First of all, apologies for taking so long between posts. We’re presently in Iran, and while internet is easy to find here, there are two minor problems:
1. Wifi is not, so uploading posts is a bit tricky
2. My ‘blog is blocked here, so I have to use a workaround to get to it, which means that Flash won’t work, which means photos have to be uploaded one at a time, which is kind of time consuming.
But rest assured that I’ve got two more entries written and will be posting them both within the next couple of days. Now back to our regularly scheduled post:
Turkmenistan is one of the most unusual and least visitable countries on Earth. Another of the former Soviet central Asian nations, it differs from the others in two important respects. First, it is quite wealthy, having huge reserves of natural gas. Second, its early years were guided by a dictatiorial president who was, it’s generally agreed, pretty much insane. President Niyazov, who styled himself “Turkmenbashi” (leader of the Turkmens) took the country down some odd paths. He created a massive personality cult around himself. He changed the Turkmen name for the month of April to his mother’s name. He built outrageously large and garish buildings and monuments (including the famous 12m high golden statue of himself that revolved so that it was constantly facing the sun.) And he cut the country off from virtually all outside influence. Since his death in 2006, the new government has done much to slowly dismantle Turkmenbashi’s personality cult, but has kept the same paranoiac philosophy and love for grandiose architectural statements.
All of this is at its most obvious in the capital of Ashgabat (which you’ll read more about in the next entry.) But it was barely noticeable at all in the far north town of Konye Urgench, separated from the capital by over 500km of desert.
Our share taxi from the Uzbek border let us out near the bazaar, whose contents spilled out into the surrounding streets. The bustle, the chaos, the dust, the huge piles of melons, the mud brick architecture, the women in traditional dress… all of these combined to make Konye Urgench feel like the prototypical central Asian town.
Sarah at the Darvaza Gas Crater