Turkmenistan is famous for its contrasts. Here in summer the temperature goes over +50 ° C, and winter can be very cold. In this country you can find the largest lake in the world – the Caspian, the young and old Kugitang and Kopetdag mountains, as well as the Karakum Desert, which occupies 80% of the country’s territory. Here I will introduce you to 10 places that you should visit while being in this beautiful country.
Yangi-Kala Canyon or “Gizil Dag” translated from Turkmen as “red mountain” is the first in the list. This amazing place has not been explored much by the locals themselves. You can enjoy the view of mountains similar to those that are filmed in American westerns and you will not be disturbed by crowds of tourists. The canyon is located in the western part of the country in the Balkan region. Many thousands of years ago, the bottom of the canyon was flooded by the Tethys Sea, which has not existed for a long time. But it left its traces both in the mountains and in the desert of the country.
The Karakum desert or “Garagum” (“black sand” in Turkmen) occupies a ¾ of the country’s territory and is a habitat for many species of animals and some plants. It is located in the center of the country, and modern towns and villages are located around the desert. It is especially beautiful in Karakum in spring, when poppies bloom and cover sand dunes with a red carpet. By the way, thousand years ago, the same Tethys Sea was splashing in the “lifeless” sands. Today, only sedimentary rocks and shells imprinted in rocks remind of it.
Merv. If you are as interested in history as I am, then visit the ancient city of Merv. It is located in the Mary region of the country. There you will find the ruins of the prosperous and one of the largest cities of the Muslim East. At the peak of its prime, the population of Merv was 150 thousand people, while on average people lived in cities numbering 2-3 thousand. Ancient Merv was one of the beautiful and important cities of the East along with Damascus, Cairo and Baghdad. He was also called the “Soul of Kings”. Today, the complex of priceless monuments of Merv is included in the UNESCO World Heritage List.
Dayakhatyn caravanserai. The next historical monument is located in the eastern part of the country in the Lebap Velayat (region). The Dayakhatyn caravanserai is the cultural and historical legacy of the Turkmen people. A unique medieval inn on the coast of the Amu Darya is surprisingly well preserved. Dayakhatyn served as a hotel on a length of the Silk Road from Amul (today Turkmenabad) to Khorezm. And researchers suggest that not only traders, but also rulers and nobles stayed here. Apparently, as it is today, there were suites in Dayahatyn, which differed from the rest in design and area.
The underground lake Kov Ata, or “father of caves” in Turkmen, is an unusual and fascinating place not far from Ashgabat. To see the lake, you will have to go deep into the mountains underground. While you are going down, you can behold the beauty of the mountains from the inside. After reaching the lake 10 meters deep, be sure to swim there, as the water is therapeutic, and the temperature is +35 degrees Celsius all year round. And this cave is also the home of the largest colony of bats in Central Asia. Therefore, the lighting here is dim, and employees and visitors try not to make noise not to disturb the “locals”.
Darvaz gas crater. If we go back to the Karakum Desert, there are large deposits of oil and gas, and in 1971 Soviet geologists unexpectedly discovered a modern attraction of Turkmenistan – the Darvaz gas crater. The name translates from Turkmen as “Gate”, and locals call this place “The Gates of Hell”. This crater burns both day and night. I think you have read about this place, as it is the most desirable place to visit for tourists and is marked in the popular Trip Advisor application. Back in 1971, geologists, having stumbled upon an underground void, discovered a gas accumulation there. They decided to ignite the gas, thinking that it would burn quickly. It turned out that there was so much gas there that this place is still burning to this day. Today, the authorities and scientists of Turkmenistan are searching for safe ways to extinguish this “eternal flame”.
Darvaz Gas Crater
Lake Avaza. Let’s move from fire to water or more correctly to the lake. Avaza is a popular resort place on the coast of the largest lake in the world – the Caspian, which is usually called the sea. This is a series of five-star white marble and colorful hotels built along the coast. There is also a yacht club, a park with dinosaurs, a water park and everything a tourist needs for a summer vacation. The lake is quite warm. The velvet season is the end of August and the beginning of September. The most interesting thing is that a long time ago the Caspian Sea was part of the present and previously mentioned Tethys Sea. It was connected to the Arctic Ocean. And since then, such inhabitants of the northern seas as seals, giant belugas, sturgeon and others have remained here.
Ashgabat. Well, how not to tell about the pearl of Turkmenistan – its capital. If you are in the country, you will most likely visit Ashgabat. It entered the Guinness Book of Records as the whitest marble city in the world. It will amaze you with its scale and abundance, comfortable glass busstops with air conditioning, beautiful hills and mountain views, delicious food, national clothes and, of course, a hospitable population. Ashgabat does not stand still. It grows, develops and builds. It’s hard to believe that the 1948 earthquake turned the city into ruins. Today it is one of the most beautiful cities in Central Asia, which became the host of the V Asian Martial Arts and Indoor Competitions in 2017.
The ancient city of Nisa. Let’s move from modernity to antiquity. Nisa is an ancient city consisting of New Nisa and Old Nisa or the city of Alexandropol, founded by Alexander the Great. The settlement is located 18 km from Ashgabat and is a legacy of the Parthian country. For a long time of the city’s existence, both power and statehood have been replaced here. If you are a history lover like me, you will be amazed by the ancient ruins and archaeological finds. For example, during the excavations of one of the palaces, they found a treasury with beautiful marble statues, documents written on clay tablets in Parthian and Aramaic, as well as an amazing fragment of a fresco. Nisa is undoubtedly one of the most interesting monuments of the UNESCO World Historical heritage and is protected by the state as an archaeological reserve.
Kugitang Plateau. Well, how not to visit the unique and mysterious Dinosaur plateau in the Kugitang or Koitendag Mountains, as the locals call them. This is a rare place on our planet where the traces of real dinosaurs were imprinted into the rock! Moreover, about 3 thousand footprints and 31 paths have been found, along which they moved more than 140 million years ago. Such a number of footprints of these ancient creatures in one place is a record in the world. You will have to climb the mountains for half an hour in order to see this miracle. There is also a beautiful view of the green area of the village of Khojapil. There is a story that says that these tracks were found by a local resident of Khoja and mistook them for the tracks of a huge elephant. From there, the name of the plateau and the nearby village of Khojapil appeared, Khoja is the name of the discoverer and “pil” is translated from Turkmen as “elephant”.
If you are interested in visiting all these historical, modern and natural sights of Turkmenistan, welcome! We have many more places that will surprise you!