Our last impression of Uzbekistan was, like our first, pretty good. The border guards gave us no hassle, were friendly, and reasonably quick. Perhaps we were just lucky. It was pretty much the same on the Turkmen side although they did the most thorough search of our bags so far. From getting out of the taxi in Uzbekistan to getting into the car in Turkmenistan took about an hour and a half – not too bad by local standards.
First stop in Stan 4 was Kunye Urgench for some (more) mausoleums. The Turkmens take a different approach to the Uzbeks, rather than restoring historic buildings they just stop them falling down, although perhaps not as spectacular we thought it worked better.
Then we were off on another long desert crossing, this time the Karakum, to our second stop the incredible Darvaza gas crater a.k.a The Door To Hell. An amazing place that is difficult to describe with either words or pictures neither of which can properly show the scale or describe the heat and noise. The government wants to shut it down but so far nobody has come up with a way to do that. A nice illustration of the limits to the powers of even the most dictatorial of tinpot megalomaniacs – which the clown here certainly is.
Ashgabat is the weirdest place either of us have ever been to. Rebuilt in white marble by the previous tinpot dictator it is a lifeless, soulless, characterless, sterile, and largely empty place. Police and military are present on almost every corner, particularly in the presidential and government area where there are strictly enforced restrictions on where you can walk and a complete ban on photography. Of course the internet is censored with all traffic routed through a government portal, so no facebook, blogs, news websites etc. It made us wonder what they are so afraid of ? Can it be that despite giving everybody free gas, water, 120 litres of petrol per month, and almost free electricity they fear one day being “Ceausescued” ? We’re glad we experienced it but won’t be rushing back anytime soon.
Mary and Merv were the last stops for us in Turkmenistan. Then, after the usual 5 or 6 random police stops along the road – how do people put up with this crap everyday ?, we were at the border ready to leave this overbearing, unhappy, unfriendly country.
Now we’re off to a member of the Axis of Evil – Iran from where we had no problem uploading this post.