INFORMATION ON TURKMENISTAN
PROVIDED BY TURKMENSIYAKHAT
THE STATE TOURISM CORPORATION OF TURKMENISTAN
I. GENERAL INFORMATION
Neutral TURKMENISTAN is a State formed as a result of free will of its people (a referendum in October 1991) and by a decree of the State Parliament (Mejlis). Turkmenistan is situated in Central Asia. Its area is 488,100 sq. km, or around 188,456 sq. miles; population is 4,437,600 (1995), density of population is 8.7 persons per sq. km. The capital of the country is Ashgabat (population 530,575). In the north Turkmenistan borders upon Kazakstan, in the east on Uzbekistan, in the south-east on Afghanistan, and in the south on Iran. In the west a natural border is the Caspian Sea. The desert Kara-Kum (Black Sands) occupies most of the country.
Turkmen account for 77 per cent of the country’s population, Kazaks, 9,2 per cent; Russians, 7 per cent; and Uzbeks, 6,7 per cent. The Turkmen language belongs to the Turkic group and is the State language in Turkmenistan; the second important language is Russian. Since 1996 the Turkmen have used the Latin alphabet. During the transitional period the Cyrillic alphabet is being used as well. The basic religions are the Sunni branch of Islam and Orthodox Christianity. According to its Constitution, Turkmenistan is a democratic and secular State, based on Law, which has a paramount power in its territory and carries on internal and foreign policies. On December 12th, 1995, the 50-th General Assembly of the United Nations acknowledged the status of Turkmenistan as a neutral State. The economic potential of Turkmenistan is very high, and is based on its political and social stability, and huge reserves of such natural resources as oil, gas, cotton, sulphur, potassium and rock salt.
Local time: Greenwich +5 hours.
The national currency is manat (100 tenge). There are banknotes of 10,000, 5,000, 1,000, 500, 100, 50, 20, 10, 5 and 1 manats.
Turkmenistan lies at the cross-roads of Central Asia. Ashgabat, the capital of Turkmenistan, is a large transport center. The main gateway to the country is the modern International Saparrnurat Turkmenbashi Airport. The national carrier, Turkmen Airlines, has regular flights from Ashgabat to many world capitals: Abu-Dabi, New Delhi, Karachi, London, Istanbul, Moscow, Almaty, Baku, Yerevan, Kiev, Tashkent, Dushanbe and so on. International airlines, such as Lufthansa from Frankfurt, Turkish Airlines from Istanbul, Iran Air from Teheran and Meshkhed, and Pakistan Airlines from Karachi, also have regular flights to Ashgabat. Airways link Ashgabat with all administrative centres of regions (velayats) of Turkmenistan.
Rail and motor transport plays a considerable role in the state economy.
A 1,000 km-long motorway and the rail-way Ashgabat-Charjev and Ashgabat-Turkmenbashi are the main transport arteries of the country. Old Nisa – a capital of the Parthian state, is situated 18 km to the south-west from Ashgabat. It can be reached by car from the International Saparmurat Turkmenbashi Airport, via the town of Bagir. Air, motor and rail ways Ashgabat-Nebitdag reach the sites of the ancient Mashad-Misrian.
A motorway of 226 km from a local airport at Mary leads to the monuments of old Seraldis. Or you can use the Ashgabat-Tedjen railway, then take a bus Tedjen-Serakhs or Ashgabat-Serakhs (a distance of 325 km).
Merv and the modern city of Mary are linked with Ashgabat by an air flight. It is also possible to take a bus or a train. Kunja-Urgench, situated 105 km to the north-west from Dashkhovuz, can be visited by plane, rail or motor transport. Regular flights between Ashgabat and Dashkhovuz are much more comfortable for tourists, compared with other means of transport.
The main entry points of Turkmenistan are the international airport in Ashgabat, seaport in Turkmenbashi; and also on land border: Gaudan, Kaakhka, Artik, Bergengi, Tedjen, Daslikhovuz, Mari, Serakhs, Kushka. The country’s sea gateway is the port city of Turkmenbashi, linked by a ferry to Baku in Azerbaijan and to Astrakhan in Russia.
There is a network of modern comfortable hotels in Turkmenistan. On statistics information (1996) the number of hotels is 95 (for 4533 persons m the whole); among them are 9 hotels of 5* (648p.), 3 hotels of 4* (53 p.), 2 hotels of 2* (91p.), arid the rest of more modest facilities. There are conference-halls in Ashgabat hotels, “Imperial’s Grand Turkmen”, “Regal Ak-Altin Plaza”, the ABC business-centre, Nebitchi, Demiryolchi. Service is of high quality, and trained guides-interpreters are ready to help you to know history and culture of Turkmenistan. Many tourist firms and agencies invite tourists to visit the Great Silk Road sites in Turkmenistan.
National restaurants and hotels offer national dishes, cooked according to old recipes (plov, kakmach, kufta-shurpa, ljulja-kebap, churek, unash, dograma and so on). European, Turkish and Chinese restaurants are also available.
IV. CUSTOM REGULATIONS
There are no restrictions on import/export, purchase and use of foreign and national currencies and credit cards by foreign visitors to Turkmenistan. Foreign currency is declared only at the departure.
A visitor may bring to Turkmenistan any goods, objects and valuables, with the exception of weapons and ammunition, explosives, narcotics and psychotropic agents; pornography, and publications containing information which may prejudice the interests of Turkmenistan, its national security, health and morals of its people. Clothes and personal effects, foodstuffs, and medicines are not subject to import duties, if brought in reasonable quantities. A duty-free limit of imported goods, objects and valuables, should not exceed the equivalent of 400 minimal wages of Turkmenistan. A visitor may import, excise-free, up to 10 litres of beer, up to 5 litres of wines and liquors, and up to 200 cigarettes.
Owners of vehicles entering Turkmenistan are to pay the following duties depending on the load carrying capacity of the vehicle:
a motorcycle: USD 15
a passenger car: USD 30
a bus: less than 12 seats: USD 25
13 – 30 seats: USD 50
more than 30 seats: USD 100
On entry vehicles are charged the following excises:
10 per cent of the vehicle’s value with a motor volume below 2,000 cu. cm
15 per cent of the vehicle’s value with a motor volume over 2,000 cu. cm
On leaving Turkmenistan, the excises are reimbursed to the vehicle owner.
When using private vehicles, an international driving license is required, as well as ownership documents.
The hottest months are July and August, when temperatures occasionally reach 40-45 degrees Centigrade. The best season to visit is from September to June. Autumn abounds in fresh fruits: melons, water-melons, grapes, etc. Weather is warm and pleasant, with few rains. There is almost no snow in winter, with temperatures almost never going below 0 degrees Centigrade.
VI. NATURAL FEATURES
Sometimes Turkmenistan can conjure up images of scorching heat. However, although about 80 per cent of its territory are covered by the Karakum desert, the variety of climatic areas may fascinate any traveler. It boasts a beautiful Caspian sea-coast, Kopet-Dag mountain subtropics, and the magnaminous Amu-Darya river (the ancient Amul) flowing to waterless regions of the country. The Kughitang mountainous plateau preserves petrified dinosaur footprints, and one is overwhelmed by the harsh beauty of stalactite and stalagmite caves. The natural charms of the Kara-Kala area, with its waterfalls, gorges, and lush vegetation, explain its nickname, a Paradise on Earth. Not far from the town of Bakharden there is a unique underground lake, Kov-Ata. The bathing season at the lake spans the whole year, as the water comes from hot sulfurous springs.
The harshly beautiful desert is in fact a living environment, with proud camels plodding quick-sands. The wildlife and vegetation are varied enough to dispel any notion of the Kara-Kum as a lifeless expanse. Having seen once a desert in bloom (March to May), one would never forget the colourful tapestry of flowers.
VII. SPAS AND HEALTH RESORTS
Turkmenistan has mountainous, seaside and desert climatic areas, which are beneficial for treating or preventing various illnesses. That is why the country boasts a network of spas and health resorts where highly-qualified doctors treat nervous and locomotor system problems, as well as kidney deseases.
The Bairan-Ali balneologic Spa
The spa is located in a former Tsar palace dating from the last century, in a sprawling park with a peculiar micro-climate. Regular treatment at the spa, with its efficient, research-based treatment, procedures and diets, helps people suffering from nephritis and nephrosis. The spa is open throughout spring, summer and autumn.
A unique balneo-therapeutic fango spa for a renge of locomotor and nervous system illnesses, and infertility. The main feature of the spa is a thermal lake and blue mud sediments covered by a salt crust and sand. The spa, which operates all year round, has exercise rooms, underwater massage and various research laboratories.
This spa has a balneologic character. It treats cardiovascular illnesses, nervous break-downs, locomotor problems, gastrointestinal, liver and gall bladder failures, urology and skin diseases. Besides beneficial climate, the main curative factor is mineralized water, both for drinking and bathing. It contains hydrogen sulfide and other beneficial substances. The spa is located in a spacious park in a mountain valley, far away from busy highways and railroads. The fresh clean air and mild temperatures combine to produce an agreeable climate.
All the above spas and health resorts have international tourism level facilities.
VII. THE MAIN TOURISM SITES ALONG THE GREAT SILK ROAD:
Nisa (Akhal velayat) – 3rd century BC – 18th century AD
Merv (Mari velayat ) – 6th century BC – 18th century AD
Serakhs (Amal velayat) -1st century B C- 18th century AD
Kunya-Urgench ( Dashkhovuz velayat) -1st century B C- 17th century AD
Mashad-Misrian ( Balkan velayat) – BC – 14th century AD
Additional excursion sites:
Annau fortress (Ashgabat) – 15th -18th century AD
Medieval city of Abiverd ( Kaakhka) – 10th – 12th century AD
Amul fortress (Chardjev) – 5th – 7th century AD
Ancient settlement Pam (Kizil-Arvat) – 9th – 14th century AD
Ancient city Shekhr-Islam(s.Bakharden) – 9th – 14th century AD
Caravanseray Daja-Khatin (173 km from Chardjev) – 12th- 16th century AD
Ancient settlement Kerky ( s.Kerky) – 11th – 12th century AD
Abu-Said mausoleum ( s.Kaakhka) – 11th – 14th century AD
Natural Sights of Turkmenistan
Bakharden underground lake (Akhal velayat., s. Bakharden)
Kugitang: a dinosaur plateau (Lebap velayat, s.Khodgapil)
Karlyux caves (Lebap velayat, s.Charshanga)
Nisa – the residence and capital of a Parthian dynasty of Arshakids (3rd century BC -3rd century A.D.) is located 18 km west of Ashgabat and consists of two settlements – Old and New Nisa. A text on the fragments of a Parthian vessel (2nd century B.C.) establishes a historical name for the fortress of Old Nisa – Mitridatakert. The fortress of a pentagonal configuration was constructed on a natural hill in accordance with its outlines. It had 43 rectangular towers with embrasures and was a inaccessible citadel.
Excavations of Old Nisa have revealed a grandiose architectural complex. Its first part is a palace, the second, in the northern part of the settlement, consists of a treasure house and household rooms. The most interesting site is the palace complex: a square ceremonial hall with four-paddled and wall columns of bricks and wooden beam ceiling. Between columns of a second tier there were clay wooden and painted statues (2.5 meter high). In the tile complex you can also find the religious cult area with a round dome hall (a 17-meter diameter), formerly decorated with statues in a second tier and remains of a square tower (height 15 m) enveloped in corridors, an a similarly structured round hall. In the north part of the settlement there was excavated a square house (with 60m sides) and a yard encircled with long, two-bay rooms – a grandiose treasure house.
While Old Nisa was a residence for the Parthian kings, the neighbouring New Nisa (Parthanisa) was a city where one can find dwellings of the slave-owning aristocracy and temples. A long (7 km) wall protected agricultural suburbs of Nisa, and so all the neighbourhoods of Nisa were surrounded by a ring of walls. In the year 220 A.D., after the fall of the Arshakid Parthian dynasty, Nisa became a part of the Sassanid Iran. The life in New Nisa continued throughout the Middle Age right up to the beginning of 19th century.
Additional information on Nisa.
Merv and its oasis – one of the most ancient historical and cultural regions of Central Asia, where in the Bronze Age already existed a highly developed system of irrigation and dense network of settlements with monumental architectural buildings. The Merv oasis had a lot of different names: in the Holy Book of the Zoroastrians, Avesta, it was called Moury, in the tile cuneiform texts of Akhemenid kings, Margush, in the Rome authors’ works – Margiana, and in the sources of the Sassanids and the Arabs periods, Merv. In the old delta of Murgab river there were revealed majestic remains of a cult architecture of the Bronze Age.
Merv, in the oasis centre, was the biggest city in the East. Now it is a group of settlements – remains of arisen and ruined cities. In different periods there were such settlements as Erk-Kala, Gyaur-Kala, Sultan-Kala, Abdullakhan-Kala and Bayram Alikhan-kala. The history of these fortresses began in the 6th and 7th century B.C. – the time when the city was a part of the ancient Persian Power of the Akhemenids, and ended in the 13th century A.D. with a definite economical and political decline of the city.
Additional information on Merv.
In the 4th century B.C. Margiana was conquered by Alexander the Great. Historical sources says that the city of Margiana Alexandria (settlement Erk-Kala) was founded on the site of the ancient city of Margush (6th century B C). Erk-Kala now is a circular bank (diameter 800 m), formerly with a powerful wall to protect a city.
Afterwards Margiana’s Alexandria formed a part of the Syria state of the Selevkids, and the city grew greatly and got a name of Margiana Anthiokhia. Nowadays it is settlement Gyaur-Kala (its area is more than 300 hectares). Subsequently Anthiokhia and Margiana were under the Parthian and Iran rulers. In 651c Merv was under the Arab rule. Near Gyaur-Kala there appeared dwelling district where the city life was concentrated. Now it is a settlement
Merv reached its heyday in the Seljuk period. In the end of the 16th century the city became a fortified capital of their state. In the centre of Sultan-Kala they constructed a grandiose Sultan-Sanjar mausoleum.
In 1221 Merv disappeared as a result of a Mongol invasion that razed the city and massacred its population. In the beginning of the 14th century it was revived by the Timurids. The remains of that city are now known as .Abdullakhan-Kala. In the 15th century a new city rose, the remains of which are presently called Bayramalikhan.
The important historical architectural monuments in Mew of the pre-Arab period are the feudal castles of Large and Small Kiz-Kala, the Kiz-Kala mausoleum (12th century ), and the Mukhammed Ibn-Zeyd mausoleum (11th century). As to Talkhatan-baba mosque, a great 12th century monument, one is overwhelmed by the master’s inventiveness in designing ornamental brickwork which is an integral part of constructive masonry. Other interesting monuments include the Khudaynazar-ovliya mausoleum, Kutli-depe, Large and Small Nagim-Kala, Durnaly and many other.
A genuine gem of Merv is the Sultan-Sanjar mausoleum. A majestic 12th century structure (thickness its walls is 5m, height 40 m) is a unique phenomenon in the architecture of Turkmenistan. The architectural ensemble of the Askhabs burials and Jusuf Kilamadan mosque (16th century) should also be mentioned.
Serakhs played an important role in history of Turkmenistan and Central Asia of Antique and Medieval epochs. The city and its oasis reached their heyday in 10th-12th centuries. In that time there appeared many other settlements.
Seraldis and its oasis gained an important role in the period of conflict between the Seljuks and the Gaznevids. In that period the city occupied almost a half of Merv territory. Since the Sassanids epoch and up to the Mongols invasion the international merchant and mail caravan road went through Serakhs.
After the Mongols invasion, in spite of the Timurids’ attempts of reconstructing the former glory of the city and oasis, there began a gradual but steady decline of the city economy and culture.
The preserved monuments of Serakhs architecture bear witness to the existence of the regional school of builders (10th-12th centuries) which developed its own architectural style. The most important examples of that school are, first of all, the Abul-Fazy and Yarti-Gumbez mausoleums.
Serakhs architects constructed beautiful buildings outside their city as well. Their works are well known in many places of Central Asia and Iran. They played a considerable role in general development of medieval architecture of Khorasan.
The mausoleum of Abul-Fazy (or Seraldis-baba) is the most important historical architectural monument in the Serakhs oasis. A mausoleum, constructed in the 11th century on the burial site of Saint Abul-Fazil-Guzi, is a monumental composition: a square building contains a room with four deep bays. In the east bay there is an entrance with portal in the wall, upstairs – arched galleries and cylindrical dome.
In the same century was constructed Yarti-Gumbez mausoleum (1098). It’s built of bricks topped with a sail-shaped dome. The architectural peculiarity of the mausoleum is its entrance directed to the south, and you can find bays inside and an entrance portal. The preserved mikhrab shows that formerly there might have been a mosque near to walls. The mausoleum must have been a burial of Sheikh Akhmed-Khady.
The mausoleum of Sheikh Lokman, a contemporary of Abul-Fazy, demonstrates clear evolution of architectural style of monumental domed mausoleums in Serakhs: no portals in the Yarti-Gumbez mausoleum, the tomb of Abul-Fazil with a slightly developed portal and, at last sheikh Lokinan’s tomb with a developed high portal accented its entrance. Besides that, in Serakhs one can find a lot of monuments of the Antique and Neolithic periods.
Kunya-Urgench – the capital of old Khorezm. There was a city here already in the 1st century. The first capital of Khoresm was the city of Kiyat, and Urgench became a capital in 712. In late 11th century there appeared a dynasty of the great Khoresmshakhs. Under their rule, in the 13th century Khoresm became the biggest and independent
Moslem State in Central Asia.
The city reached its heyday at the time of Khorezmshakhs il-Arslan, Tekely and Mukhammed II, and was eventually destroyed by the Mongols in 1221. Khoresm and Urgench became a part of the Golden Horde. But, shortly after that, the city again gained its previous economical and cultural significance in the network of big trade cities of Central Asia. In late 14th century Urgench was completely destroyed by Timur (1388). Since that time the city had lost its previous importance. But not only Timur’s invasion was a reason for the city’s fall. In the same time sea-ways to India from Europe had been discovered and the Amudaria river had changed its course and moved off the city.
There are a few monuments of the pre-Mongol period: the Ak-Kala fortress, and the Khoresmshakhs il-Arslan and Tekesh mausoleum. The Il-Arslan’s mausoleum (12th century) has a faceted dome which is set on the high drum. Art decoration is almost ruined inside and on the grave-stone, but on the main facade outside the ornamental decoration is magnificent.
The Tekesh mausoleum is a unique example: its size and rich decorations allow to attribute it to the number of buildings constructed on the graves of the most important persons.
The Tjurabek-Khanim mausoleum (14th century) and tombs of the Sufi dynasty belong to the Mongol period, as well as the Nadgmat-din Kubr mausoleum (14th century) and the main mosque minaret (1320).
Additional information on Kunya-Urgench.
Not far from Kunja-Urgench one can see very interesting medieval settlements of Shakh-Senem, Deuksen-Kala and the Izmukshir fortress. Mashad-Misrian (9th-14th centuries), is situated 90 km to the north-west from Kizil-Atrek. It consists of remains of an old city, Misrian, and a big cemetery, Mashad, located 7 km to the north from the old city. The oasis was known as Dekhistan in the Middle Age. The first settlements appeared there in the Parthian time.
In the 9th century the city was connected with the Atrek river by a 60km canal. Its heyday was 11th-12th centuries. After the Mongol invasion the city lingered till 14th century. Here one can see the remains of fortress walls and towers, a high mosque portal, remnants of two minarets (20m height), ruins of caravanserais and mausoleums. Also you can see a trace of crossing streets, buildings and hollows of former khauses (pulls). The remains of three caravan-sarays (11th-12th centuries) found during the excavation in 1971, which were consisted of 18 chambers, a patio and an aivar. Research has shown that an ancient road passed from Iran to Khoresm.
One of the minarets, belonging to the main mosque, was erected in 1102 (diameter 8m, height 20m). The body of the minaret houses a spiral staircase. The minaret has a perfect decorated brickwork and the Arab writing, thrice engirded the building’s body.
A lot of ruins and buildings remain on the site of the Mashad cemetery. The most interesting among them are the mosque-mausoleum “Shir-Kabir” with a dome of 11 m height, a mikhrab and a grave-stone. The monument dates to 10th century. Now we can see only the fragments of decorations. The other mausoleums (11th-12th centuries) are the variations of compositions: an octahedron or round burial construction. The mosque in Misrian is the only monument of the Khorezmshakhs period. The time has saved two portals decorated with geometrical and epigraphic lapis ornament. The mosque was built by Sultan Mukhammed , the son of Sultan Tekesh.
IX. NATIONAL ARTS AND CRAFTS
Turkmenistan can offer tourists many exciting attractions and crafts. The magnificent Akhal-Teki horses, “celestial stallions” according to Romans, are famous the world over. Their natural beauty and grace make them a unique desert horse. The Akhal-Teki horse is pictured in the State Emblem of Turkmenistan, which reflects Turkmens’ reverence of the golden-maned horse.
Colourful Turkmen carpets woven by local women-folk, are unique. Carpet-weaving traditions a rooted in ancient past. Every girl in a Turkmen family prepared her dowry, combing in her carpets her original style and traditional canons. Every aul (village) had its style, ornament an a combination of colours. Today the best specimen of carpets may be admired in the Carpet Museum located in downtown Ashgabat.
Visitors to Turkmenistan are invariably impressed by the original women’s jewelry recalling Amazons’ armour. The fame of Tuirkmen jewelers dates back to ancient past. Master jewelers preserved and passed on their craft throughout centuries. The intricate Oriental-style adornments decorated with turquoise and cornelian are fascinating.
Oriental bazaars, with their unique colourful character, have always attracted the international traveler. Everything is for sale here, from household items to national jewelry to silk fabrics to carpets. The buzzing crowds moving around colourful merchandise are enthralling. Numerous tourists are also attracted by folk traditions which include riding giant see-saws during the Kurban-Bairam feast, the local Goresh wrestling, local Alabai dog-fights and falconry.