Photos From Turkmenistan
Updated August 2023, Photos from Turkmenistan was originally written in January 2018
Turkmenistan has a reputation for being weird. One of the weirdest of the weird according to many who manage to get in, to be exact. From the bizarre dictatorship of the late Turkmenbashi, AKA President Saparmyrat Niyazov, and his fancy for golden statues of himself, to a flaming crater smack in the middle of the country whose fire has raged on for nearing 5 decades, Turkmenistan has enough obscure sights to keep most captivated.
Scroll on to see the uniqueness of the country in 10 photos from Turkmenistan.
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The Arch Of Neutrality
I mean, who wouldn’t want a 12 meter golden statue of themselves rotating under the bright Ashgabat sun if they were running this town? This was Niyazov’s gift to the Turkmen people for unanimously endorsing his policy for neutrality in 1998 (All I can think of right now is that scene in ‘The Dictator’ when the bulldozer pushes all the voters out of the one line and into the other). Officially the statue no longer rotates and was moved in 2010, but it’s still in Ashgabat.
The Ashgabat Skyline
From atop the hill where the Wedding Palace sits you can get a pretty good view of the city below, and through the haze to the Kopet Dag Mountain Range that sits along the Iran-Turkmenistan border.
Plan your visit: The Ashgabat Travel Guide
Let’s Go To Hell
Of the few people that have even heard of Turkmenistan, this is typically the one thing they’ve heard about: The Door to Hell.
My Aunt Ronna, who passed away in late 2013 and I was closest with used to always laugh and say she’d rather go to hell cause that’s where all the fun people will be. Fast forward to 30 October 2016 and I was there on what would have been her 49th birthday.
We should have been there a few days earlier, but due to a Letter of Invitation debacle that forced us to delay our entry into Turkmenistan because Turkmenistan decided to be Turkmenistan and subsequently decided to shut its borders down for a few days preceding and following its Independence Day we were not allowed to enter the country until October 30th.
Turns out all the fun people were there…
Monument To The Independence Of Turkmenistan
Nothing screams independence like a toilet-plunger-esque monument. Well, that had to have been what good ol’ Turkmenbashi had in mind when he decided to plant this unusual building in the heart of Independence Park.
Weddings Are A Big Deal In Turkmenistan
One thing I found odd about several cities in Central Asia in comparison to where I’m from was that during the daytime you saw very few people out and about. You did see gardeners tending to plants in the park, and the occasional person out for a walk but hardly a soul roaming the streets or parks. Until I landed on this wedding party shooting photos near the Arch of Neutrality.
They were all so happy and having a great time. My only regret was not thinking to get a photo with my camera with us all together after the girls grabbed me for a selfie.
Such A Big Deal They Have A Wedding Palace
Like a disco ball glimmering over Ashgabat with Turkmenistan in gold, caged in by a 3D 8-point Turkmen star, this is the place of all places to have a wedding in Ashgabat. Not only can you legally register your brand new marriage here, but also hold your wedding ceremony inside. The grandest of the grand halls being the one in the middle of the disco ball.
The Darvaza Gas Crater
The Darvaza Gas Crater is one of Turkmenistan’s strangest sights. The flaming crater is also known as the ‘Door to Hell’ and the ‘Gates of Hell’ and is located near the village of Darweze, Turkmenistan, smack in the middle of the country. This is the most impressive of three gas craters that were the result of Soviet gas explorations in the area in 1971.
Plan your visit: A guide to camping at the Door to Hell Gas Crater in Darvaza
A City Of White Marble & Gold Embellishments
Not gonna lie, white and gold are one of my favorite color combos, but the fact that nearly every building, monument, and statue in Ashgabat are white and gold is well, a little unusual. Ashgabat really is a wealth of unique architecture.
Unfortunately, I did not get to explore as much of the obscure buildings and monuments as I would have liked since my week in Turkmenistan was cut to two short days because of those aforementioned reasons.
Yes, They Even Have A Statue Of A Book
Between 1990 and Saparmyrat Niyazov’s death in 2006 he wrote Ruhnama, the Book of the Soul, with the first volume being released in 2001 to provide spiritual guidance for the nation of Turkmenistan. It is mandatory to have read the Ruhnama in school, university, and government jobs, there’s even an exam on it. It covers an array of topics from Niyazov’s autobiography, a curated version of history, and moral and spiritual guidance.
This giant monument to the Ruhnama is sat in Independence Park.
Nearly 50 Years Later, The Fire Burns On
Back to the Darvaza Gas Crater. In 1971 Soviet engineers began drilling in the area in search of oil, which turned out to be a natural gas pocket. Soon after the pocket was discovered the ground collapsed underneath the drilling rig and into a wide crater burying the drill and nearby camp. The engineers feared that poisonous gas would leech out and wreak havoc on the nearby communities, so they lit the gaseous crater on fire.
They expected it to burn out in a few short days. Well, everyone, that was in 1971. The fire is still burning to this day.
And I have to return, I forgot to grab marshmallows before we left Nukus up in Uzbekistan. This would make for the ultimate s’more experience.
So How Weird Was Turkmenistan Actually?
Not nearly as weird as other travelers had made it out to be. But then again this was the tail end of my 8 week Central Asia escapade in 2016, and I think it will certainly take a new threshold of weird to get my attention after that trip.
I 100% agree the required reading of the Ruhnama is strange (strange enough to make me really want to read it), the empty streets of Ashgabat were unusual (but I am guessing that most people were at work during the day for the government, at least in Ashgabat), and the fact that nearly every building is wrapped in white marble and gold gave it a sterile feel (although I quite liked the matching buildings).
Strange or not, I know this is a place I definitely want to explore further.
Visiting Turkmenistan Can Be Difficult
Do these Turkmenistan photos have you wanting to visit yourself? Unless visiting on a transit visa, you’ll need to book a tour. Click here to shop for different Turkmenistan tours on offer.
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