13 June – 14 June 2017
Mary to Ashgabat Turkmenistan
Yesterday the drive from Mary was a long and hot one with interesting road conditions. Since entering Turkmenistan we have noticed that not only do we have the regular type of corrugations, pot holed oversized bumps on the asphalt but deep ridges which run parallel with the direction of the road. It isn’t difficult to see why the asphalt deteriorates rapidly due to the extreme heat and continuous use by heavy trucks.
Thankfully the road improved and the kms flew by. They needed to – we were driving parallel with the Iranian border which we could see not far from the road. But the landscape, a desert was flat, barren and the short shrubby vegetation was rapidly drying out in the extreme heat (about 40- 42’’C). The highway created the illusion of a shimmering black ribbon clouded in the haze from the desert. Now I understand how people can be tricked into seeing things from a mirage.
On the other side of the road in the odd place you could see lush green orchards and fields of wheat, growing with the benefit of the large canal which flows to the Caspian Sea. On the way we stopped at an ancient site called Abivert which relied on well water and bores for its survival from 7 century BC. The last remnants of mud , clay brick houses from the 18 century could be seen along with many pieces of broken pottery. I found a broken clay piece with a handle, which I left on the pile for others to look at.
Ashgabat is a modern city full of white marble colossus buildings. Levelled in 1948 by earthquake and rebuilt in Soviet style. Lots of marble palaces, gold domes and manicured parklands dot the city providing cool places to walk in the blazing summer sun. After breakfast on the 14 June there was a city tour to see Nisa State Historical Reserve in Bagyr Village. Kypchak Memorial Centre and then Ashgabat City Tour, unfortunately I missed it due to a tummy bug but Peter enjoyed seeing the massive white marble buildings. He was back around 12.30pm due to the heat.
After midday no-one goes outside, the streets are deserted only emerging after the sun has set. The contrast between white marble buildings, expensive airports and shabby old Soviet style cottages is significant. People here really didn’t look happy. Ashgabat could be classed as one of the strangest places in Asia.
Ashgabat to Mashad
We were up for a long stretch of single day driving from Ashgabat through Iran and into Turkey. This is necessary because distances are long and locations are only way stops. We crossed from Turkmenistan into Iran at Bajgiran. And it was on with the headscarf immediately along with long pants and tops– at least we don’t have to worry about our hair….
The country side is desert, mountainous and barren with numerous checkpoints on the tops of the mountains and it was hot.
Mashad is the second largest city in Iran and second most religious city to Mecca. Everything looks like it is left overs from the Shah’s era and quite run down. And the drivers are crazy, no indicators and no stopping, no waiting to do a turn they just do it.
Friday, 16 June 2017
It was a Holy Day today and everything was closed, even the money changers. As foreigners we are allowed to eat in the hotel but not outside. We visited the Imam Reza shrine Complex, and a carpet museum, coin museum, Nader Shah tomb, Ferdowsi Mausoleum and Harouneh.
This is the second largest holiest Islamic shrine in the world after Mecca. Today they were expecting 2 million worshippers in the evening. Before we could go in, all the ladies in the team were dressed into a chador so we could enter the Shrine complex. Our bags were checked and all water had to be shown to be water, no makeup was allowed. We had our headscarves on and then a full length chador was placed over our heads and was tied under our chins. It was an enormous place as you can imagine – everywhere we walked it was in our soxs or bare feet across hectares of carpets for miles. All women were covered in a chador – most were black but ours were patterned so we stood out. This shrine contained the tomb of Imam Reza and is sheltered by an enormous golden dome. At times it was unbearable to walk across the carpets because they were so hot from the sun. We searched out paved areas so we could put our shoes on.
One special courtyard was constantly filled with hundreds of mourners, constantly coming and going for numerous funerals; in the time we were there about 8 to 10 funerals were in the process of being conducted.
We had a very interesting talk by one of the Imams who talked about the Shrine and its significance. And the opportunity to visit a special womens only area which was lined with millions of pieces of cut mirrors and chandeliers. No photos but we were given a beautifully photographed book.
The tour was long and very hot and we were back in the mid afternoon to rest from the 40+ degree heat.