It’s Simply Marbleous
Ashgabat Travel Blog› entry 31 of 94 › view all entries
July 13th, 2010 – by: Saskia007
After this process, I loaded up my backpack and walked through another section of ‘No Man’s Land’ to a waiting vehicle that would take me to the Turkmenistan section of the border followed by more security checks but finally the noise of the stamp falling onto the passport page meant I was in Turkmenistan.
This country has a population of approximately five million and with an area of 488,100 km2, it is the world’s 52nd largest country but what surprised me the most is how empty the place felt.
The capital city of Ashgabat is a bizarre mixture of white marble, impressive fountains, inventive architecture, fir trees and golden statues. The former leader of the nation, President Turkmenbashi decided that he would change the environment of the country and introduced a programme of fir tree planting. Now although it does get very cold in Turkmenistan, which is good for fir trees, it also gets very very warm - like an oven warm, which is not good for fir trees.
The country of Turkmenistan is obsessed with their former ruler or rather the former ruler was obsessed with himself. Prior to his death in December 2006, he had erected many statues of himself, renamed cities, roads and highways after himself and his parents and had decided to create many buildings and fountains in his image.
Around Ashgabat there are monuments and buildings constructed in marble, which each cost $8 million USD to marbleise, and are in the shape of what they house. For instance, the building in the shape of a book was a publishing house (Turkmenibashi House of Books), or the building in the shape of a snake with a gold statue at the top with Turkmenbashi’s face on it was the Ministry of Health (the snake image reminiscent of Asclepius) (Turkmenbashi Wellness Centre). But I think one of the most impressive buildings he created was the ice rink. Yes, you read correctly, an ice rink in Far East Europe where the temperatures are near human melting point. Fortunately it wasn’t an expensive building …. Only $18 USD million.
Turkmenbashi is an interesting personality though and while there you can purchase his book.
What I found so fascinating about the man himself was how assured he was. When the book was made compulsory for 50,000 mannat in 1995 he stated that if you read this three times, you would reach paradise. I found this fact interesting as not only was he an architect, an author, a President, a city planner - he was also a soothsayer. How useful in a political career. Unfortunately he couldn’t foretell his own death and died of a heart attack. Still I did learn of a joke that they tell in Turkmenistan, which goes like this;
A satirist who wrote negative things about Turkmenbashi and his reign was killed.
After a few months his wife dreamt of him coming back to see her and asking for 50,000 mannat. The wife being so confused by the dream spoke with her neighbours about what it could possibly mean. The next night, she dreamt again of her deceased husband coming to her asking her for 50,000 mannat. This time she asked him what does he need this money for. The deceased husband’s reply was ‘Oh wife, Turkmenbashi is up here with us, and now we too need to buy the book’. This was quite the popular joke, as heard it on three separate times but it does reflect how focused Turkmenbashi was on getting his readership high.
Still there were good points to his reign, the streets were very clean and the fountains were lovely to look at (but unlike Uzbekistan, you couldn’t cool off in them). Furthermore I had a few interesting facts or observations I noticed whilst in Turkmenistan which were:
- Each driver is given 120 litres of petrol free each month and you can save it up if you require and you can buy more if you need to.
- The woman reminded me of the Caribbean with their beautiful big wraps of fabric around their head. The place was very colourful.
- The Police had incredibly large hats on. Perhaps this was so they were not to be outdone by the woman?
- Nisa Fortress was a Parthian settlement from 3BC - 3AD and it is just out of Ashgabat. Well worth a visit and you can see some of the Italian excavations that are ongoing.
- Unfortunately the Turkmenistan people support Spain and did so in the final of the World Cup. I spent a lot of the game with my head in my hands, yelling at the screen and pacing around the bar I was watching the match in. Every time Robben tried to score I had to listen to the entire room tsk tsk at the tv and when Spain scored in the four minutes before final whistle, there was an upsurge of cheering. Not a good place to be Dutch.
All in all Turkmenistan is a good place to visit. Although there are hardly any souvenirs shops and the gold statues everywhere remind you the President is all knowing and all powerful, the food is still is delicious, the markets lively and the architecture is simply marbelous.
Salom from Ashgabat
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