12 June 2017
Bukhara to Mary.
We had to leave early in the morning due to a border crossing at Alat- Farb from Uzbekistan to Turkmenistan and the heat. We had no idea how the border crossing would go. We had heard stories of long delays and people flying back to Samarkand to arrange visas. Fortunately, we had our letter of introduction and the process took about 5 hours because the border guards and officials needed to have their 1 ½ hour lunch break which they took in the middle of processing the cars and our visas. The cars were parked in the blazing sun – it was so hot that the tar melted and coated everyone shoes in a thick gooey mess. We were able to set up camp in the waiting room, with air con and bought in our picnic chairs and proceeded to have our lunch and a nap. They checked everyone medications, bags and back packs – then their Xray scanner broke down. Oh well we finally drove away towards Mary arriving there quite late in the evening. Sand dunes lined the rough potholed, corrugated and heavily ridged road occasionally we stopped for a herd of camels, sheep or goats and cattle, herded by young boys.
It is intriguing how each country has it chosen mode of transport here in Uzbekistan is was the Daewoo mini van which hurtled by us packed with to the gunwales with people, luggage and produce. China saw very new and expensive cars mainly Audi, BMW, Mercedes, VW, Toyota and Lexus. In Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan, old Ladas, old Soviet trucks, and other unidentifiable Soviet vehicles. When driving in the Stans marked lanes don’t exist so often there could be 4 cars overtaking you on what is a 2 lane roads. But everywhere we have been the people are welcoming and happy to see us beeping their horns and taking photos with their iphones – yes everyone has an iphone.
Dress codes for men and women change with each country. In Uzbekistan the women all wore long colourful dresses with elaborate headdresses which have been worn for centuries. In Turkmenistan there was a mixture of Western styles and more traditional designs. In rural areas women wore scarves and long skirts and jackets. Even men observed the rule of long pants not shorts.
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. Leveled 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.