Day 80 (2): Stuck in a place where I don't want to be

Dashoguz Travel Blog

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Hotel Ozboy

We arrived in Dashogus at 1.30 pm. I was happy, this would mean I could actually cross into Uzbekistan today and thus save a day. My euphoria was short-lived. My Uzbek visa was not valid until tomorrow. While I had made sure to have all my visas for Central Asia overlap a few days, I never had felt the need to do so with Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan. After all, with a 5-day transit visa, I wasn't going to miss out and leave the country a day early, now was I?

So I was stuck in Dashogus. What made it worse was that the only budget hotel in town, Hotel Dashogus, is currently closed for renovations, so I had to go for the second-best option, making it my most expensive night on this trip so far. To make matters even worse, the cheapest rooms were booked out, so I was forced to take a 'semi-lux'.

I tried my luck asking for a discount, but the receptionist looked at me flabbergasted. The price on the price list says $40, why on earth would I suggest to pay less? In a way I could laugh about it. There is something cute about Soviet bureaucracy, even though it diminishes people to non-thinking drones.

Fortunately my second experience with the people of Dashogus was far more positive. I went for a bite to eat at the restaurant across the road and experienced a heart-warming moment of “stupid tourist corrected by honest employee”. When I asked for the bill I was presented with a calculator which said '34'. I cringed a bit. 34 manat, that was $ 12, which was quite steep for a plate of dumplings, some yoghurt and a beer. Ah well, last day in the country, so I might as well get rid of excess currency.
The streets of Dashoguz
As I counted out 34 manat the waiter said “no, no” with a look on his face as if I was a complete idiot (which he probably thought I was). He took a 10 manat note and went around the restaurant in search of some change. What they had meant by 34 was in fact 34,000 old manat, the currency which they stopped using in 2009. And you have to divide that by 5000 to get the price in new manat, so the '34' in the calculator meant I had to pay 6.80 manat, or $ 2.43 for my lunch. Is anyone still following this? No, neither did I. It took a few minutes *after* I had left the restaurant to fully comprehend just what had happened.
But again, a heart-warming experience. He could as easily have taken the 34 manat and put the change in his pocket and I would never have known.

There isn't much to see or do in Dashogus.
Just another Turkmenbashi monument
It is a town built after Soviet model, with broad boulevards lined with apartment and office buildings and empty parks and plazas with fountains in between. Obviously Niyazov is omnipresent in this place as well. I counted no less than three statues of him along the 3 km stretch between my hotel and the city centre.
They had eased on the white marble buildings though. There were a few, but for the most part the local government had decided to save some money and just restore the old Soviet buildings. All the buildings (at least, the ones facing the main streets) have been painted in pastel colours and look in pristine condition. And again I had to conclude, cities in this country are not not ugly. What must have been a very drab and boring town in Soviet times, is now at least quite a pretty and boring town (take note, local municipal governments elsewhere in the former Soviet block!).
Away from the main street, the streets look slightly less clean and perfect

So that was Turkmenistan. Normally I would say that blazing through a country in a mere four days is nowhere near enough to properly see it. Well, in this case you could actually see a lot in four or five days. In fact, I have seen all I wanted to see of this country, and a bit more even. By taking the tour I had definitely been able to see more than I had anticipated. OK, there are two more places I would have liked to see: the ancient city of Merv and the Yangykala canyon. Merv was simply in the wrong direction and of the three UNESCO sites in the country Konye-Urgench seemed the most interesting to me (I have seen pictures of Merv, not much there apart from a few medressas).
But a sensible person (i.
One of the many monuments in Dashogus
e. not me) would take advantage of flights across the country costing under $20 and could actually fly to Merv and do everything I have done and still be out of the country within 5 days.

So to sum it up, Turkmenistan is an absolutely bizarre, over the top, crazy and in a way a unique country that is still governed in old Soviet style. Well worth a visit, although I hope for the people of Turkmenistan that there will eventually be a change in government which will give the people more freedom as well as more sensible spending of the oil wealth (education or health care, anyone?).

By the way, did you know the country holds claim to several world records? The largest carpet in the world was woven to commemorate the 10th anniversary of independence. The carpet is so large that the museum which houses it had to be built around it.
Turkmenbashi himself

The world's largest irrigation canal is also in Turkmenistan, though this is actually a remnant of Soviet times. The 1370m long canal was dug to water the cotton fields along the Turkmen-Uzbek border in the north and runs almost the entire length of the country.
Turkmenistan is currently building the largest artificial lake. Deep in the Karakum desert this lake, costing a staggering $8 billion, is supposed to improve the life of the communities living in the desert.

There are so many silly things in this country. In 2004 all the street names in Ashgabat were renamed to 4-digit codes. Might be easy for postal delivery, but it becomes a nightmare to drive around and search for an address in the city.
A non-working fountain in Dashogus

After independence Turkmenistan moved from Cyrillic to an adapted Western alphabet, which has since been copyrighted under the name 'Elipbi'.
Despite being a small country, the government has no less than 28 ministries. My favourite of these, the Ministry of Fairness.
After independence Niyazov renamed several of Turkmenistan's cities. Krasnovodsk became Turkmenbashi (named after himself), Charjou became Turkmenabat. Besides renaming the names of the days of the week and months, he also renamed several common items. One example is the Turkmen word for bread, which is named after his mother.

He did make one law I can agree with though. He banned lip syncing at public concerts. Niyazov felt that this undermined the development of Turkmenistan’s musical arts.

This has definitely been the weirdest country I have ever been to.

Chokk says:
Great read - I was laughing so much of your facts!
Posted on: Aug 07, 2010
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Hotel Ozboy
Hotel Ozboy
The streets of Dashoguz
The streets of Dashoguz
Just another Turkmenbashi monument
Just another Turkmenbashi monument
Away from the main street, the str…
Away from the main street, the st…
One of the many monuments in Dasho…
One of the many monuments in Dash…
Turkmenbashi himself
Turkmenbashi himself
A non-working fountain in Dashogus
A non-working fountain in Dashogus
Turkmenbashi and his Ruhnama
Turkmenbashi and his Ruhnama
Dashoguz Hotels & Accommodations review
An ok mid-range option if you get stuck in Dashoguz
If you travel through Turkmenistan on a transit visa, chances are you will find yourself in Dashogus at some point. After all, this city is near one o… read entire review
photo by: Vlindeke