Before this trip I had not heard of Turkmenistan now I wonder if I dreamed it except when I meet other travellers who say “Have you been to Turkmenistan? It is like somewhere on the moon.”
The notes on the tour told us not to discuss politics in Turkmenistan and that our movements were likely to be monitored.
We crossed the border from Uzbekistan, there were more than 40 trucks waiting to cross. The distance between the 2 border posts is 2 km and we fortunately got a lift. It took us an hour to get a visa which cost $70. Total time to cross from Uzbekistan to Turkmenistan 3 hours.
Turkmenistan is about the size of Spain with a population of 5 million, 80% of the land is the Karakorum Desert.
It’s exports are 40% natural gas, 25% petroleum and oil and 10% cotton. Turkmenistan has oil and gas agreements with Russia, China and Iran.
It is the ninth largest cotton producer in the world, the water is provided by the Karakorum Canal.
Turkmenistan had not been a country prior to the end of the Soviet era. It had been part of the Otterman Empire. They were nomadic tribes who were feared and involved in the slave trade. It became independant in 1991 ruled by a former Communist official President for Life Saparmurat Niyazov who is called “turkmenbasy” Leader of the Turkmen until his death in 2006.
Education, health and fire services were cut to increase spending on the police and the army. (A bit of a worry when staying on the 7th floor of a hotel)
The first President wrote his own book which all citizens were required to buy, it was compulsory study in school and used for university entrance where again it was one of the 4 subjects of study.
The people do not pay for water or electricity and get 120l of petrol a month. Females students all wear green dresses to school and red dresses to university, male students wear black pants and white shirts with ties.
Ashgabad the capital has very many gold statues of the first president and white marble buildings.
These white buildings all seem deserted except for people polishing marble. There is a mosque dedicated to the first president with his name above that of Allah and quotes from his book around the walls.
The 2017 Asian Games are to be held in Ashgabad the capital and many marble stadiums are nearing completion.
Turkmenistan has some appalling roads and the worst toilet we encountered in our entire trip.
My camera and phone were examined on leaving the country and the guard went through all my photos, stopping for quite a while on one which May have been of Archie and Harry feeding kangaroos.