Ashgabat, with a population of around three quarters of a million people is an unusual looking capital city. The buildings are fairly modern as most of the city was destroyed in the 1948 earthquake. It’s situated in a dry valley and has numerous white marble buildings which literally dazzle you when the sun shines. Here you can see splendid palaces, gold covered domes and pristine parks. The centre of the city has wide roads, but little traffic. Ashgabat does however have a reasonably good and growing selection of restaurants and bars.
Another important city on the Silk Road, Kunya Urgench, on the edge of the Karakum Desert still retains a few buildings from that period even after three serious attacks. Much of the city remains unexcavated but there are a number of ancient mausoleums that can be visited.
Mary & Merv
Mary, previously known as Merv used to be an oasis town on the Silk Road and is still surrounded by the Karakum Desert. The new city is actually situated approximately 20 Kms from the old site of Merv after that was attacked by the Emir of Bukhara. Although Mary is a pleasant town in itself, the main reason tourists come here is to visit the ancient site of Merv. In the 12th century, Merv had a population of over a million people and was a major trading post on the Silk Road. There are many ancient structures here worth viewing.
The Karakum Desert has one of the most popular tourist sights in Turkmenistan. This is the “Door to Hell” near Darvaza. It is situated in a natural gas field where a crater formed. Gas seeping from the crater was ignited by Soviet engineers in the 1970s, however the expectation that it would burn itself out, never happened and it continues to burn to this day.It’s quite a spectacular site and best viewed at night, so desert camping trips are available.
TOURS IN CENTRAL ASIA