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Location - Central Asia; Capital - Ashgabat; Population - 6 million; Currency - Manat MORE TURKMENISTAN

After the Ak Altyn Hotel I switched to the more central Grand Turkmen Hotel, with excursions to Mary & Merv as well as Nisa - October 2018.


turkmenistannote3On the left of the note, beneath the 20, is an icon of the 2017 Asian Games










turkmenistan153The Grand Turkmen Hotel is another good but standard hotel right in the centre of the city, very convenient for bars and restaurants, the Russian bazaar and Independence Square - Ashgabat


turkmenistan154Like the Ak Altyn, in the lobby is a picture of President Berdymukhamedov, this one on a traditional Turkmen carpet - Ashgabat


turkmenistan155My hotel balcony was an ideal spot to snap the Oguzkhan Presidential Palace on Independence Square. That's because soldiers line the sensitive government buildings and say 'no photo', moving you swiftly on - Ashgabat














turkmenistan157I haven't worked out if these golden domes also belong to the Presidential Palace or are other parliament buildings. And I couldn't dawdle when walking by.. - Ashgabat















turkmenistan164The same photo in the daytime, with the Akhal-Teke Monument on the right. The city holds the record for the highest concentration of white marble buildings in the world - Ashgabat


turkmenistan168The Akhal-Teke Monument, just a stone's throw from the Grand Turkmen Hotel, has a fountain at its base - Ashgabat


turkmenistan167The Akhal-Teke is a breed of horse native to Turkmenistan - Ashgabat















turkmenistan169The first time I walked on Independence Square I didn't see any soldiers, so took a photo of the Turkmenistan Cabinet Ministry. Within a few metres I saw plenty.. - Ashgabat













turkmenistan171The Altyn Asyr is a shopping centre opposite the Grand Turkmen. It's small but has one carpet shop, though they required payment in manat rather than dollars. There's other carpet shops on the same road, including two in the hotel accepting dollars - Ashgabat


turkmenistan175The City Pub is a couple of blocks from the Grand Turkmen and also has a restaurant. Another, opposite the hotel, is the British Pub, but my preference is the Gunes Bar, aka Zip Bar after the beer it sells (you can fill plastic bottles with it to take away) which has a beer garden and a decent food menu. And it sold Laphroaig! - Ashgabat


turkmenistan177A rotating sign showing off the marble buildings of Ashgabat


turkmenistan213Less than 5mins from the hotel is the Russian Bazaar, mainly selling food but also clothes, postcards, books and souvenirs. A corner shop just outside offered manat at good rates - Ashgabat














turkmenistan218The president looking all cuddly, though dissident journalists may not agree.
After I took this photo a guy in plain clothes flashed some sort of ID and beckoned me. I shook my head, said no and walked away. He shouted 'hey mister' a couple of times but I carried on. And that was that. I'm not stopping for someone in plain clothes! - Ashgabat












turkmenistan220The Azadi Mosque, or Ertugrul Gazi Mosque, has a hint of Istanbul's Blue Mosque - Ashgabat


turkmenistan222I saw more families at Park Number 1 than anywhere else in Ashgabat, which makes sense seeing as there's a mini-fairground, toy cars and a dinosaur park - Ashgabat


turkmenistan227Somewhere close to the park (in other words, I couldn't find it) is a statue of Lenin - Ashgabat














turkmenistan235The Carpet Museum proudly displays the world's largest carpet, left - Ashgabat















turkmenistan238One more golden statue of Turkmenbashy - Ashgabat


turkmenistan239OK, just one more - Ashgabat



turkmenistan237On the other side of the road, facing Turkmenbashy, is Berdymukhamedov - Ashgabat














turkmenistan242Off to the train station for a 7hr journey to Mary. The trains are comfortable though slow, but I prefer them to the plane (my idea of hell!) - Ashgabat














By the way my tour didn't include guiding around the capital. Even though obtaining a tourist visa involves having to book a tour it doesn't mean you have to supervised at all times, so I had free rein to wander. And similarly I was left to myself for the train ride.


turkmenistan242bSunset over the Kopet Dag Mountains, on the train ride to Mary - Ashgabat to Mary


turkmenistan244Margush Hotel looks fine from the outside but rooms are run down with dirty carpets, with all money going on their new hotel down the road. Bed sheets were clean though! - Mary














turkmenistan246Opposite the hotel is what I thought was the Gurbanguly Hajji Mosque (named after the president), however in all photos I've seen it has a blue dome. Any ideas? - Mary














turkmenistan247The red brick Pokrovskaya Russian Orthodox Church was built inn 1900 - Mary


turkmenistan248There were several skull and crossed bones inside the church, not something I've seen before - Mary


turkmenistan249A few hundred metres from the church is a Russian MiG-29 military plane. There's a good supermarket opposite - Mary















turkmenistan251The Zelyony Bazaar sells lots of local produce - Mary















turkmenistan253I loved these cute 3-wheel tractors, which were commonplace in the north. I was told they're nicknamed Belarus after their country of origin - Mary


turkmenistan256A Ferris wheel near the bazaar - Mary


turkmenistan250A pretty big statue of Kemine, a Turkmen poet - Mary















turkmenistan260I lied earlier - I have one more statue of Turkmenbashy, spotted on the road from Mary to Merv














turkmenistan258This sign says 'Turkmenistan - The Heart of the Great Silk Road' - Mary to Merv


turkmenistan257And this sign says the same, accompanied by Akhal-Teke horses. The Silk Road is an ancient trade route that linked Europe to the Middle East and on to Central Asia. The Uzbek cities of Khiva, Bukhara and Samarkand were on the route, along with the ancient Turkmen city of Merv, near Mary


turkmenistan271Wind is definitely not the best weather in the desert - a sandstorm brews up as we enter Merv














turkmenistan267At its height around the 11th-12th century, Merv was seen as one of the great cities of the Islamic world. Today there's just ruins spread over an area several kms square














turkmenistan262Great Kyz Kala is the most impressive, a fortress dating to the 7th century - Merv


turkmenistan273It was the weekend, but more importantly it was also the anniversary of the 1948 earthquake, and many pilgrims came to visit the mosques and mausoleums of Merv. This is the 7th century Mausolea of the Two Askhab (meaning companions of the Prophet Mohammed)


turkmenistan278Local guys at the top of the 3rd century BC walls surrounding Erk Kala, later grabbing selfies with me while the sand stung the eyes - Merv














turkmenistan294In Sultan Kala is the 12th century Mausoleum of Sultan Sanjar - Merv














turkmenistan297This is what seemed to be a guard's family residence next door to the 12th century Mausoleum of Mohammed ibn Zeid, a Sufi shrine - Merv


turkmenistan298With Murat, my amiable Mary driver for the day, at at an excellent restaurant with small private rooms, on the return to Ashgabat. I think the nondescript town was Tejen














turkmenistan300On the side of the road after Kaka are the ruins of Abiverd, once a trading town on the Silk Road


turkmenistan302The price of petrol - at black market rates this translates to just under $3 for 33 litres. Wow! - somewhere near Abiverd


turkmenistan303A bad photo of the 1,375km-long Karakum Canal, which transfers water from the Amu-Darya River in the north across the Karakum Desert













turkmenistan312I had a day-tour of sights near Ashgabat with Sascha, starting with the palace ruins of Nisa, the former capital of the Parthian Empire


turkmenistan310Nisa is thought to date back to the 3rd century BC, with much of what's left being reconstructions


turkmenistan313Nisa is at the foot of the Kopet Dag Mountains and here you can see a 'health trail', a pocket version of the 37km Walk of Life















turkmenistan315From the top of the Nisa walls you can see a distant Turkmenbashy Ruhy Mosque in Gypjak - Nisa














turkmenistan316Gypjak was the birthplace of Turkmenbashy - Gypjak


turkmenistan323The marble and gold Turkmenbashy Ruhy Mosque, named after Niyazov, is a controversial one, reason being the inscription hailing 'The Ruhnama is a holy book. The Quran is the word of Allah'. Equating Turkmenbashy's book to that of the Quran is seen by many Muslims as an outrage, so it's unlikely you'll see many worshippers here - Gypjak


turkmenistan327Next door is the mausoleum, the resting place of Niyazov himself - Gypjak















turkmenistan330On the way to Kov Ata we stopped off at Saparmurat Hajji Mosque, completed in 1995 and named after Turkmenbashy's pilgrimage to Mecca - Geok Tepe


turkmenistan333Somewhere nearby was another portrait of the current president between notable Ashgabat monuments and a map of Turkmenistan - Geok Tepe


turkmenistan339Tapchan, so popular in Uzebkistan and Tajikistan, line the road to Kov Ata Lake, very popular with locals at the weekend - Kov Ata















turkmenistan336Get a strong whiff of sulphur on the steps down to the thermal waters of Kov Ata Lake, 65m underground - Kov Ata














turkmenistan338Russian-speaking locals swim in the underground thermal pool. Bring a towel and swimsuit, and don't stray too far into the pitch black! - Kov Ata


turkmenistan340Relax on a tapchan - take your shoes off and lie down, or rest, drink and eat - Kov Ata


turkmenistan342The brand new airport, designed in the style of a falcon in flight, looks brilliant. There's two identical falcons - I asked if one was domestic and one international. Nope, one's for the president and his cronies, and one for plebs like me - Ashgabat

















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LINKS - Central Asian tour operator but website has a wealth of information - Main resource for all things Central Asian - extremely useful - Stories from both the goverment and what's really happening (click Our News). Something tells me this website is blocked in Turkmenistan.. - more real stories from Turkmenistan - put into Google Translate - Government site


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