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Murzachirla - Gonur Depe - Mary

Leaving the wilderness behind and heading back into civilisation

View The Forgotten Stan - Turkmenistan 2019 on Grete Howard's travel map.

I slept surprisingly well last night, and only got up once in the night to use the latrine tent. I struggle to get up off the floor this morning, however, with my knees giving me some trouble.


When we emerge from the tents, Meylis points out jackal marks in the sand.


Artem is still asleep in the back of the car, and is not too amused when I point my phone at him to take a photo. “Why you wake so early”?


Breakfast consists of bread with a local hard cheese and Nutella.


Breakfast is accompanied by a beautiful sunrise with some spectacular clouds.


Two men on donkeys accompanied by three dogs appear on the horizon, and proceed to circle around us, menacingly. We quickly pack up and leave.


I see one of the tyres is bulging, I hope Artem gets that changed before we get to the fast roads back in civilisation later today. If that blows at 120 km/hr it could cause a bit of mayhem!


The first part of the journey is along rough, sandy tracks.




Gonur Depe

Covering a huge area, the UNESCO protected archaeological site of Gonur Depe dates from the early Bronze Age (2400-1700 BC).


It is believed that this was the home of Zoroaster, the founder of the religion Zoroastrianism. Excavations have revealed four fire temples, as well as evidence of a cult based around a drug potion prepared from poppy, hemp and ephedra plants. This potent brew is almost certainly the haoma (soma elixir) used by the magi whom Zoroaster began preaching against in Zoroastrian texts.


Some of the buildings have been reconstructed, and Artem gets permission from the curator to drive us around the site due to David's inability to walk more than a few steps.


Each of the citadels had three walls, with the servants living outside, the oligarchs in the middle and the royal family in the centre.

Defence holes where spears would have been fired to stop invaders climbing the walls.


The inner courtyard

Much of the site is still unexplored, and there is no doubt a great deal of fascinating history yet to be found. The ruins were not discovered until a Russian archaeologist flew over the area in a helicopter in 1972.


Margoush, the oroginal name of this city, is of immense historical importance, and is believed by some historians to be the fifth major civilisation (the four others being Indian, Chinese, Mesopotamian and Egyptian). UNESCO, however, do not accept that line of thought as there is no evidence of a unique alphabet.


In a couple of ramshackle sheds we find a dark and dingy museum which belies the significance of this site (although some of the more important and well preserved pieces are in the National Museum in Ashgabat).


Many items of pottery have been unearthed, as well as an entire row of potteries being found on the site, certifying that earthenware was in high demand.


We all get momentarily distracted by a snake, believed to be the venomous telescopus fallax, known locally as the Arrow Snake.


The King died in battle, and when the city elders heard the news, they buried all his possessions in a shallow grave, including his two horses, a camel, dog, his chariot and so on. The king's body has never been recovered.



I find this completely mind blowing – these items are over 4,000 years old!

Supposedly the original Bronze Age spade!

It is believed the city was slowly abandoned during the Bronze Age as the Murgab River changed course, depriving the city of water.

We too abandon Gonur and head for Mary, our overnight stop. We still have some more rough tracks to negotiate before we get there, however.



The bumpy ride doesn't seem to stop Meylis falling asleep.


We see a huge black desert spider on the track, as well as a marmot crossing, which makes Artem stop rather abruptly, waking up Meylis and causing the water I am drinking quirt up my nose!

Once we hit the sealed road, we are held up by a herd of camels.





Meylis takes us to a restaurant with specialises in what they call Afghan Salad. Side vegetables are not really the thing here in Turkmenistan, but every restaurant has a choice of 6-10 different salads, mostly made with tinned vegetables: peas, corn, beans, mushrooms etc, and often smothered in mayonnaise. Some are very good, others less so, and I do miss fresh vegetables.

The salad is made with tomatoes, crispy lavash (a type of thin buckwheat flatbread) and meat. The meat is cooked very well and not at all greasy, and the mix of textures is nice.

David orders Kakmach (meat in sauce) with chips (and very good the fries are too), whereas I have buckwheat with a meat sauce.


Both the boys choose the lamb chops - as you can see, just a bit of garnish, no side veg.


There is always plenty of bread to accompany every meal, however.

From here it is an easy journey to the modern town of Mary, where we will be spending the night in the luxury 4* hotel of the same name.







After the last three days of desert driving, a hot, powerful shower and clean bed is very welcome indeed. We take a much needed nap.



As with all the other hotels we've stayed in so far, toilet roll is in short supply.


David's leg is still very painful, swollen and bruised.



Like so many other places, the restaurant is completely empty this evening. We order Goulash which comes with mushrooms, mashed potato and onions; a portion of samsa (savoury pastry) with a side of what they describe as a piquant salad. I ask about chips. “You want chips?” “Yes please”


The beers come reasonably quickly, but it seems like an eternity before the waitress comes to tell us the the samsa “is off”. I select something called 'macaroni and meat' instead.


Then the chips arrive. Oops, it didn't occur to me that they would speak American English here rather than British English (in the UK, what Americans – and obviously Turkmen – call chips, we know as crisps; and chips to us is thick potato fries.). Oh well, we enjoy this nibble with the beers as we wait for the food.


When the food arrives, we are pleased that the portions are reasonably small compared with what we have been served at times on this trip.

David's goulash - which he describes as "OK".

My macaroni with meat is decidedly heavy on the pasta, which is overcooked and the whole dish is tasteless

The piquant salad is anything but piquant.

Paying the bill we are surprised that it is quoted in Dollars, a first since we've been here. We certainly can't complain at the price though: $17 to include the beers. In a four star hotel.


We take the 'chips' back to the room with us, as the restaurant not only has zero atmosphere, but we get the impression they don't want us to linger any longer as they are ready to close up. I feel really quite drunk at this stage, probably from the large bottle of 14% beer, or maybe the unknown Russian tablets I am taking for my upset tummy has something to do with it.

Thank you Undiscovered Destinations for arranging this unusual and exciting trip.


Posted by Grete Howard 10:44 Archived in Turkmenistan

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I would never have thought that the home of Zoroaster would be in Turkmenistan (not that I know much about him at all!) And what a contrast between your accommodation at the start of this day and that at the end :)

by ToonSarah

Me neither Sarah! Most of the modern 4* hotels had similar palatial, chintzy decoration. Must be a Turkmen thing. :)

Thanks for reading and commenting. ♥

by Grete Howard

14% beer! I'd be a bid tipsy also. I don't know how i would have handled the tents. But the hotel looks beautiful Loved the guy sleeping on the bumpy road.

by littlesam1

The camping was better than expected Larry, certainly helped by the copious amounts of vodka we consumed.

My mum used to do the same with her head dangling dangerously. On more than one occasion she ended up with a black eye after knocking against the door frame.

by Grete Howard

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