Turkmenistan: Oasis in the Covid-ridden world

By Satyaki Dutta

Located in Central Asia, Turkmenistan is an ancient land of great natural beauty. As a travel destination, this obscure desert country still remains mysterious and unexplored to most of the international tourists. Coming out from the totalitarian dictatorship of Saparmurat Niyazov, modern Turkmenistan is run by a regime that encourages and promotes tourism to the world. However, you are required to travel with a guide to explore the enchanting country.

Due to its political obscurity, Turkmenistan is one of the least travelled destinations among theStans, but it is the most interesting one undoubtedly. Turkmen are fascinating people with a sense of legendary hospitality. Moreso, even if the world is reeling from Covid presently, there are no reported positive cases from Turkmenistan yet.

There is controversy with the accuracy and reliability of the report with zero cases, but surely it is significantly lower. No reported cases from travellers from in and out of the country. Thanks to the authoritarian nature of the new government, with strict rules and regulations.

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You can begin the journey from Ashgabat, the capital city of Turkmenistan. This modern city was rebuilt in 1984after an earthquake destroyed all. Meaning the ‘city of Love’ in Arabic, Ashgabat has marble palaces, gold domes and vast expanses of manicured parkland. The city is built on the oil and gas revenues of Turkmenistan.

The next must-visit is Konye-Urgench, a UNESCO World Heritage Site at a rural backwater in north-western Turkmenistan. Known as the Mecca of Turkmenistan, it is located on the left bank of the Amu Daria River. Urgench, the capital of the Khorezm region is a part of the Achaemenid Empire.  It comprises a mosque, the gates of a caravanserai, fortresses, mausoleums and a 60-m high minaret with outstanding architecture and craftsmanship.

One of the most infamous yet popular sites is the Darvaza Gas Craters. Known as the ‘Gates of Hell’, Darvaza Gas Craters are the result of Soviet-era Natural gas exploration in the 1970s. The three artificial craters are halfway between Ashgabat and Konye-Urgench. The blazing fire pit in the heart of the Karakum desert is a unique site.

Yangykala Canyon, one of the natural wonders situated in the western part of Turkmenistan is the vast rock landscape with 60-100 meters tallsteep rock walls of the canyon. Situated in the isolation of the Karakum desert, this landscape was created more than 5.5 million years before. The red cliffs walls are underwater limestone walls full of coral reefs from the pre-historical epicontinental ParaTethys Sea.

Merv, ‘Queen of the World’, was one of the great cities of the Islamic world. Now a UNESCO World Heritage Site, it has the same status as Damascus, Baghdad and Cairo as a major centre of religious study.

Located 60 km north of Merv, Gonur Depe is an archaeological site representing bygone days and ancient ruins. The complex and vast layout of the Bronze Age villages were assembled along the Murgab River, known as the Margiana Oasis. The sites adjacent to Gonur revealed four fire temples, and evidence of a cult based around a potent drug potion (soma elixir) prepared from poppy, hemp and ephedra plants.

Though it is difficult getting a visa for this politically repressed country, it is one of the safest countries to travel in the world. A new trilateral mechanism between Turkey, Turkmenistan and Azerbaijan has resulted in a major improvement in economic and tourism stability in the region. Turkmenistan gets very hot in summer, hence refrain then from travelling.

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