Infiltrating the heart of Central Asia on a trip to Turkmenistan

photo by CC user flydime on Flickr

Taking an epic trip to Turkmenistan soon? If you are puzzled with regards of what exactly to do there, this article will give you a few ideas of what to do there…

1) Visit the Turkmen Carpet Museum

Aside from being known as a paranoid police state (seriously – don’t criticize the government at all, even in private, as many hotel rooms are bugged … yeah), the next thing that Turkmenistan is well known for is the quality of its carpets.

With collections of antique carpets from medieval times to the present day, the brilliance of the artifacts on offer will sweep away any notion that a museum based around carpets could ever be boring.

One of its most notable pieces was made for the Bolshoi theatre in Moscow in 1941. It was to serve as a curtain, and it weighed over one metric tonne.

Wow.

2) Eat some plov

If you are looking to eat like a Turkmen/woman, head out into the streets and find a hole in the wall restaurant that will serve you some plov.

This national dish (also popular through many other Central Asian nations) is composed of a rice base with mutton, onion, shredded carrot, raisins, and a potpourri of spices.

Don’t pretend that you are above this stuff: if it was good enough for Alexander the Great, one of the greatest conquerors in history, it is fine enough for you as well.

3) Go on a horse trek into the heart of the Karakum Desert

As in much of Central Asia, the appeal of Turkmenistan can be found in the vast hinterlands that lie beyond its towns and cities.

If you have the chance, go ahead and spring for a tour into the hot and dry heart of the Karakum Desert. Here, you’ll have a chance to climb dunes, visit nomadic villages containing folks that somehow manage to eke out a living from these inhospitable lands, and watch as the pitch darkness of the region open up a night sky that is impossible to see in the suburbs back home.

But its biggest attraction by far is described below…

4) Peer into the Gates of Hell

The Gates of Hell formed when the rig of a Soviet drilling crew collapsed into a cavern containing a seemingly infinite quantity of natural gas.

The geologists lit it ablaze to prevent the methane from killing nearby nomadic ranchers, but instead of burning out after a few weeks, it has continued to blaze for over 40 years.

The government plans to bury this crater soon to contain the draw down of gas reserves, so don’t miss the chance to peer into the closest earthly approximation of Judeo-Christian hell on the planet.

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