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What’s Journey to Turkmenistan Actually Like? Journey to Ashgabat & Past | Koryo Excursions

Turkmenistan stands out as the oddest and most intriguing nation I’ve ever visited. Making journey to Turkmenistan a reasonably distinctive expertise. 

I’ve been frequently travelling to Turkmenistan for round 12 years now. The attention-grabbing and weird nature of this desert republic by no means ceased to amaze me.

Koryo Excursions’ Wealthy Beal walks us by his first time of journey to Turkmenistan. His first impressions of Ashgabat. And the very best scorching chocolate he is ever had.

ashgabat turkmenistan

The Lengthy Highway to Journey to Turkmenistan

Regardless of the 12 years of journeys, no a part of journey to Turkmenistan is odder than the marble-clad capital, Ashgabat.

Nestled amidst the deserts of Turkmenistan, which itself stretches out to the shores of the Caspian Sea, Ashgabat is filled with contradictions. Myths. Rumours. Tales. And historical past.

It’s for that reason, I’d spent years wanting to go to.

Actually, earlier than my time at Koryo, I’d made a number of makes an attempt to steer a tour and journey to Turkmenistan. All of which fell by.

Whether or not or not it’s some native occasion, an unplanned border closure… And even my ill-fated ‘5 Stans’ tour which became 4 stans in a short time when the Turkmen authorities closed the border to foreigners simply earlier than our arrival.

On the time, journey to Turkmenistan was in its infancy. So issues have been all the time a bit extra fluid and unreliable.

Fortunately, we’ve moved on from these days. However moving into the nation nonetheless took me a very good few years.

It wasn’t till I began my work with Koryo Excursions that I lastly had a fortunate break.

I’d been working my method into changing into our Central Asia specialist. A position which I’d ultimately morph into operating a number of adventures by the area yearly.

After we had certainly one of our Turkmenistan excursions overbooked, a second tour chief was required.

Lastly, this was my likelihood to board a flight to Ashgabat and journey to Turkmenistan.


Flying into Turkmenistan

An early begin was required to catch our Turkmenistan Airways flight from Beijing Capital Worldwide Airport.

The very first thing which struck me, by the fog of tiredness, was the sheer quantity of bags the Turkmen passengers have been checking in.

Big piles of products have been being loaded onto the airplane by native Turkmens travelling overseas for enterprise, commerce, and even simply on vacation. All desiring to convey again half of the Western world with them within the cargo maintain.

Finally, we boarded the plane, admiring the portrait of the President which was once displayed on the entrance of the cabin.

Turkmenistan Above the Clouds

It was the very best leisure we had throughout the flight, as our in-flight leisure screens displayed nothing however photos of clouds for six hours.

This left me and my fellow tour chief with nothing to do however play “What animal are you able to see within the clouds?” for six hours till we started our descent.

I’ll always remember the view which greeted me out of the window as we descended in direction of Turkmenistan.

The huge nothingness of the desert progressively gave method to a patchwork of inexperienced fields. Mud homes have been changed by staggering marble buildings, shining like an oasis amidst the cruel environment.

The town was additional highlighted by the unmissable backdrop made up of mountain peaks rising behind the town.

This was Ashgabat.

Touchdown in Ashgabat

After we landed at Ashgabat, we navigated the limitless customs process. We made our method to the bags carousel the place the Turkmen passengers who had loaded up all their items have been standing round ready to gather them.

Televisions, microwaves, piles of garments, every part you might think about.

Lastly, we headed for the arrivals corridor. For the primary time, I felt that I had lastly achieved certainly one of my nice ambitions.

After all of the paperwork and planning, I arrived in Turkmenistan.

We met our guides, certainly one of whom recognized himself as Rustam.

He instructed us the motive force was additionally known as Rustam, and launched us to our second information, Rustam.

He leaned over to me and mentioned “However don’t fear, I’m the funniest Rustam”. A joke which made me belief that we’d work properly collectively.

A lot in order that we stay very agency buddies to at the present time.

He’s certainly the funniest Rustam I’ve ever met.

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Strolling in Ashgabat

The primary day in Ashgabat was taken up with a strolling tour.

We determined it finest that I ought to get some on-the-ground expertise earlier than the tour group arrived. So, we wandered the streets of Ashgabat marvelling on the numerous oddities and monuments it needed to provide.

Since then, we’ve began together with this non-compulsory strolling tour as a part of all our Turkmenistan journeys.

I felt it added rather a lot to the expertise and for these on their first journey to Turkmenistan.

Ashgabat Previous Metropolis

We wandered by the outdated metropolis of Ashgabat, dispelling myths that Ashgabat is uninhabited. However additionally realising how that fantasy arose.

The extreme warmth and the way in which the town is constructed means it’s straightforward to mistake the quiet streets being the results of an absence of individuals. Certainly, in case you don’t know the place to look you may miss the individuals solely.

Though they’re there, nestled inside retailers and cafes.

Assembly Native Turkmens

One reminiscence which sticks in my head is assembly a bunch of scholars exterior the Turkish embassy.

They have been shocked to see a foreigner, and even additional shocked that I wasn’t Russian.

I suppose it was a uncommon likelihood for some English apply!

This little interplay was my first instance of how hospitable and beautiful the individuals of Turkmenistan are. Regardless of restricted contact with outsiders, they present unbelievable friendliness and kindness at each alternative. It’s one of many causes I hold going again.

However above all, Ashgabat is unbelievable.

A mixture of Central Asian tradition with Soviet and Russian historical past.

The statue of Lenin within the metropolis is among the finest I’ve ever seen. Depicting him standing on a Turkmen carpet mosaic.

Equally unbelievable, but much less traditionally essential, Ashgabat was residence to the very best scorching chocolate I’ve ever loved.

Not one thing you may anticipate finding on this desert nation.

As our stroll continued, we handed a number of the metropolis’s huge Presidential Palaces.

Guards guarding gates so big you might simply climb by the bars with out even touching them!

Getting Round Ashgabat

To get round this solely marble metropolis was a bit tricker in these days than it’s immediately.

Again then there have been few automobiles and no taxis. So as a substitute we needed to simply flag down native drivers and attempt to persuade them to take us the place we wanted to go.

Native employees, indignant outdated women, policemen… Everybody was a taxi in these days.

Horse Racing in Downtown Ashgabat

One among my favorite reminiscences from the journey was taking our tour group to Ashgabat’s horse racing stadium.

Because of my time in Mongolia and my rural upbringing within the UK, I used to be all the time a fan of the odd horse. And this was a uncommon likelihood to catch certainly one of Turkmenistan’s famed Ahal-Teke horses in motion!

We arrived on the stadium within the blazing warmth, surrounded by a whole bunch of Ashgabat locals hoping to catch a glimpse of the day’s racing.

Playing on the Races?

While playing is, technically, unlawful, we determined as a bunch that we’d have our little inner wager. Every of us put a greenback on our favoured horse.

Oddly, as the beginning of the race neared, the hustle and bustle of our environment descended into an eerie silence, reaching its peak moments earlier than the gates opened.

After just a few seconds of deathly quiet, the gun sounded and the hustle and bustle returned with a vengeance as our fellow spectators went loopy with pleasure.

I seen, because the horses neared the end line, my favoured competitor was popping out on high.

Finally, he gained.

A barely awkward scenario was that I used to be the Tour Chief taking my winnings from the tour group… Nevertheless, it was made a lot worse after we repeated the wager. I gained a second time!

Finally, I agreed to purchase the group beer throughout our later journey to the Darvaza Gasoline Crater, in order that was okay.


Visiting Ashgabat

Ashgabat is a metropolis I can suggest to anybody.

In case you like individuals, meals, oddities, structure, historical past, or tradition… Ashgabat is a spot for the bucket checklist.

Its weird mixture of unusual and regular is not like anywhere I’ve ever seen. And while the various myths and legends of the town are broadly unfaithful, it does include a combination of weirdness which I’ve but to come across elsewhere.

A restaurant that may be fully silent at 7 pm may be heaving with patrons simply two hours later.

Streets could seem fully devoid of locals. That’s till you poke your head inside a small tea home or café and see what looks like half the town having fun with a espresso or a beer collectively.

On high of all of that, Ashgabat is the gateway to the remainder of Turkmenistan. Whether or not or not it’s the traditional ruins at Merv. The Gateway to Hell that’s the Darvaza Gasoline Crater. Or the unusual lifeless (but very stunning) resort city of Awaza on the Caspian Sea.

There may be a lot to see.

In case you’re enthusiastic about visiting Ashgabat, we head there twice a 12 months on scheduled group excursions in Might and October, and we’d like to have you ever be a part of our subsequent journey!



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