President's museum.

There are a slough of poorly photoshopped images of the president showing his wide variety of skills including teaching, playing tennis, racing, horseback riding, and many many more.

Archaeological sites in Turkmenistan

Altin Depe

Anau (Anew)

Gonur Depe

Jeitun, Mesolithic settlement on a sand dune in the Kara Kum desert, 30 km north of Ashgabat

Merv with Erk Kala, Giaur Kala, Kyz Kala and Sultan Kala

Namazga Depe

Nissa, one of the most important cities of the Parthian Empire, 19 km west of Ashgabat

Medieval Monuments
Abiverd, medieval city

Abu Said Mithkene Mausoleum

Astana-baba, 15 km from Mount Atamurat, country estate of Omar-Kali with mausoleum and mosque

Dayakhaty, near Turkmenabad, caravan serai

Darganata, medieval city, mausoleum

Dekhistan, historical area in Western Turkestan, big Mashat cemetery, Shir Kabir Mausoleum (10th cent), ruins of Missirian city

Devkesengala, North West of Konye Urgench, fortress, mausoleums.

Ekedeshik, near Tagtabazar, near the Afghanistan border, about 245 km South of Mary, cave settlement with more than 40 rooms, dating back to the Early Middle Ages, eventually a Buddhist monastery

Geok-tepe, place of a bloody battle between Turkmen and Russians in 1881.

Imukshir, near Tara, ancient city, fortifications

Konye Urgench, remains of the capital of Horezmshah with magnificient architectural monuments.

Mane Baba Mausoleum, about 40 km south of Tejen in the Khaka region. The mausoleum was built in the 11th and 12th cenmturies over the grave of the famous Sufi teacher and philosopher Abu Said Maneyi (968-1049).

The legend tells that Abu Said met Abu Ali Ibn Sina (Avicenna) for a conversation that lasted three days. Afer this conversation Abi Said said: Ibn Sina knows everything that I see and Ibn Sina answered: Abu Said sees everything that I know.

Parau, medieval settlement, Parau-bibi and Parau-ata (12th cent.)

Sarakhs, ancient city with the Mausoleum of Abul-Fazi ("Sarakhs-baba" and Yarti-Gummez

Seyitdzhemaledin Mosque, masterpiece of Muslim architecture (15th cent.)

Shakhsenem, medieval settlement, mosque

Talkhatan-baba, 30 km west of Mary, mausoleum (12th cent.)

Tasharvat, 38 km West of Balkanabat, big medieval fortress

Nisa, 16km Southwest of Ashgabad, the legendary and ancient city of Parthian Empire(approximately II -I century B.C)

Nature Reserves of Turkmenistan

- Köpet Dag Nature Reserve in the mountains near Ashgabat

- Syunt Hasarday Nature Reserve in the mountains south of the Ashgabat - Turkmenbashi road,

- Esenguly Nature Reserve on the Caspian Sea near the border to Iran

- Krasnovodsk Nature Reserve on the Caspian Sea south of Turkmenbashi

- Gaplangyr Nature Reserve in the Karakum Desert.

- Quzilqum Nature Reserve along the Amur Darja on the border to Uzbekistan

- Amur Darja Nature Reserve along the Amur Darja on the border to Uzbekistan, north of Turkmenabat.

- Repetek Nature Reserve in the desert on the road between Mary and Turkmenabat,

- Kugitang Nature Reserve in the mountains in the south east of the country on the border to Uzbekistan.

You will need a special permit in order to visit a nature reserve, and it will be necessary to apply for it through a travel agent well in advance.

Pilgrims' Shrines in Turkmenistan

Shrine pilgrimage (ziyarat) and its underlying beliefs have played an important role in islamization of Central Asia as well as in creating and sustaining communal identity up to the present day.

Recent research suggests that Musilm holy men or Sufi shaykhs were key players in the conversion to Islam due to their knowledge of Inner Asian pre-Islamic religious traditions and their ability to translate the meaning of Islam to the local population.

The prominent position of ancestor worship in Turkmen traditions is shown by the fact that the progenitor of a tribe or community is often ascribed to islamizers among the Turkmen.

The burial sites of these Muslim founding fathers became a focus of veneration and were accompanied by what is called Muslim shamanism: ancestral spirits were identified with the companions of the Saint-progenitor.

The communities also accepted saints with outstanding spiritual, intellectual or physical powers. Thus the burial sites of Islamic saints, local rulers, learned scholars, warriors or pre-Islamic figures have become shrines.

Turkmen tradition also recognizes six non-Turkmen öwlat groups, which trace their lineage to the first caliphs of Islam, e.g. the progenitor of the öwlat group Ata is Gözli Ata who in the 14th century came from Turkestan.

This was a center of Sufi teaching, in order to carry on his teachings in Western Turkmenistan.

The legends describe him as an extremely powerful saint, outdoing other saints in miracle performances and winning large numbers of followers.

Ak Ishan. Gozli Ata, about 160 km north of Balkanabat. Gozli Ata or Father Eye was a famous Sufi teacher of the 12th cent. It is told that he was able to recognioze the good and the evil in the soul of all men.

He was killed by the Mongols and buried here, next to his wife Bibi Aysulu.

- Kyrk Giz, in a spectacular caynon in the Kugitang Nature Reserve

- Ismamut Ata

- Kyrk Molla at Konye Urgench

- Malik Baba

- Ibrahim Sultan

- Mohammed Ibn Zaid Mausoleum

- Nedjmeddin Kubra Mausoleum at Konye Urgench

- Parau Bibi Shrine, about halfway between Ashgabat and Balkanabat, about 20 km north west of Gyzylarbat and about 8 km south of the main road, in the village of Paraw.

The shrine is set 100 meters up a rocky mountainside overlooking the village and the steppe. It consists of a white mausoleum-like structure, a guest house and a roofed platform where the pilgrims congregate and have meals.

According to the legend Paraw Bibi was a beautiful and virtuous maiden. A jealous woman wanted to hand over Paraw Bibi to invaders in exchange for the promise not to attack the village.

Paraw Bibi cursed the woman and let her turn into black stone. When the enemy attacked, Paraw Bibi ordered the mountain to split into two parts so that she was able to enter it and to preserve her purity and virtue.

The locals built a shrine to Paraw Bibi, as they believed that because of her bracery and refusal to submit she was a true hero blessed by the holy breath of the prophets.

It is reported that at least at the end of the Soviet era pilgrims from all over western Turkmenistan visited the shrine, seeking fertility and a cure from insanity.

- Shibly Baba

- Khoja Yusup Baba (Hemedani) is a large complex in southeastern Turkmenistan near Bairam Ali, on the territory of the ancient state of Merv. Khoja Yusuf Hamadani is a well known figure in Islamis history.

He is considered as the first in a line of Sufi masters from which the lineages of the most important Sufi orders Naqshbandi and Yasavi are derived, and is described as an exemplary Muslim, pious and unpretemtious, devoted to Islamic scholarship and deeply inspired by his work to promote Islam.

He died in 1140 and his body was interred at Merv, presumably at the site carrying his name.

In the Soviet era the Moseque of Khoja Yusup Baba was declared an official architectural monument and one of the four official mosques in entire Turkmenistan.

It is popular belief that two pilgrimages to Khoja Yusup Baba equal one to Mecca.

The pilgrims circumambulate the tomb from right to left, surrounding the tomb three times. Most peaple repeatedly touch the wall of the tomb with both hand and bring their hands to the face. Some even kiss the wall.

After they had completed the circling they sit together while the caretaker recites a blessing. When the blessing os finished they give the caretaker offerings of money. In the complex is a well said to contain holy water.

Women tie small strips of cloth on the branches of the bushes or trees that line the path leading to the well.

These strips signify prayers or wishes to the saint. For the same reason pilgrims set up two old bricks in the form of an upside-sown V.

Miniature imitation cradles made from sticks and cloth are set up by women hoping for the saint's aid in order to become fertile.

- Baba Gambar has several shrines. The best known is in southeastern Turkmenistan, about 120 km south of Mary: It is often considered as an example how a pre-Islamic deity was transformed into an Islamic saint.

According to Islamic legend Ganbar was the stableman of Ali and caretaker of his horse Duldul. In Turkmen legends Ganbar is considered as the patron of musicians and creator of the first dutar, the traditional two-string music instrument.

According to the legend Ali remarked that Duldul was ill and underfed. When he questionned Gambar, Gambar did not give an answer.

Then, Ali saw Gambar playing the dutar to Duldul. When Ali confronted Gambar, Gambar commanded the earth to swallow him and fled underground to Mecca, saying that the two will meet again on judgment day.

The site consists of the shrine-mausoleum, a chile agach and a tree the leaves of which have the shape of dutar tuning pegs.

It is claimed that the tree grew from Gambar's original dutar and that its roots lead to the underground passage through which Gambar fled.

- Hazret Ali is located about 12 km southwest of Ashgabat, near the village of Bagir and the archaeological site of Nisa.

The small mosque, called namazga or hall of prayer, is considered as a place where Ali prayed when he was promoting Islam. Impressions in the rocks are said to have com from Ali's hands and from the hooves of his horse Duldul.

- Khoja Alem Baba is located near the town of Kaka, about 130 km south east of Ashgabat. It is an excellent example of a small, local shrine, serving one specific village only due to öwlat.

The tomb is housed in a clay mausoleum with two chambers, an entrance or sitting area and the tomb chamber proper. Tomb and chamber are decorated with votive offerings and objects connected with Khoja Alem Baba.

Sites as Khoja Alem Baba are very common in Turkmenistan. Apparently Turkmen tradition stipulated that each community has an owluya and by this way has access to the protection provided.

Except for short visits by residents of some nearby Kazakh and Uzbek regions, everyone needs a visa to enter Turkmenistan.
Gateway To Hell
For independent travel, a short (3-7 days) transit visa can be obtained, but a full visa may be difficult, as most embassies require an invitation letter (LOI) from a Turkmen tourist agency that is only issued upon booking a full tour.

However, when you are visiting Ashgabat, you are able to explore the capital on your own. If tour company tells you that you are required to have a guide in Ashgabat, check with other tour companies, because sometimes this is not the case.

Arranging a tour will make things easier, as the company can help in getting the LOI and visa. Bear in mind that, depending on how you enter the country, you might have to be met by a guide.

Entering Ashgabat by plane does not seem to require a guide. This can be particularly important, especially if your inward journey is delayed as is possible when entering across the Caspian Sea by boat.

Remember that you do not have to have the tour company book all the hotels and internal airplane tickets. Request an itemization of the cost of these from the tour company, and check the prices on your own.

The tour companies especially Stantour easily charge you many times the actual cost e.g., airport pickup for US$30 when you could take a taxi for 5-10 manat = US$1-US$3.

When you enter Turkmenistan your bags usually will be searched with an X-ray machine. You will have to fill a green Entry Travel Pass, an immigration card and a customs declaration.

Taking with you psychotropic medication, for instance sleeping pills, is not allowed. The exact list of prohibited drugs is difficult to find. There are limits for bringing to the country alcohol and tobacco products.

List all your valuables that you bring with you in the customs declaration, make sure that it is stamped and keep a copy with you. You will have to show it again when you leave the country.

The World Health Organization recommends vaccinations against diphtheria, hepatitis A and B, measles, mumps, polio, rubella, tetanus, typhoid and varicella.

In addition, vaccinations against meningitis, rabies and tuberculosis are recommended for long term travelers.

Visa To Turkmenistan

It is strongly recommended that you apply for a Turkmenistan visa before travelling to Turkmenistan. It is reported that travelers applying for visa at Ashgabat airport have been detained in the transit area of the airport for several days due to missing documents.

A government approved letter of invitation is required of some tourists such as residents of the United States of America before a visa can be issued.

It is advised to check with your country's Turkmenistan embassy website for more information. Processing for the letter of invitation can only begin about 90 days before your trip and will take several weeks.

The tour company will email you the letter of invitation, and then you can apply for the visa at the applicable embassy.

Once you have the letter of invitation, obtaining the visa in advance from the Turkman embassy in Washington DC is pretty straightforward.

It takes about 3 weeks for processing. Make sure to follow the instructions exactly, e.g., two originals, copies of passports in a certain direction, copies of other identification and include a prepaid return envelope.

All foreigners entering Turkmenistan have to pay a registration fee of US$ 14. In Ashgabat, this is paid at the counter named Bank when first arriving at the airport.

There are stickers for Visa/MasterCard at the counter, but it would be prudent to have the amount in cash. After OVIR registration, which is usually handled by the hotel or tour agency, one will receive a green entry and departure card.

Take particular care of the departure card, as it must be presented when leaving the country.

Travelers staying for more than 3 days in Turkmenistan must register with the Migration Service, known as OVIR in Ashgabat, Asady kocesi or with Migration Service branch offices in other towns.

You are responsible for registration, even when staying in a hotel. Normally, however, the hotel or tour agency takes care of this. You will need to bring two passport-size photos for the registration, or provide them to your hotel/tour agency.

This confirmation and the receipt for the registration fee paid when entering the country have to be presented to the Migration Service. Registration will be stamped into your passport.

You have to give notice to the Migration Service in order to be permitted to leave the country. This notice will be stamped into the passport as well.

Border controls will check if you have registration and notice to leave stamped into your passport.

Travel permits are required for many border regions. You do not need a travel permit for Ashgabat, Merv, Turkmenabat and Balkanabat.

Transit visas allow you to travel along the main roads on your way to the next country on your itinerary. It is, however, absolutely necessary to have a travel permit for the following regions:

- Western Turkmenistan: for Bekdash, Turkmenbashi, Haza, Dekistan, Yangykala, Gyzletrek, Nokhur and surroundings,

- Northern Turkmenistan: for the entire region of Dashogus including Konye Urgench, Dargan-Ata and Gazachak,

- Eastern Turkmenistan: for Farab, Atamurat (Kerki) and surroundings, Kugitang Nature Reserve, Tagtabazar and Serkhetabat.

Turkmenistan Airlines has direct flights to Ashgabat from Abu Dhabi, Almaty, Amritsar, Bangkok, Beijing, Birmingham, Delhi, Dubai, Frankfurt, Istanbul, Kiev, London, Minsk, Moscow, and Saint Petersburg.

Look out for the portrait of Sapamurat Turkmenbashi Niyazov at the front of the cabin. Current flight schedules are listed on the airline website although on-line ticketing is not available.

Turkish Airlines flies to Ashgabat from Istanbul. Lufthansa flies from Frankfurt to Ashgabat. See Ashgabat page for more detailed information. FlyDubai offers service from Dubai', UAE's DXB airport to Ashgabat.

There are railway connections to Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan and Iran. No passenger trains cross the border at any of them, however, essentially isolating the country.

If you want to enter Turkmenistan with your own car, you need a liability insurance. The green International Insurance Card is not valid in Turkmenistan.

In addition you have to pay an additional tax for the government subsidized fuel prices, depending on the distance of your travel in Turkmenistan. This tax has to be paid on the border in US Dollars.

Be prepared to have long waiting times at border controls. By vehicle, you can get in through Kazakhstan, Iran, Uzbekistan and Afghanistan.

Visitors holding visas can enter Turkmenistan from all neighbouring countries. Checks at the border usually take one or two hours and maybe even more. Border points are open daily from 9AM to 6PM.

From Iran, since no public transportation goes across the Turkmen border, to get to Ashgabat in Turkmenistan from Mashhad (Iran), the following option is the most convenient:

- Take a bus to Quchan: every 2 hours from 6.30AM. Cost: 8000 rial. Duration: 2h30.

- From Quchan, take a private taxi to Bajgiran a village at the border. Cost: 60,000 rial for 2, or less if you can. Duration: about 1hour.

- At Bajgiran, go to the border, opening time: 7.30 - 15.30 Iran time. Crossing the border can take up to 2 hours.

Turkmen police will ask for an entry tax of $10 per person + $2 of bank fees per group, to be paid in US dollars only.

- In the Turkmenistan side, take a taxi to Ashgabat, which can cost up to $15 per person. Duration: about 1hour.

- From Uzbekistan, each crossing may require 15 minutes' walk across no-mans land, sometimes shared taxis are available.

There are three crossings from Uzbekistan to Turkmenistan:

- Farab from Bukhara: Take a taxi from Bukhara to the border (US$ 8) or a shared taxi to Uzbek Olot - Qarakul and then a taxi to the border. From the border it is about 45 km to Turkmenabat. A taxi should cost about US$ 5 and a seat in a shared taxi less than US$ 1.

- Dashoguz from Khiva or Urgench: Take a taxi from Khiva or Urgench to the border for about US$ 10 and another one on the Turkmenistan side from the border to Daşoguz for about US$ 1.

- Khojeli from Nukus in Karalpakstan: This crossing is conveniently located near Konye Urgench and Nukus, it had been closed until 2016 but it is now open and functional. A taxi from Nukus costs from US$10 to 20.

- From Kazakhstan, it is a two hours' drive from Zhanaozen to the Turkmenistan border and another 40 minutes drive from the border on a dirt road to the city of Karabogas formerly Bekdash.

The last 50km on each side of the border is a very bad dirt road. approx. US$ 100 private car or 10,000 KZT per person shared. From Karabogas there is a good road to Turkmenbashi with fine views on the Caspian Sea.

About 60 km south of Karabogas the road crosses a bridge over the channel connecting the Caspian Sea with the inland gulf.

Several popular travel guides discuss traveling by ferry across the Caspian Sea from Baku, Azerbaijan, to the port of Turkmenbashy in western Turkmenistan.

Some travelers have faced problems attempting to travel to Turkmenistan by boat. Travelers should be aware that some ferries are in fact cargo ships that take on some passengers incidental to their primary function.

Passengers are generally not provided food or water on these ships, and sleeping and sanitary facilities are likely to be rudimentary.

Travelers should be aware that ships arriving at the port of Turkmenbashy often wait days offshore for outgoing ships to vacate the dock to allow incoming ships to disembark.

Some travelers have spent more than a week offshore while their ship awaited permission to enter the port, and they have run out of stores of food and water, or had their Turkmen visas expire before they could be used.

For this and other reasons travelers, especially those who plan to enter Turkmenistan by boat, are discouraged from using transit visas to enter Turkmenistan.

In July 2016, it was reported that there are three passenger/car-only ferries, two owned by Turkmenistan and one by Azerbaijan that regularly sail between Baku and Turkmenbashy, but that departure times are not fixed.

Turkmenistan's cities of Turkmenbashi and Ashgabat both have scheduled commercial air service. The largest airport is Ashgabat Airport, with regular international flights.

Additionally, scheduled international flights are available to Turkmenbashi. The principal government-managed airline of Turkmenistan is Turkmenistan Airlines. It is also the largest airline operating in Turkmenistan.

Turkmenistan Airlines' passenger fleet is composed only of American Boeing aircraft. Air transport carries more than two thousand passengers daily in the country.

International flights annually transport over half a million people into and out of Turkmenistan. Turkmenistan Airlines operates regular flights to Moscow, London, Frankfurt, Birmingham, Bangkok, Delhi, Abu Dhabi, Amritsar, Kiev, Lviv, Beijing, Istanbul, Minsk, Almaty, Tashkent and St. Petersburg.

Internal flights are possible on Turkmenistan Airlines which flies daily between Ashgabat, Mary, Turkmenbashi, Dashoguz and a couple other destinations.

Flights are subsidized, and due to low fuel costs, extremely cheap. Prices are around US$55 for a flight from Ashgabat to Mary or Dashoguz though companies like Stantours will gladly charge more than twice the price.

Turkmenistan Airlines operates with a new fleet of Boeing 717s, purchased in 2001.

Be aware that you might not be able to photograph freely in and around the airport, though this is the case with many places in this highly controlled country.

The Amu Darya is an important inland waterway for Turkmenistan.

At least in Ashgabat, like in much of the former Soviet Union, taxis are mostly unofficial - and can be hailed by flagging down a car by the roadside. The Turkmen drivers generally speak only Turkmen, no English, and maybe some Russian.

The Russian drivers may only speak Russian and no English or Turkmen.

Some tourists haggle for on the price and destination, but the better practice to give 3-4 manat for a short trip e.g., a few blocks, 5 manat for medium trip, and perhaps 10 manat for a long trip e.g., downtown to indoor Ferris Wheel.

Simply give the money at the end of the trip.

If you are trying go outside the city for a day trip, you will need to haggle and agree on price in advance, and will probably have to hail several taxis to find one willing to take you.

If you do not speak Turkmen or Russian, write the name of the destination in Turkmen on piece of paper, search on Google for the words in Turkmen, or ask the hotel do it, and show to drivers until you find someone to take you there.

Carry the name and address of your hotel in Turkmen to show to drivers to return back.

The usual sensible precautions apply here. If your instincts suggest that something might be not quite right, then it's best to go with your instincts.

Roadblocks are in place throughout the country, so this method is really best used only within city limits unless you are specifically looking for trouble.

Drive on the right. Minimum age: 17. International permit required. Speed limit: 60 km/h in urban areas, 90 to 120 km/h on highways.

It is possible to travel by train between some of the major cities in Turkmenistan, but journeys are slow, up to 16 hours from Ashgabat to Turkmenbashi.

Unless you have a specific interest, plane travel is the best way to get around the country.

Rail service in Turkmenistan is provided by Turkmendemiryollari or Turkmenistan Zeleznice, Ashgabat. On the principal trains they offer soft and hard accommodation with sleeping and dining cars.

Tourist using rail services in Turkmenistan must expect to pay higher charges than local people and to pay tickets in foreign currency.

Turkmendemiryollari or Turkmenistan Zeleznice runs trains from Ashgabat to Turkmenbashi and via Mary to Turkmenabat and return.

The official language of Turkmenistan is Turkmen, and 50% speak decent Russian. If you are unable to speak Turkmen, then Russian would be your best bet to communicate.

Turkmen was written in a Cyrillic alphabet during Soviet times and is now written in a Latin alphabet. Uzbek is widely understood in Turkmenistan, due to both languages sharing common Turkic origins.

Kazakh is also understood in the north of the country because of Turkic traits. Standard Turkish might be understood by some people.

Not many Turkmens will have a basic understanding of English, even in the capital city, although many younger people are now learning English in school, so do not be surprised if some want to practice English with you.

Many shopkeepers and waitresses know some basic words and phrases such as change money, how much, check, please, etc.).

Places of interest in Turkmenistan

- Ashgabat

- Karakum Desert

- Konye Urgench

- Merv

- Yangykala Canyon

Turkmenistan in 5 days: if you are short of time, you can visit the most important sites in a few days:

- Day 1 arrival in Ashgabat,

- Day 2 flight to Dashoguz, visit of Konye Urgench, return flight from Dashoguz to Ashgabat in the same evening, overnight in Ashgabat,

- Day 3 morning flight to Mary, visit of Merv, return flight to Ashgabat in the same evening, overnight in Ashgabat,

- Day 4 Ashgabat, sightseeing, day 5 departure from Ashgabat

22 Days Tour through Turkmenistan: Orexca offers a 22 days tour through Turkmenistan from April to June and August to October with the following itinerary:

- Day 1 arrival in Ashgabat,

Day 2 sightseeing in Ashgabat, excursion to Nissa,

- Day 3 transfer to Sekizyab Valley Tourist Center,

- Day 4 excursion in the Sekizyab Valley,

- Day 5 visit of Kow Alta underground lake, transfer to Shamengli Horse Farm,

-Day 6 Darvaza Gas Crater,

- Day 7 sightseeing tour of Konye Urgench, flight to Ashgabat,

- Day 8 drive to Mary,

- Day 9 visit of Merv,

- Day 10 visit of Astana Baba Mausoleum, drive to Koyentag Tourist Base,

- Day 11 visit of Kyrk Gyz Gorge and Dinosaur Plateau in the Kugitang Nature Reserve,

- Day 12 visit of Garlyk Caves and Gaynar Babar sulphur spring,

- Day 13 and 14 trekking to the highest peak of Turkmenistan Ayr Baba,

- Day 15 transfer for Turkmenabat, flight to Ashgabat,

- Day 16 visit of Kow Ata underground lake, drive to Nohur village in the Kopedag Mountains,

-Day 17 trekking to Kyz Bibi pilgrimage site and Ai Dere Canyon,

- Day 18 drive to Syunt-Hasardag Nature Reserve, Sumbar Valley and Garrygela,

- Day 19 visit of Paraw Bibi Shrine, drive to Dekhistan,

- Day 20 drive to Turkmenbashi,

- Day 21 visit of Guwlymayak dry lake, flight to Ashgabat,

- Day 22 return flight .

- Horse trekking with Akhal Teke horses: Orexca offers a 12 days Turkem Akhalteke Horse Ride Wonders of the Karakum Desert with transfer from Ashgabar to Geokdepe Stud Farm.

Ride through the North East of the Karakum Desert to Tummekli, to the nomadic villages of Chyria, Gurrukly, Hakysh Gongurajy, Orazsahet and to the Geokdepe Reservoir

- Hiking in the Kugitang Nature Reserve (travel permit required) or in the mountains around Nokhur.
Adventure tour and camel trek in the Kara Kum Desert.

The official currency in Turkmenistan is manat (TMM)divided into 100 tenge.

Euro and other major currencies will be proportional. Do not expect to be able to change manat back into dollars or other hard currency at the end of your trip, so exchange only what you need.

Turkmenistan restricted exchanges from manat into dollars beginning in early 2016, which has created a black market for currency

Ask shopkeepers in the Russian bazaar in Ashgabat and possibly other bazaars, such as the Teke Bazaar or Tolkuchka Bazaar. Negotiate the exchange rate in advance.

You need to have clean-looking bills with no tears and no marks on the bills. All denominations of US bills seem to be acceptable.

US dollars are widely accepted and you should bring more than you think you need. It is incredibly difficult, if not virtually impossible to get US dollars in the country.

Make sure that, if you are negotiating a payment with dollars, you calculate the payment based on the unofficial rate. A merchant in Turkmenistan would much rather receive $10 than 35 manat, so negotiate accordingly.

Credit cards are only accepted in big international hotels in Ashgabat, but unknown outside the capital. Even in the capital, you should absolutely not rely on any credit or debit card.

The bazaars are the heart of every town in Turkmenistan. Bazaars are usually open from 8AM to 8PM every day including Sundays.

Large markets, like the Tolkuchka Bazaar in the outskirts of Ashgabat are open two or three mornings per week only. Bazaars outside Ashgabat will be closed at daylight hours during the cotton harvest season in autumn.

Government shops are closed on Sundays and at lunch time.

Turkoman rugs are famous, tending towards rich reds with geometric patterns. Sometimes they are called Bokhara rugs because Bukhara in neighbouring Uzbekistan was a center for their trade.

Turkoman designs are now often copied in India and Pakistan. Some carpet factories are run by the state owned company Turkemhaly. Today, wool is often coloured with synthetic and not with natural dyes.

The classic book on Turkoman rugs is Tappiseries de l'Asie Centrale, in Russian and French by AA Bogolyubov, Tsarist governor of Turkmenistan, 1905.

It was a limited edition with hand-painted illustrations, now rare and extremely expensive. A translation in the original French plus English, Carpets of Central Asia, was published in Britain in the 60s.

Even it is now hard to find and expensive. However, if you intend spending a lot on these carpets, it is definitely worth reading. Look for it in libraries.

You need an export permission for carpets purchased in a bazaar or private shop. The Expert Commission on the back of the Carpet Museum in Ashgabat has to certify that the carpet is not more than 50 years old and may be exported.

This costs TMM115,000 per square metre and can take a few days. In addition carpets exceeding 1.5 square metres are subject to an export duty of TMM2,000,000 per square metre, payable in USD at the official rate of exchange at customs on departure.

If you buy a carpet in a state shop, these fees normally are included in the price, although customs will charge a commission fee of 0.2 percent of the price of the carpet.

Why not add to your own despotic library by adding Turkmenbashi's self-penned Ruhnama book, exploring his views on what it means to be a Turkmen. Surprisingly, this is a fairly sensible read.

Yimpash is the biggest shopping centre in Turkmenistan. You can find almost anything you need there. On the first floor you can buy: vegetables, fruits, DVDs, perfume, home goods, cleaning supplies, chocolate, milk, dog food and send money through Western Union.

The first floor is divided into specific parts for certain products. On the second floor, there is not as much stuff. There you can buy clothes, shoes, Apple products, and you can put money on your phone.

There are also selling materials for the dresses. If someone would like to buy flowers or a hair ribbons and clips, all these stuff are on the second floor.

On the third floor are restaurants, a beauty salon, cinema and toilets. You even don’t need to know address, if you will say to taxi just the word Yimpash he will know where he need to drive you.

Expect distinctly average Turkman or Russian cuisine in restaurants. As in Uzbekistan, plov and more central Asian-type fare can be found in markets.

If you can find it, try sturgeon from the Caspian Sea, sometimes prepared in a tempura style.

Meals often start with a soup, as chorba, a meat and vegetable soup. Another national dish is plov, rice with mutton, onions, carrots, spices, raisins, peas or quinces.
Turkmenistan Chorba
Manty are steamed dumplings filled with lamb. Ku'urma is lamb, cooked in its own fat. Ichlekli is a meat and onion pie and gutap is a pie filled with meat, potatoes, spinach and pumpkin.

The legal drinking/purchasing age of alcoholic beverages is 18, and is strictly enforced.

Look out for a range of Turkmenbashi labeled vodka. Supposedly the vodka & other spirits made in the Ashgabat factory are higher quality due to the grain/vegetables that are used.

There are two local beer breweries, Zip and Berk which are popular in Turkmenistan. The Russian brand Baltika can be be found everywhere along with several imports.

Tea is excellent and readily available. Local people prefer to drink gok chai - green tea, often with dried fruits or herbs, as mint.

Best to err on the side of caution, and stick with bottled water. As in Russia, you may want to specify byehz gah-zah if you do not like fizzy water. Borjomi mineral water from Georgia is available in Ashgabat's shops.

Turkmenistan's main cities, Ashgabat here, are modern & clean.

Turkmenistan is a safe and friendly country. It is also, without doubt, one of the most perplexing – and potentially problematic countries for visitors to travel through, given the rigidly authoritarian political system in place.

Do not criticize, insult or speak badly of the President, the country or its people. Things have eased a bit since Turkmenbashi's death, but the country remains a tightly-controlled police state.

The Ruhnama, a book written for the Turkmen people by Suparmurat Niyazov is still sold, and still learned in Turkmen schools. As such, it is best regarded to not criticize the former President as well.

As a general rule of thumb, keep your opinions about the country's politics to yourself since speaking out against the government is a crime for which you can be given a prison sentence.

Or if you are a foreign citizen, the remote possibility of deportation from the country.

Turkmenistan has very low incidents of violent crime, largely because crime is severely punished by the Turkmen government and that most laws are strongly enforced.

That said, the average traveller should not have any problem getting around safely.

It is also possible that you will be asked by police for documents. This is rather rare, but this can happen at any time and they have a legal right to do so.

You should carry your passport and visa with you, though in practice, it is better to make a color scan of the first two pages of your passport and your visa before you arrive.

Carry the color copies with you when you're walking around, and keep the original documents in the hotel safe.

Also, upon arrival make a copy of your visa page. The scanned documents will almost always suffice. If not, make it clear to the police that he will have to come to your hotel to see the originals.

Nevertheless, policemen will demand a bribe for this. Always be polite with the police, but also be firm.

If you are searched remain calm and importantly do not let the police put their hands in your pockets, empty your pockets yourself and present their contents.

You do not want to be the victim of drug planting in a country that has corrupt police and severe penalties for drug possession. As in the rest of the former USSR, demand that the policeman show you their ID.

Turkmen law enforcement are well trained and professional, but be warned that they are very aggressive, especially during the night, so do expect some sort of harassment from them.

One needs excellent communication skills in the Turkmen language as hardly any policemen speak English or Russian. Having a translator/interpreter is one option that you yourself can depend on.

Due to their low salaries, bribery by the police is common and is a fact of life for many locals, given that Turkmenistan was ranked as one of the top twenty corrupt countries in the world.

Many hotels are frequently bugged by the police. Bugging in hotel rooms is common - telephones, and fax machines may be monitored, and personal possessions in hotel rooms may be searched.

Do not sign any documents provided by the police if it is in a language you do not know, as it may be that they may try to rip you off for some more money. Just be polite with them, and just say that you do not understand it.
A curfew prevents people from leaving from 11 pm, and this law applies to non-residents as well. The curfew inevitably helps to keep street crime down at night, and if you go out you may get arrested.

Traveling from the airport to hotel by car in the middle of the night is acceptable.

Taking taxis or hiring private drivers may avoid problems, but don't be too dependent on this option, as it is possible it may not save your life.

In Ashgabat, it is not necessary for your guide to accompany you if you wish to leave your hotel, and go for a wander.

It is possible to take photographs relatively freely in Turkmenistan. However, you are best advised to exercise caution when photographing anyone in uniform or government buildings.

In Ashgabat, there are uniformed police/military on every street corner. Play it safe early on in your visit to give yourself an idea of what is acceptable. There are almost no no photo signs.

If you are in doubt ask the next policeman if you are allowed to take a picture.

Most taxis are not licensed are most likely to be a man using his family car to make some extra money, these are sometimes known as gypsy cabs.

Most locals flag a car down and then anything that stops is a taxi, there's no official fares, so give what you think is fair, usually 3 to 10 manat, depending on length of ride.

This of course leaves you wide open to being ripped off, but there's no alternative. If you get in and feel uncomfortable, simply ask them to stop politely, get out and wave them to carry on.

This is what locals do and it's perfectly acceptable.

For a safer ride, use the hard-to-find Yellow Cabs, which are usually located at the airport and near large hotels.

Yellow Cabs are the only registered taxis and are discernable by their yellow colour and green Turkmen license plates. If the meter isn't working, agree a price before getting in.

Homosexual activities, prostitution and intercourse with prostitutes are prohibited, each of which is punishable with up to 2 years in prison.

Vaccinations against diphtheria, tetanus, polio, hepatitis A and B are recommended.

A vaccination against typhus is also recommended in case you stay in poor hygienic conditions, and a vaccination against rabies is recommended for long term stays and frequent contact with animals.

Medical supply does not correspond to American or European standards. Bring the medicines you need for your personal use with you, as they will be unavailable outside of Ashgabat.

A travel insurance covering hospital care and an emergency flight to your home country is strictly recommended.

Avoid drinking tap water. Tap Water in Turkmenistan is known to contain traces of toxic metals, and this can cause long-term health problems.

Fruits and vegetables should be peeled before consumption. Avoid dairy products as they are not pasteurized.

Turkmens are generally very friendly, hospitable and approachable people. That said, if the average visitor comes to them in the appropriate fashion and respects the local culture, then they should not encounter any issues whatsoever.

Although Turkmenistan is an Islamic country, years of isolation and rule under the USSR have resulted in some laissez faire attitudes towards Islam and the country is fairly secular.

For instance, most Turkmen locals drink alcohol.

Avoid passing comments about the development of the country, the human rights record, and the political situation.

Turkmens are generally proud of their country and they may take such topics of conversation in a negative way.

Do not in any way to allude that things in Turkmenistan are done a little bit differently, because chances are the locals have a much better idea of how things work than you, so avoid coming in with that sense of superiority.

Turkmens are generally very superstitious and it is important to be careful and mindful about your actions since your actions very much happen to be something that they perceive to be likely to draw unwanted attentions from evil spirits.

For instance, spicy food should be handled with care and it should be placed in the centre of the table where it can be easily reached. Passing spicy food to your Turkmen hosts can be considered bad luck.

Due to the country's turbulent history of isolation, foreigners are often treated with a degree of scepticism, especially by the local police.

Although Turkmens are generally curious about other cultures and countries, this may be tempered by unwanted attention from the local police since Turkmenistan is not used to that many visitors from other countries.

So chances are, if some of the locals are refusing to talk to you, do not take it personally; They are probably trying to avoid drawing unwanted attention. In most cases however, natural friendliness wins out.

You may be met with open stares and intense curiosity by locals and treated to a greater degree of scepticism by the police if you appear to be of South Asian, East Asian, Hispanic and/or African descent.

Visitors from those regions or countries are generally rare in Turkmenistan.

Turkmens are conservative dressers and like to look good in public.

Wearing things such as shorts, shirts with logos or inappropriate labelling, or even yielding brightly coloured backpacks will make you stand out as culturally insensitive and will result in some odd looks from the locals.

When entering a home or a holy site, always remove your shoes.

Make it a point to bring a gift if you are invited to a Turkmen home.

When dining with your hosts, praise the quality of the food. It is a compliment to your hosts.

Don’t sit next to a member of the other gender unless they are your spouse or child.

Otherwise, Turkmenistan is worth visiting.

Enjoy your tour of Turkmenistan.

Tourism Observer

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