A Travellerspoint blog

Entries about mausoleum

Balkanabat - Yangikala - Gözli Ata - Turkmenbashi

One of our more surreal days: camel jam, bizarre rock formations, ancient pilgrimage site, agonising leg injury, restricted tourist zone, 5* yacht club, self-locking doors


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

Continuing the trials and tribulations of a cloth napkin this morning, the waitress surprises us by NOT removing it when she brings our breakfast out. She does, however, make a big point of giving us paper serviettes. We let sleeping napkins be, and stick with the paper ones.

Breakfast just appears this morning, and a very substantial affair it is too, with egg, sausage, bread, cheese, jam and pancakes. We are not going to starve on this trip, that's for sure.

large_84f5f7c0-e8f3-11e9-bc67-19289f8e8fd7.jpg

Picnic Lunch

Last night Meylis ordered a picnic lunch from the hotel restaurant for today's journey; to be ready for 09:00. When he goes to collect it, they say it will be another 25 minutes before it is ready, as it is “just cooking now”.

25 minutes later, and he is told “it has just cooked now, another 25 minutes for steaming”.

They were correct about the timing – 50 minutes late we pick up the food and can leave for the next part of the journey.

As we drive out of the town on Balkanabat, we spot some cool horse riders at the side of the road. They look so right here, like something out of a historical Silk Road movie. This is the first time we have seen anyone on horseback out here.

large_8c0ce2b0-e8ff-11e9-a6d9-61d362709d8d.jpg

Wild Horses

These are of course not the valuable and sought after Ahel Teke horses, but rather amore common breed known as Yomut.

large_7aeda350-e915-11e9-8432-ff4be9ee8b28.jpg

large_94689e20-e915-11e9-8432-ff4be9ee8b28.jpg

Eurasian Griffon

A large bird is circling quite low overhead, and Artem stops the car so that I can get out to take some photos.

large_43129e40-e906-11e9-98d0-91dd03ceccab.jpg

Camels

We share the road with a small herd of free-range camels. There are infinitely more camels than cars on this stretch.

large_4e5c8050-e919-11e9-b32a-5902292bf25a.jpg

large_ef601eb0-e920-11e9-ab72-3be18fbdf83e.jpg

large_f9723eb0-e920-11e9-ab72-3be18fbdf83e.jpg

Sand

As I have said before, 80% of the country is covered in desert, and we soon see some classic dunes along the side of the road.

large_dc025440-e926-11e9-8817-5fa3a9a94852.jpg

And not just beside the road, it is blowing across it too.

large_f948d600-e926-11e9-8817-5fa3a9a94852.jpg

The sand is remarkably deep considering the wind apparently only started yesterday – if this is what it can do in a day, I dread to think what it will look like by the end of the week. It is obviously quite a common phenomenon, as we see a sign warning of SAND BLIZZARD.

large_4cb6e8d0-e928-11e9-8817-5fa3a9a94852.jpg

More camels

As we climb higher into the barren mountains, we come across a huge herd of camels. These are not free-range, however, they are being guided along the road by a camel herder on a motorbike.

large_443507b0-e9d6-11e9-8ff5-11d2ba53fc9d.jpg

For the last few hours we have been driving along a flat stretch of land, with wide open spaces on either side, and no ditches or other obstructions on the side of the road. This section, however, has barriers either side of the road, so we end up having to travel at camel-speed until we can get past this jam.

large_5e5b5db0-e9d6-11e9-8ff5-11d2ba53fc9d.jpg

A few of the camels have somehow ended up on the wrong side of the barriers.

large_6b78e8f0-e9d6-11e9-8ff5-11d2ba53fc9d.jpg

Two of the animals clumsily try to cross to the road-side of the fence, and totally fail.

large_02a58340-e9d8-11e9-8ff5-11d2ba53fc9d.jpg

It seems that the stray camels are somewhat stuck, as the embankment and part of the road have slipped down into ravine below. Not sure what they will do now if they can't cross the barrier – go back I guess.

large_5bf76e50-e9dc-11e9-a33a-2d0f65edfd5b.jpg

large_a8a2a8a0-e9dc-11e9-a33a-2d0f65edfd5b.jpg

Footnote: I don't know what they did in the end, but when we drove past again a few hours later, there were no dead camels at the bottom - I checked.

Yangikala Canyon

Having passed the camels, we climb to the top of the cliffs with amazing views of the plateau below. This completely flat area that seems to stretch as far as the eye can see, was once the ocean bed of the pre-historical Parathetys Sea.

large_37fbe060-ea83-11e9-b5d4-a55960d15325.jpg

It is not the empty and barren lowlands that are spread before us that we have come to see, and soon we catch a glimpse of a series of surreal rock formations rising mysteriously from the planes below: The 'Badlands of Turkmenistan'.

large_d726a440-ea83-11e9-b5d4-a55960d15325.jpg

large_ff053ee0-ea83-11e9-b5d4-a55960d15325.jpg

large_0cb65790-ea84-11e9-b5d4-a55960d15325.jpg

large_891a44f0-ead3-11e9-9460-3d5f7f055d17.jpg

I am fascinated by the crusty layer of rock on top, which has kept its shape and hardness while everything underneath it has been eroded away.

large_7321cf40-ead5-11e9-9460-3d5f7f055d17.jpg

I wish I knew more about geology and could identify the different rocks and their formation / age.

large_88c682d0-ead7-11e9-a434-eb14fb91dc40.jpg

Erosion, wind, weather, and tectonic shifts over the last 5.5 million years have all contributed to carving out the curious landscape we see today: Yangikala Canyon. Rose coloured rocks, tainted by the presence of iron, vie for attention with ribbed white limestone folds and alluvial fans in this extraordinary range of cliffs stretching some 15 miles across the desert to the Garabogazköl Basin.

large_06785390-ea90-11e9-a6a5-b780adefa85d.jpg

large_2674f4a0-ea90-11e9-a6a5-b780adefa85d.jpg

large_3398e880-ea90-11e9-a6a5-b780adefa85d.jpg

large_8dd83da0-ea90-11e9-a6a5-b780adefa85d.jpg

large_e8a35530-ead6-11e9-a434-eb14fb91dc40.jpg

large_02dd0c20-ead7-11e9-a434-eb14fb91dc40.jpg

large_132e4b20-ead7-11e9-a434-eb14fb91dc40.jpg

Crocodile’s Mouth

Continuing across the top of these rock formations seems almost like a sacrilege. There are no roads or tracks, we just drive along the flat surface, until we come to a formation known as the Crocodile's Mouth. From its gaping overhang, it is easy to see how it got its name.

large_bdefe820-eab4-11e9-9ad0-f7c04e14777a.jpg

Both Meylis and David go to the top of the snout of the croc to have their photo taken, but as I am none too fond of heights, I flatly refuse. After a bit of persuasion I start walking out towards the edge, and find that it is not as terrifying from the top as it looks from across the small ravine.

large_1aaa7670-eab5-11e9-9ad0-f7c04e14777a.jpg

I am not as brave as Artem, however.

large_36f4bde0-eab5-11e9-9ad0-f7c04e14777a.jpg

The view in the opposite direction is much more picturesque, and not so terrifying.

large_5b19fa00-eab5-11e9-9ad0-f7c04e14777a.jpg

large_75a41ae0-eab5-11e9-9ad0-f7c04e14777a.jpg

large_88c71780-eab5-11e9-9ad0-f7c04e14777a.jpg

We decide that this is a great place to have our picnic. With the temperature being in the mid-thirties (centigrade) and no shade for miles around, it makes sense to sit in the air conditioned car to eat. Overlooking one of the most sensationally striking landscapes imaginable, we tuck into cold manty while the music is blaring out Ra Ra Rasputin by Boney M. Could life get any more surreal? This surely has to be one of the main highlights of our trip and a memory to cherish forever!

large_0e784ae0-eadc-11e9-b9c1-df1be339896c.jpg
Manty - traditional Turkmen beef dumplings

Adding to the bizarre feel of this place, peculiar spherical bushes, reminiscent of tumbleweed, dot the flat plateau as far as the eye can see.

large_dae81ba0-eadc-11e9-b9c1-df1be339896c.jpg

large_f12ec670-eadc-11e9-b9c1-df1be339896c.jpg

large_fb5a13c0-eadc-11e9-b9c1-df1be339896c.jpg

Taking one last glance back at the multicoloured cliffs and the place I overcame my fear to stand on the overhang, we leave Yangikala Canyon behind and turn back the way we came.

large_39068a40-eade-11e9-b9c1-df1be339896c.jpg

Gözli Ata

The mausoleum of Gözli Ata, a respected Sufi teacher in the early 14th century, is now a popular place of pilgrimage.

You can read all about him here:

large_d9063260-ec33-11e9-a3f0-474a5a8c5f0b.jpg

Visiting pilgrims walk around the mausoleum three times, always anticlockwise.

large_2d6a6f90-ec36-11e9-90b3-2ddb827f8b31.jpg

Surrounding the mausoleum a cemetery has sprung up, with some unusual grave markers.

large_9e41bfa0-ec3d-11e9-866e-7b303d0242cc.jpg

large_1fb79310-ec3f-11e9-866e-7b303d0242cc.jpg

large_88510bc0-ec37-11e9-bd87-69e09dabbfde.jpg

large_2f68b6f0-ec3e-11e9-866e-7b303d0242cc.jpg

This, a somewhat more traditional grave stone, features Persian writing, evidence that worshippers come here from far and wide.

large_57cf5500-ec38-11e9-90b3-2ddb827f8b31.jpg

Many of the graves have hollows cut out or a cup at the base such as this one. It is not for flowers as we would do here in the west, the containers are for collecting water to quench the thirst of the souls who are resting here. In reality, the water is used by wildlife, meaning that even in death you are still supporting life.

large_d9c83d50-ec48-11e9-bd7d-4d2f3f389b8b.jpg

large_4e579080-ec49-11e9-bd7d-4d2f3f389b8b.jpg

And here is that wildlife:

large_8c9985b0-ec49-11e9-bd7d-4d2f3f389b8b.jpg

Not only do pilgrims come here to pay their respect to the revered sufi leader, they also use this site to create cairns, such as these modest collections of stones, which they believe will act as vehicles for their prayers.

large_18c00510-ec35-11e9-a3f0-474a5a8c5f0b.jpg

large_22fd05a0-ec35-11e9-a3f0-474a5a8c5f0b.jpg

A much larger and more formal structure has been created for worshippers to pray for children, health and wealth.

large_52b17290-ec3a-11e9-bd87-69e09dabbfde.jpg

Items left at the site indicate what the families are wishing for, such as this comb which indicates they would like a daughter.

large_471a3930-ec3a-11e9-bd87-69e09dabbfde.jpg

It seems this family were desperate for the addition of a son.

large_f0ced330-ec3c-11e9-866e-7b303d0242cc.jpg

The small cot means that gender is unimportant to the hopeful couple as long as they are bestowed with a child.

large_945c18c0-ec3b-11e9-866e-7b303d0242cc.jpg

Keys suggest that a new home is on the wish list.

large_965b60a0-ec3a-11e9-866e-7b303d0242cc.jpg

Other visitors will make their wish in a more traditional way, such as tying a piece of cloth around a stick.

large_6198fd80-ec3c-11e9-866e-7b303d0242cc.jpg

Injury time

A large building housing a guest house as well as a covered picnic area has been constructed on the site to cater for the pilgrims who visit here. We therefore make a point of utilising the facilities before we leave. While making his way back to the car and stepping up onto a 'platform', David misjudges the height of the step and takes am awkward tumble. I know nothing of this until I see him hobbling at a snail's pace across the car park.

Finally making it back to the car, he tells us the story, and admits that he is in a great deal of pain, fearing that he has torn a muscle in his calf. Right here right now there is absolutely nothing we can do about it, so he just swallows some pain killers as we make our way to our final destination for today.

Waterhole

Huge crowds of sheep and goats signal the presence of a waterhole.

large_840b6980-edfd-11e9-99fc-db67268a2f9d.jpg

I always struggle to tell the difference between sheep and goats in this part of the world, as they both look very similar, unlike the sheep in the UK.

large_aa309450-edfd-11e9-99fc-db67268a2f9d.jpg

The little brown and white blighter who is looking at us is a sheep, whereas the black one with his back to us is a goat. I have always looked at the coat to tell them apart – sheep are fluffier with curly hair, whereas goat wool is straighter and courser. Meylis informs us that the goats are the ones with horns, although I am pretty sure that this is not always the case.

large_b709c390-edfd-11e9-99fc-db67268a2f9d.jpg

Looks like the sheep and goats will soon have company, as we meet a number of camels making their way towards the waterhole.

large_fcf4b610-edff-11e9-9bd8-f13816b4424d.jpg

large_0676a400-ee00-11e9-9bd8-f13816b4424d.jpg

They seem to be as curious about us as we are about them.

large_99ca8d70-ee00-11e9-9bd8-f13816b4424d.jpg

I can just hear the conversation over a drink later:

Camel 1: “Did you see those tourists earlier?”
Camel 2: “I know, the woman even had bright orange hair”
Camel 3: “You don't get many of those around here do you.”
Camel 4: “I wonder which waterhole they were going to?”

We pass more areas covered with sand dunes on our way to Turkmenbashi.

large_131158c0-ee02-11e9-925d-5377047d2847.jpg

large_1f610cb0-ee02-11e9-925d-5377047d2847.jpg

Awaza Tourism Zone

Turkmenbashi is a town of two halves and one of the more peculiar set-ups we have ever encountered. The large modern town (it is the second city after Ashgabat) is much like any other port town, with oil storage facilities and a large passenger terminal, plus the normal residential / shopping areas.

Then there is Awasha Tourism Zone. This is the bit that has me scratching my head (and shaking it).

'Normal' cars are not permitted into the area, so Artem has to drop us off at a huge covered parking area, which houses around two thousand cars. We see less than two dozen.

From here we have to take government approved taxis to our accommodation, which is around two miles away.

It all happens in such a flurry of activity that I end up not taking a photo of the enormous, empty car park. To try and redeem myself, I snap this through the taxi window as we make our way to the hotel.

large_45b15ed0-ee05-11e9-85dc-039fda057395.jpg

Yelken Yacht Club

This five star tourist hotel is in beautiful, green sprawling grounds, such a contrast to the barren scenery earlier today. I shall post more about this hotel with lots of pictures in tomorrow's blog entry. It is so big in fact, that we are taken to our room by a golf buggy; despite Meylis arranging for us to be in the nearest room to the main building as David can hardly walk on his damaged leg now.

large_1b6e2ad0-ee06-11e9-85dc-039fda057395.jpg

Drinks on the Balcony

We have a large, well furnished balcony overlooking the extensive hotel gardens, so we make the most of the remaining sunshine with a drink outside.

large_420c60c0-ee07-11e9-834a-032ef9f36078.jpg

Thankfully we have wifi here, so I email our trusted chiropractor (and good friend) John, to see if he has any suggestions what David can do to alleviate the pain in his leg. John recommends elevating the leg, taking Ibuprofen, putting ice on the painful part; and he also suggests some exercises that David can do to speed up the healing. I do love my chiropractor for providing instant remote consultation.

large_092a7fc0-ee08-11e9-834a-032ef9f36078.jpg

Meylis pops his head around the corner and we invite him to join us for a drink. Being young and fit, he simply jumps over the bannister and on to the balcony. When I try to get a glass from the bedroom for him, I am unable to open the door. David tries, Meylis tries. None of us can shift it, which is odd, because I went back in earlier. The door was a little stiff then, but not insurmountable.

Jumping back over the railings, Meylis goes to the reception to get a card key for the room. Being the sensible, security conscious person I am, I double locked the door to the room when we arrived, so the key does not work. Back to reception for plan B. I am so grateful Meylis happened to turn up at the right time, as we'd never be able to explain this to the receptionist in Russian / Turkmen / sign language.

When he returns, Meylis explains that the self-locking door is a safety feature, so that you cannot enter the room from the balcony once the door is closed. How absolutely ridiculous! There are no signs warning us not to close the door when we go out there, something we are obviously going to do in order to keep the room cool and the air conditioning working efficiently.

Reception send a maintenance worker, who has to use his electric drill to take the handle and lock off in order to let us in. By now I can see the funny side of this, and cannot stop giggling.

large_e3becf00-ee09-11e9-97e0-158ada1decc1.jpg

Dinner

large_f33e8760-ee70-11e9-922a-4db325312e2b.jpg

Turkmenbashi is situated on the Caspian Sea, so it seems logical to order fish for dinner this evening. I choose the speciality dish called 'sturgeon on a tile'. This is a new fish to me, and while it is pleasant, it is nothing out of the ordinary. It comes with lovely rich mashed potato, however. Not sure where the 'tile' comes into it though.

large_54f3b580-ee6b-11e9-ba37-f90cdfc79962.jpg

large_71495fe0-ee71-11e9-a266-b9ffa38b6d4b.jpg
The fried meatballs that David ordered

large_fcf34520-ee70-11e9-922a-4db325312e2b.jpg
An unusual dessert of pumpkin with tahini sauce and walnut syrup

large_4d804d80-ee71-11e9-922a-4db325312e2b.jpg
David's apple and raisin tart with (a very white) ice cream

large_f106ca60-ee71-11e9-a266-b9ffa38b6d4b.jpg
Meylis just has ice cream. As you can see, even here in this posh restaurant, all we get is café-style cheap paper napkins. I'm afraid I am a bit of a napkin snob and I do judge an establishment on whether they offer paper or cloth for their diners to dab their lips with. There, I've said it!

After dinner we retire to the room, reflecting on what an fabulously adventurous day it has been.

Thank you Undiscovered Destinations for arranging this great private tour for us.

large_3e0ecab0-ee72-11e9-a266-b9ffa38b6d4b.jpg

Posted by Grete Howard 14:23 Archived in Turkmenistan Tagged horses canyon cemetery sheep sand balcony camels picnic dumplings sand_dunes rock_formations graves mausoleum badlands prayers vulture injury goats waterhole turkmenistan griffon turkmenbashi chiropractor sturgeon central_asia wild_horses manty yomut undiscovered_destinations yacht_club picnic_lunch ex_ussr caspian_sea paper_serviettes napkins horse_riders yangikala yangikala_canyon parathetys_sea garabogazköl_basin crocodile's_mouth bomey_m gözli_ata pilrgimage_site sufi_teacher grave+markers grave+stones persian_writing prayer_scarves prayer_cloths leg_injury awaza awaza_tourism_zone yelken yelken_yacht_club locked_out maintenance_man pre_dinner_drink Comments (6)

Ashgabat - Bugdayly - Kipchak - Geok Tepe - Nohur - Serdar

Horses, mosques, and goat horn graves

33 °C
View The Forgotten Stan - Turkmenistan 2019 on Grete Howard's travel map.

Today we are leaving the city behind and travelling west, and we soon find the green parks of the capital replaced by dry, sandy conditions, which is not surprising as 80% of the country is covered with desert.

Bugdayly Ahal Teke Horse Stables

Our first stop today is a stable housing the famed Ahal Teke horses. Known as 'the gift from the desert,' this breed was developed for endurance and agility. Considered the art piece of the horse world - elegant and graceful in appearance and stride – Ahal Teke horses are among the rarest, most exotic full-sized breeds in the world, with only around 6,600 animals, mostly in Turkmenistan and Russia.

large_09586860-e1e5-11e9-a932-dbc25f5ddd85.jpg

We are treated to a fine display at the stables, with several specimens being brought out and paraded around for us. Most of these horses are bred for display and competition purposes, with each animal worth from US$10,000 upwards. The stable never purchases new horses, they breed from existing stock, and when they sell, they make sure that the stallions are unable to sire further offspring.

large_37190de0-e1e5-11e9-a932-dbc25f5ddd85.jpg

The Ahal Teke horses have a reputation for speed and stamina, intelligence, and a distinctive metallic sheen. The shiny coat of palominos and buckskins led to their nickname 'Golden Horses'.

large_4bf21ef0-e1e5-11e9-a932-dbc25f5ddd85.jpg

Named after an oases in the Karakum Desert of Turkmenistan (Akhal) and the tribe (Tekke) that lived there, these horses are adapted to severe climatic conditions, having to tolerate sparse water and food supplies as well as extremes of heat and cold; and are thought to be one of the oldest existing horse breeds.

large_2388f790-e1e5-11e9-a932-dbc25f5ddd85.jpg

The Akhal-Teke is distinctively fine-boned and flat-muscled. Its body—with its thin barrel and deep chest—is often compared to that of a greyhound or cheetah.

large_693879a0-e1e5-11e9-a932-dbc25f5ddd85.jpg

This white horse is 30 years old – allegedly the oldest ahel teke horse in the country – but she still seems to be fit and frisky.

large_1e7c6fb0-e1e6-11e9-a932-dbc25f5ddd85.jpg

After the display, we are taken to see the paddocks and stables, where we swoon over a young foal only born yesterday. The stables themselves, however, are surprisingly small, basic and somewhat dingy.

large_4a06d440-e1e6-11e9-a932-dbc25f5ddd85.jpg

David the horse whisperer.

large_68dca890-e1e6-11e9-a932-dbc25f5ddd85.jpg

Türkmenbaşy Ruhy Mosque

Our next stop is the village of Kipchak, and the huge, modern Türkmenbaşy Ruhy Mosque.

large_270a3320-e366-11e9-bc38-37efbc61dd39.jpg

Built by Saparmurat Niyazov, the first president of Turkmenistan, the mosque courted controversy as a result of the president insisting that the walls be inscribed with scriptures from not only the Quran but also the Ruhnama , the spiritual guide to life written by Niyazov himself. He apparently hit back at his critics by explaining how he had talked to God and could confirm that anyone who read the Ruhnama (the Book of the Soul) three times would be guaranteed a place in heaven.

large_3349ba70-e366-11e9-bc38-37efbc61dd39.jpg

The dimensions of the 40 metre high dome and 63 metre tall minarets are significant – Mohammed was 40 years old when he became the prophet and aged 63 when he died.

large_81c5e430-e366-11e9-bc38-37efbc61dd39.jpg

The colossal gilded door leading in to the prayer hall weighs half a ton, but can still be opened reasonably easily, especially by a fit young man such as our guide Meylis.

large_4e605c80-e369-11e9-a151-25e050177fb3.jpg

large_591991f0-e369-11e9-a151-25e050177fb3.jpg

large_55c89cc0-e36a-11e9-a151-25e050177fb3.jpg

large_694631f0-e369-11e9-a151-25e050177fb3.jpg

large_7419a620-e369-11e9-bc38-37efbc61dd39.jpg
Look at those enormous knockers

The mosque is reputed to be the largest in Central Asia, holding a total of 10,000 worshippers – 7,000 men on the ground level and 3,000 women on the first floor gallery.

large_9de0fdf0-e369-11e9-bc38-37efbc61dd39.jpg

large_9c720f30-e36a-11e9-a151-25e050177fb3.jpg

large_a89eaac0-e36a-11e9-a151-25e050177fb3.jpg

large_b4642010-e36a-11e9-a151-25e050177fb3.jpg

Running in a circular fashion underneath the mosque is an entire 'ablution city', complete with marble, gold and chandeliers.

large_fdc0a490-e36a-11e9-a151-25e050177fb3.jpg

large_13372e20-e36b-11e9-a151-25e050177fb3.jpg

There is also apparently an underground parking area with a capacity for 400 cars.

Niyazov's family Mausoleum

Next door to the mosque is the final resting place of Saparmurat Nyazov, (also known as Turkmenbashy the Great), who passed away suddenly in 2006.

large_03ebb470-e36d-11e9-a151-25e050177fb3.jpg

The entrance to the mausoleum is flanked by two guards in sentry boxes.

large_c66dab80-e36c-11e9-a151-25e050177fb3.jpg

We enter the mausoleum on the first floor and look down on the sarcophagi of Niyazov, his two brothers, his mother and his father (his dad died during WWII).

large_d6a65970-e36c-11e9-a151-25e050177fb3.jpg

The mausoleum, a miniature version of the mosque, was finished a couple of years prior to Niyazov's death. His mother and two brothers died in the massive 1948 earthquake that killed nearly 90% of the population of Ashgabat. The only reason Niyazov himself survived, was because he happened to be in the wooden outhouse at the time. The earthquake happened at 01:12, and the other members of his family were asleep in the brick-built house, which was razed to the ground in 15 seconds. The small wooden latrine was all that remained of his family home. This earthquake, measuring 10 on the Richter scale, was one of the most catastrophic natural disasters of the 20th century and destroyed nearly all brick buildings in the capital city and surrounding villages.

large_e3a427b0-e36c-11e9-a151-25e050177fb3.jpg

The mosque and mausoleum were built in Kipchak, the home village of Niyazov and his family as well as the site being very close to the epicentre of the earthquake. Niyazov's plan for the mausoleum was for it to become a pilgrimage site, although today we only see one other tourist with accompanying guide and a worshipper in the mosque.

We continue our journey west to the site where the historical battle between the forces of the Russian Tsar and Turkmens of the Teke tribe took place in 1881.

Saparmurat Hajji Mosque

Built on the site of the former Geok Depe Fortress, the mosque commemorates the 15,000 or so lives lost when the Russian army launched their bloody attack, killing all the soldiers and civilians stationed here.

large_db90f610-e39a-11e9-9674-79cc2d0e0d9b.jpg

large_ecd34bd0-e39a-11e9-9674-79cc2d0e0d9b.jpg

The mosque also honours President Niyazov’s pilgrimage to Mecca (hence the name of the president and the word 'Hajji' in the title)

large_fe6aed80-e39a-11e9-9674-79cc2d0e0d9b.jpg

Constructed in 1995, Saparmurat Hajji Mosque was the first mosque to be built in the country following independence after the dissolutionof the USSR in 1991.

large_093dc570-e39b-11e9-9674-79cc2d0e0d9b.jpg

As I mentioned in yesterday's blog entry, carpets are of great importance to the Turkmen people, and each region has its own design, the pattern associated with this area is featured here in the mosque.

large_19348860-e39b-11e9-9674-79cc2d0e0d9b.jpg

Lunch

Carrying on a little further, we stop at a somewhat nondescript roadside café for lunch. Meylis pops in to find out if they have any tables and chairs, rather than just the large bed-like frames, or carpets on the floor, as is the traditional way of dining in this part of the world.

large_360504e0-e39d-11e9-a0ce-b33af43f7f0a.jpg

We are ushered into a private dining room with a full-sized snooker table as well as a huge flat screen TV showing Lara Croft and Harry Potter dubbed in Russian. It is all rather surreal, and I really regret not taking a photo of the room.

There is no menu, and after chatting with the waiter, Maylis suggests we order grilled fish as this is their speciality here. The chips, salad and spicy tomato dip arrive way before the fish. There is also a whole square tin loaf of bread on the table, cut into one-inch pillars.

large_9cdbec60-e39d-11e9-a0ce-b33af43f7f0a.jpg

Not only do I not photograph the room, I also forget to take pictures of the food until we have almost finished.

large_b564e610-e39d-11e9-a0ce-b33af43f7f0a.jpg

Unfortunately my tummy is giving me terribly trouble today, and I hardly touch the lunch, rushing to find the fairly basic local-style (hole in the ground) facilities. Oh, how I hate the 'squits on the squats'!

For the next part of the journey I mostly sleep, until we reach the spectacular Kopetdag Mountains.

large_670ed000-e39f-11e9-b39a-9b77df5aeb17.jpg

Nohur Village

Our destination here in the mountains is the isolated village of Nohur, where the inhabitants are not true Turkmen, but claim to be direct descendants of Alexander the Great. These mixed race people (Greek + Turkmen) have their own language, and according to Meylis, our guide, “live differently”. 'No' means nine and 'Hur' is princesses; as legend suggests that the tribe originates from nine princesses.

large_3e5f7d00-e451-11e9-abad-879e1306284e.jpg

Nohur Cemetery

The main attraction in this village is its cemetery, which is like nothing I've ever seen before (and trust me, I have visited quite a few graveyards in my time): a large number of the headstones have goat horns attached to them.

large_8e8d9520-e454-11e9-9da4-e9630bb0ffe5.jpg

The local inhabitants believe that goat horns fight off evil spirits and can assist the souls of the deceased during their passage to heaven. Goats have always been considered sacred in this region, revered for their strength and endurance.

large_bc0830f0-e454-11e9-9da4-e9630bb0ffe5.jpg

large_e6d31610-e454-11e9-9da4-e9630bb0ffe5.jpg

large_d2861860-e454-11e9-9da4-e9630bb0ffe5.jpg

large_083f25a0-e455-11e9-9da4-e9630bb0ffe5.jpg

Another reason for goats being honoured here, is the legend that tells of their forefather, Alexander the Great, having horns on the side of his head. The Macedonian king was brought up with the belief that he was of divine birth, and claimed descent from the Egyptian god Amun, whose symbol was ram's horns. Archaeologists have found a large number of different types of ancients coins from around his time in 300BC depicting Alexander the Great with two horns.

large_1a838210-e455-11e9-9da4-e9630bb0ffe5.jpg

Here in Nohur (as well as many other places in Central Asia), traditional beliefs co-exists perfectly with the Islam faith.

large_2ae5b100-e455-11e9-9da4-e9630bb0ffe5.jpg

large_3591c710-e455-11e9-9da4-e9630bb0ffe5.jpg

Driving back down through the village from the cemetery, we encounter an extremely arrogant and inconsiderate driver – despite there being a drive-way he could pull into right next to him, he refuses to budge and makes us reverse up the narrow, winding road for quite some distance.

large_e4e05150-e455-11e9-9da4-e9630bb0ffe5.jpg

On reaching the main road, we joke that the traffic police are always in the wrong place, never there when you need them!

large_10e8bf80-e456-11e9-9da4-e9630bb0ffe5.jpg

Serdar Guest House

Having dozed off a little on the way, I wake up as we pull into the car park of the place we are staying tonight. It is described in the itinerary as a 'guest house', but it has all the facilities of a hotel, albeit a rather quirky one. We are on the ground floor right at the end of a corridor, and the carpet running along the hallways has obviously been bought by the metre from a roll; but instead of cutting it to size, they have just left the rest all rolled up against the wall at the end of the long thin corridor. The presence of a pair of slippers just inside the bedroom door indicates that we are expected to remove our shoes as we enter. It is, however, the curtains that has me perplexed when we enter; or rather the lack of. There are just nets over the windows, despite the fact that our room faces out onto the car park and road beyond; and the curtain pelmet is artistically wavy.

large_2c5f0560-e467-11e9-bf5d-454d96557d7f.jpg

After a quick shower and change, we settle in with a pre-dinner drink from our Duty Free when there is a knock on the door. Maylis has been told that the restaurant staff would like him to be there when we order dinner as they don't speak any English. Fair enough.

As we enter the restaurant, a tantalising aroma wafts from the kitchen. “I'll have whatever that smell belongs to” I say to Meylis.

But first to more important things: beer! Gotta love their weak larger here: 12%. It is very nice though and carries quite a punch as you'd expect.

large_5fee1140-e468-11e9-bf5d-454d96557d7f.jpg

To start we have lentil soup, which is really quite peppery, rather thick and very tasty.

large_9e514a10-e468-11e9-bf5d-454d96557d7f.jpg

After following his nose into the kitchen, Meylis comes back with the source of the mouthwatering scent from earlier: lamb with liver and kidneys. I am so eager to dig in that I forget to take a photo until it is nearly all gone (apologies for awful picture). I am happy to report that it tasted as good as it smelled.

large_7b39b7f0-e469-11e9-bf5d-454d96557d7f.jpg

Returning to the room for the night, I look for an electric socket to charge my phone. Really?

large_a8502ff0-e507-11e9-b58b-f709a2061464.jpg

With a distinct lack of ladders to reach this one, we end up unplugging one of the bedside lamps instead. The hotel is hosting a wedding reception this evening (much to David's delight earlier, as he spent the entire dinner checking out the well-dressed and all rather attractive female guests arriving); and between the noise from the party, people coming and going, a barking dog in the car park and the pain from yet another blister on my foot (that is four blisters now, and this one covers the entire ball of my left foot. Thank goodness for Compeed!) ; I don't anticipate getting a lot of sleep tonight.

Thank you Undiscovered Destinations for arranging this private tour for us.

large_53bb2cc0-e46b-11e9-bf5d-454d96557d7f.jpg

Posted by Grete Howard 16:48 Archived in Turkmenistan Tagged mosque cemetery horse muslim lunch mausoleum islam saparmurat_niyazov bugdayly ahal_teke horse_stable türkmenbaşy_ruhy_mosque niyazov kipchak saparmurat_hajji_mosque geok_depe snooker_table nohur nohur_cemetery serdar Comments (9)

(Entries 1 - 2 of 2) Page [1]