Turkmenistan: heart of the historical Silk Road
Central Asian country Turkmenistan is one of the least visited countries in the world. And that is a shame, because a holiday in Turkmenistan gives you plenty of things to do. Besides the capital Ashgabat, which is also known as the city of marble, can you see the incredible Gates of Hell or visit the Yangykala Canyon. If you want to know more about the Silk Road, the UNESCO sites Merv and Nisa are definitely recommended. There are two main reasons why few tourists go to Turkmenistan. The first one is that Turkmenistan is hardly in the news. The other one is that the visa for Turkmenistan is very difficult to get and you cannot travel through the country without a guide. Fortunately, we can help you with all these things, so that you can easily visit this amazing country!
When you arrive in the capital Ashgabat, you’ll feel like you’re in an utopian city. There is marble everywhere, from houses to the monuments, and streets and parks look very empty. Officially, about 1 million people live in the city, but most of them live in the flats in the suburbs. Ashgabat is also the only place in the country where you can move around without a guide.
A trip to Turkmenistan also has a lot to offer when it comes to nature. The Yangykala Canyon is located in the northwest of the country. This canyon is at least as impressive as its counterpart in the United States. Deep ravines, special colors and strange rock formations make this a place you will not forget for the rest of your life.
Gates of Hell
The Gates of Hell is perhaps the most famous attraction in Turkmenistan. This unnatural crater (also called the Darwaza Crater) was created in 1971 when Russian geologists were drilling for gas. When the gas chamber collapsed, they decided to torch the crater for fear of toxic gases. They thought the gas would burn out in the foreseeable future. Little did they know. Today it is still burning. The crater has a diameter of 69 meters and you can camp right next to the crater.
The Turkmenistan region was important for the Silk Road. Merv was an important stop for many traders. The history of the oasis town goes back into a long time. Today Merv is the oldest and best preserved oasis town along the Silk Road. The historic centre of the city consists of a number of adjoining walls of various ancient places such as Erk Kala, Gyaur Kala and Kyz Kala.
The area that is now Turkmenistan was inhabited by Turkish nomadic tribes from the 11th century. In 1881 the area was conquered by the Russians, after which it became part of the Soviet Union in 1918 as one of the republics. On October 27, 1991, Turkmenistan gained independence when the Soviet Union fell apart. Saparmurat Niazov was one of the few leaders to survive Gorbachev’s glasnost. He became the first president of Turkmenistan during this turbulent time. The Stalinist turned into a nationalist and he ruled the country in an autocratic manner.
Leader of the Turkmens
In 1993 he gave himself the title Turkmenbashi (leader of the Turkmens). He introduced holidays in honour of his parents, the melon and the carpet (yes, really!). He also made sure that his own book, the Ruchnama, was taught at every school. Niazov died on December 21, 2006. Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedow took over from him. Berdimuhamedow also rules harshly, but has revised some of Niazov’s decisions. The people are now allowed to sing karaoke again.