Travel in Turkmenistan. Tourist info

Contents:

 

Travel guide to Turkmenistan/ Frequently Asked Questions
 
(This guide is offered to facilitate the preparation of travel to/in Turkmenistan. Here, you can find answers to frequent asked questions)
 
 
Question: How to travel to Turkmenistan?
Answer: Any traveller can make it. First! Traveller should make choice between transit or tourist visas. What is the difference between it: 
 
Transit visa- a transit visa application can be made by a traveller directly to Turkmenistan Embassy/Consulate in any part of the world. Duration of transit visa is up to 5 days. 
Advantages: 
Easy to plan free program and travel services with a local travel agency or without it. 
Possibility of budget travel accordingly to local prices paid directly. 
Letter of invitation NOT required what lower travel expenses and make travel cheaper.
Booking travel or tour services at travel agency. It allows a travel agent more flexibility to suit offer as per traveller request.
 
Disadvantages: Turkmen consul has  right to accept transit visa application or reject it. Proceedings can be around 10-14 days
Transit visa duration is up to 5 days. It is small period to travel all country. Practically, it possible to make only standards itineraries or visit main sites.
Visa obtain place is normally at the same Embassy/consulate (*only as an exception, consul can give traveller a permit copy or number to obtain it at border/where consular service is available)
Entrance border, departure border and itinerary in country, it should be the same as agreed (if there would be necessity to change departure border, while travelling in Turkmenistan. Traveller needs to ask about it - the State Migration service. Giving his/her explanations why this change to be done)
 
Requirements: Have real transit itinerary. Have visas of countries before and after Turkmenistan, before to apply. Valid passport.
 
Notes: Technically, travellers can apply at any Turkmenistan embassy but by experience we would advise first check at Embassies in Brussels, Vienna, Istanbul, Tajikistan
 
 
Tourist visa
Advantages: 
The duration of tourist visa, it can be up to 21 days (normally it is arranged up to 15 days). What makes it possible to visit all country as per idea, interest and budget. It makes travel in Turkmenistan more interesting, combining different elements of interest (culture, adventure, ecotourism, nature, trekking, hiking, horse riding, geography trips).
Flexibility of price and travel conditions are still remain but finally it depends on a travel agency you choose, as it can be different
Visa obtain place is free and you can choose at your convenience
Period can be flexible up to one or two months, arranged in advance in letter of invitation.
Itinerary can be also changed inside of general itinerary applied in letter of invitation
 
 
Requirements:
letter of invitation should be arranged, what has its own cost. Any licensed travel agency can do it. Price can be different depending on itinerary and tour. Also, this flexibility of price and conditions can be different between the local travel agencies. Letter of invitation (LOI) proceedings take around 7 - 10 days. Having its copy, you can obtain visa at any Turkmenistan Embassy/ consulate or upon borders (Dashoguz, Kunya Urgench, Turkmenbashy, Howdan, Farap, airport of Ashgabat) 
Valid passport, photo, LOI application form
 
here you can find Turkmenistan embassies or consulates around the world pls click here
 
 
Question: How to travel in Turkmenistan?
 
Answer: Modalities of travel in Turkmenistan: by flight, by car, or by train
 
Flights are regular in Turkmenistan. Normally in time. There are flights from Ashgabat to Dashoguz, Mary, Turkmenabat, Balkanabat, Turkmenbashy etc. You can check flight schedule/pls.click here. All aircrafts are Boeing 717-200 (for domestic flights). Turkmenistan Airlines don't offer the online reservation or online ticket purchase but issue paper flight ticket what can be used as e-ticket. To be clear, you can book flight ticket via a travel agency and use its copy as e-ticket to take flight at any airport in Turkmenistan (or if it is international flight, from aboroad)
 
Travel by car is easy in the country. There are a lot of private taxi cars (Toyota, Nissan, BMW, Opel....). Drivers gather at the certain parking places in every town. Normally, it is near railroad stations. At exception in Ashgabat. There is central taxi parking, around 10 km to the north from Ashgabat, on road to Dashoguz, directly after police check point, from left side when leave the town. 
Shared taxi, it is definitely cheaper but we recommend you for the safety, to book it via a travel agency. The ground of this statement is that usually taxi drivers can be crazy fast on the roads what makes it dangerous. Many of them work hard, not sleeping well before to drive again. The technical state of cars, it also can be questionable. Drivers who work with travel agency, they have experience of the road and meet the traveller requirements.
 
 
If you have much of time, travelling by train, it can be an option. Trains are slow in Turkmenistan. Normally, all trains go at night time and arrive in the morning. Tickets aren't expensive, around 10 USD (kupe sleeper ticket- separate compartment for 4 passengers). Starting from Ashgabat, there are trains to west direction Balkanabat, Turkmenbashy, to north Dashoguz, to east Mary Turkmenbabat. Daily trains are available in any direction.
 
 
 
Question: How to book a room at hotel in Turkmenistan?
Answer: Online hotel reservation available only at luxury hotels in Ashgabat: Sofitel Oguzkent, Nusay.... There is option to send e-mail reservation to Grand Turkmen***** and AkAltyn**** htls. Other option to make it easy, it is to book via travel agency. Price can range between travel agencies. List Turkmenistan hotels can be checked here/ pls. click here.
 
 
 
Question: Is it safe to take photos in Turkmenistan?
Answer: Yes, certainly you are free to take pictures in country. Exceptions where it isn't allowed: Presidential palaces, Administrative buildings, Military units....
Take picture of people, it is OK if people like it. We advise first to ask and then to take a picture. Usually in villages, people like it.
We recommend to be careful at bazaars in Ashgabat (at Tolkuchka market, it is OK) and really pls. be careful at 'Bay' bazaar in Turkmenabat and in town. Also, it is not allowed to take picture of crossing across Amudarya river.
 
 
Question: Travel by camping car in Turkmenistan?
Answer: First you need to choose between transit and tourist visa. If your stay in country is 5 days or less. We advise you to stick to transit visa option and try to get it directly at Turkmenistan embassy. Why? this stay be cheaper for you and program planning free to organize.
If, transit visa option not for you then it is only option with tourist visa. Given it, you need to choose the correct travel agency to support your interests and travel idea. Price and conditions should be disscused with travel agent directly.
 
Camping car proceedings at border.
Documents required: Valid passport with Turkmen visa, driver license, vehicle technical passport on driver's name.
Border transport officers calculate the fees accordingly to vehicle, length of itnerary in Turkmenistan, fuel tax, sanitary control tax. Then, they issue you the official itinerary list. Then customs tax to be paid and in return customs officers give the paper confirmation for your vehicle that it has status of `temporary vehicle import in Turkmenistan'. Pls keep this paper as it is important for departure from country. It is required by customs officers at exit border.
 
 
 
Question: The weather in Turkmenistan?
Answer: We have dry continental climate in Turkmenistan. What makes winter cold and summer hot. The best period to travel in country: end of March, April, May, beginning of June, end of August, September, October. These periods have warm temperatures or start/ finish of hot season. Heavy but short rains happen in Spring time. In Autumn, rains are long and it can change the weather to cooler way. Usual temperatures day-night jumping in country up to 15 C degrees. Early Spring or late Autumn temperatures drops can be abrubt.
Also, the weather between the regions of the country, it can be different. Season precipitations can be checked on climate map/ pls. click here.
 
 
Question: What is Turkmen currency?
Answer: Turkmenistan currency is manats (Denominated Turkmen Manats/ DTM). Exchange rate 1 USD- 3,4913 DTM. This rate is valid since Jan, 2015. In case of any change we would update this info.This rate is the same in all regions or at all exchanges offices. At airport, in Ashgabat or in regional administrative centres, travellers can exchange it as per the same rate. USD are largely accepted by local people.
EUR are less known for people and it can be changed at Banks. Rate USD- DTM is active and it to be calculated on the base USD- EUR exchange rate and adding local bank interest 1.5%
 
 
Question: What are the entrance fees at tourist sites in Turkmenistan?
Answer: Merv 4 USD, Gonur Depe 4 USD, History museum in Mary 5 USD + 5 USD museum's guide excursion 5 USD, Nisa 4 USD entrance + 4 USD local guide fee, History and Archeology museum in Ashgabat 10 USD + 10 USD museum's guide excursion, Turkmen carpet museum a bit less 12 USD + 12 USD museum's guide excursion (to be paid in Manats), Kov Ata cave lake 14 USD (to be paid in manats), Akhal Teke private horse farm 15 USD 
 

 

Turkmenistan location is in western part of Central Asia, between the northern latitudes 35º08´ - 42º48´ and east longitudes 52º 27´- 66º 41´. Total area of the country is 488,100 km2, its surface is stretching from West to East to 1,100 km and from North to South 650 km. The important geographical position is specified by its common borders with Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Afghanistan, Iran & via Caspian sea to its neighbors Azerbaijan and Russia. The northern and central part of the country is domain of Karakum desert, about 80 % of its territory (350.000 km2). To the south the desert is transformed into foothills of Kopetdag mountain, to south-east to hills of Badhyz and Karabil elevations (northern foothills of Paropamisus range). Right bank area of Amudarya river is occupied by Sundukli barchans (extremity of Kyzyl Kum desert). Eastern shore of Caspian Sea passing in West-Turkmen maritime lowland, and contains the alkaline lands and loose sands. The spur of Alaimountain range (Kugitangtau) is wedged in its extreme east, having the highest peak ‘Ayrybaba’ (3.139 m). The lowest point in Turkmenistan is in the desert, Akjakaya depression, 81 m below sea level. The total swing range of elevation marks surpasses 3200 m. The main rivers crossing the country: Amudarya (1415 km), Murgab (978 km), Tedjen (1150 km), Atrek (669 km) & Karakum canal (1375 km). (photo relief map)

 

Ashgabat (Ashkhabad)

Travelling to Ashgabat.

It appears unexpectedly at the foot of Kopetdag mountains to the south and Karakum desert to the north. What encircle the modern white town shining on the sun during the day or all in lights at night. It contrast vividly on the green background of mountains in the spring transforming in brown and yellow colors in summer and in autumn, under burning sun of central Asia. In winter when the mountains sleep under white cover of the snow, it merges together and entwine with the white buildings of the town. The modern period of Ashgabat started from Oct 27, 1991 when Turkmenistan becomes the Independent state.

The geographical advantages of the town, played important. It is only 45 km to Iran on its road to the south. East direction comes along Kopetdag mountains, the hills Badhyz and Karabil foothills of Paropamisus, bordering Afghanistan. Finally come to Uzbekistan. North route cross the Karakum desert and come to Uzbekistan towns of Khiva, Urgench, Nukus and Ustyurt plateau. The way to west, it comes to Caspian Sea where it opens directions to Iran, Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan and Russia. In the past, the transformation of the large desert of central Asia, Karakum into the fertile hills of Kopedag mountains made of this place the natural border between the nomadic tribes of desert and agricultural settlements. It had the defense advantage from military incursions of the desert and had been the outpost of the Persia. On these grounds a town should be built in the area. Like well before Ashgabat, the first Parthian empire fortress had arisen just 12 km from modern town. What is now the World heritage site under protection of UNESCO, the vivid glory of those days.

The birth day of Ashgabat is referred to 1881, the second period of Great Game in central Asia, between British and Russian Empires. The main and most popular meaning of Ashgabat – ‘town built by love’ or ‘city of love’, though there are less know interpretations of the name – one is connecting Ashgabat to Parthian ancestors ‘town of Arsaces (Arshaks)’ or less known and the most recent referred to modern period ‘white town’.

Development of name Ashgabat: XIX century Ashabat, XX century Ashkhabad, current  Ashgabat

When the Trans Caspian railroad has been built in end of XIX century (from Caspian Sea, along Kopet Dag mountains, to Turkmenabat, Bukhara and other line to Khiva…), Ashgabat become its administrative center. Train station, locomotive depot, other related infrastructure has been developing. Many workers and other railroad professionals from Armenia, Georgia, Russia started to arrive in town. The population become growing faster. There have been appeared the administrative buildings, streets, bazaars, residential quarters, banks, businesses. Russia imported the calico, sugar, kerosene, matches, metallic tableware, other goods. In the numerous caravanserais arrived a lot of dried fruits, silk cloth, wool, other articles from Iran, Afghanistan, Khiva, Bukhara. In 1900 the Russian bank of Ashgabat had banking close to 70 thousands Russian rubles.

Urbanization of Ashgabat progressed slowly and was interrupted after revolution in 1918. It restarted only closer to 1928. After that period Ashgabat become growing fast and new industries started to work.

The textiles, agriculture, glass making.

October 27, 1948 the very destructive earthquake happened in Ashgabat and in the area around. The estimated 7.3 on Richter scale. Around 110 thousand people killed that night only in town. At that period the population of Ashgabat estimated 172 thousand inhabitants. The town was completely destroyed. Only few building survived. In the beginning there have been rumors to displace the capital in another town of the Turkmenia but people decide to rebuild their town. Almost everything what you can see in Ashgabat, is dated after 1948. It was the second birth of the town

The third birth of Ashgabat arrived with the date of Turkmenistan Independence on Oct 27, 1991. The impulse of this flourishing transformation is still clear in the streets of the town and in its new expansion to Kopetdag mountains. At this moment the town can boast with its new parks and squares, palaces, monuments: Independence park, Park of 10th anniversary of the Independence, Independence square, the Wedding palace, amusement parks, Alem Ferris wheel, monument of Constitution, Serdar Yoly, Cable car way, administrative, new bazaars, new buildings for ministries, residential areas, new buildings for university and new schools, Memorial complex, new hippodromes and others. Now, the most important plans in Ashgabat – it is construction of Sport village for Asian Games 2017 what are to be held in town. With this regard there are a lot of investments in new sport infrastructure - stadiums, sport palaces, swim pools, new hotels, reconstruction of the roads and construction of new international airport.

 

Geological structure

Turkmenistan geologic formation has the sedimentations coming from Proterozoic era to Quaternary period. The widest sedimentation range is dated to Mesozoic-Cainozoic era, what is connected to substantive oil & gas pools of the country.

Natural resources

Petroleum

The fundamental oil pools of the country & its production are scattered in West-Turkmen depression, the oldest oil producing region. The main structure elements of it are: highs of Apsheron- Pribalhan zones, Gograndag-Okarem zones, the sags of Kyzylkum and Kelkor, their geology structure features allow to unite it in South-Caspian gas & oil presence province. The proven oil territories in its range are located in Pribalhan, Gograndag-Okarem areas. The main oil producing taking place in Pribalhan oil and gas proven areas, in its six designed pools: oil in Balkanabat (Nebitdag) & Gumdag, oil & gas in Koturdepe, Barsa- Gelmes, Kuydjik, Burun.

Oil fields are mostly multilayer, sinking to the depth of 1000- 4000 meters, in Neocene sedimentation zone, connected with sand reservoir of red bed stratum of Akchagyl & Apsheron Pliocene stage. The oil field development in Cheleken coming in bedrock of red stratum.

Oil deposits in Gograndag-Okarem area are focused in four oil and gas pools. South-eastern waters of Caspian Sea are rich in oil. In the area of mud volcanoes of Aladag-Messerian the oil had been found in ledges of Mesozoic period. Pliocene deposits of Kyzylkum sag, The Mesozoic deposits in Bahordok monocline of Prekopetdag sag, the Murgab depression are oil promising.

Gas

Turkmenistan's major gas deposits were discovered in the 1940s and '50s, and in the 1980s the republic became the second largest producer of gas in the Soviet Union, behind the Russian. During the Soviet era gas was exported mainly to other Soviet republics, as Turkmenistan steadily increased delivery from about 9.2 million m³ in 1940 to about 234 million m³ in 1960 and about 51 billion m³ in 1975. Official estimates indicate that Turkmenistan is still the second largest gas producer in the CIS, after Russia, and a 2004 official estimate places reserves at about 23 trillion m³. Government statistics projected extraction of 75.4 billion m³ of gas in 2004, and 120 billion m³ in 2010.

The Central and Eastern parts of Karakum desert are the place of natural gas field accumulation. The fundamental structural element of Eastern Turkmenistan is Amudarya syneclise, the large area of build up sedimentary rocks, deep to 10-12 km. There are marked out in its extent: the Turkmenabat echelon, the Zaunguz and Murgab depressions. The Amudarya gas & oil province are divided into Beurdeshik, Zaunguz, Turkmenabat, Murgab, Karabil-Badkhyz, Central Karakum gas & gas-oil regions, as per its geological nature and gas bearing promises. The province gas prospects depend on the white Jura saliferous stratum spreading in the area & its shielding abilities. In the north of the country, the area of Beurdeshik gas fields, are located in the salt pinching-out zone. This had been the fundamental factor of condensate pools generation. The twelve nonsulfurous gas fields had been opened there.

The fluid accumulation is connected to the wide time range of sedimentary rocks. The Gaz Achak gas field counts 15 producing horizons, having a gas column 800 m and the depth of occurrence 1500-3000 m. The producing horizons built with sandstone, silt stone and limestone. The Kirpichli gas field formed from the limestone 60-70 m thick. From 1970 have been discovered gas fields in ‘Zaunguz Karakum’. The Bagadj and East-Unguz highs are rich in gas pools, having the depth of occurrence of producing subsalt limestone 2900-3600 m.

The gas fields in Turkmenabat area are connected with carbonate deposits. The producing bundle of solid limestone and anhydrite 2500-3600 m in depth are found in gas fields of Farap, Samandepe, Kishtuvan, Metedjan, Sundukli. It is all single-horizon fields. The North-West of the country, in the zone of non salt bearing section, the gas presence is determined in the range till the low Jura. The sandstone, limestone, anhydrite serve as gas collecting main. The deposits of the area are the gas & condensate pools (with exception at Farap, having gas field with oil edging).50s, and in the 1980s the republic became the second largest producer of gas in the Soviet Union, behind the Russian. During the Soviet era gas was exported mainly to other Soviet republics, as Turkmenistan steadily increased delivery from about 9.2 million m

The Central and Eastern parts of Karakum desert are the place of natural gas field accumulation. The fundamental structural element of Eastern Turkmenistan is Amudarya syneclise, the large area of build up sedimentary rocks, deep to 10-12 km. There are marked out in its extent: the Turkmenabat echelon, the Zaunguz and Murgab depressions. The Amudarya gas &

The fluid accumulation is connected to the wide time range of sedimentary rocks. The Gaz Achak gas field counts 15 producing horizons, having a gas column 800 m and the depth of occurrence 1500-3000 m. The producing horizons built with sandstone, silt stone and limestone. The Kirpichli gas field formed from the limestone 60-70 m thick. From 1970 have been discovered gas fields in ‘

The gas fields in Turkmenabat area are connected with carbonate deposits. The producing bundle of solid limestone and anhydrite 2500-3600 m in depth are found in gas fields of Farap, Samandepe, Kishtuvan, Metedjan, Sundukli. It is all single-horizon fields. The North-West of the country, in the zone of non salt bearing section, the gas presence is determined in the range till the low Jura. The sandstone, limestone, anhydrite serve as gas collecting main. The deposits of the area are the gas &

The south of the country has the important zone of industrial gas accumulation (South-Eastern Karakum), in the limits of Murgab depressions. The structural elements of the depression are Uch Adjy high, Mary-Serakhs saddle, North Badkhyz, North-Karabil sags, Badkhyz-Karabil echelon. It is quite well explored the Cretaceous stage down there. There are more that 20 gas pools in Murgab depression. The industrial gas discharge got from sandstone of Shatlyk horizon, bellow the Cretaceous stage (Bayram Ali, Uch Adjy, Ceyrab, e.t.c). Shatlyk gas-condensate field has the producing horizon down to 3220-3350 m, methane with stable condensate, hydrogen sulfide is absent. 

The insignificant nonsulfurous gas deposits have been found in Serhetabat area, on the architecture of Islim and Karachop. The promising horizons are connected to the Jura sand carbonate stratum. The Badhyz-Karabil echelon has the rich gas prospects, in its limits the sedimentary cover has the smaller thickness & successively let fall from itself the Jurassic & Lower Cretaceous periods deposits. The northern hangs of the echelon are characterized by steep monoclinal bedding with consecutive stratigraphic growing of complete section to the core zone of Murgab depression. This composition is the main generation factor of non structural gas traps.

The gas bearing prospects of Eastern Turkmenistan can supply the new gas export pipeline construction projects & upgrade the place of the country between gas rich regions of the world.

Black & Brown coal

The coal bearing series had been discovered in lower & medium sedimentations of Tuarkyr, Big Balkhan, Kuguitangtau. In Tuarkyr & Big Balkhan fields, the productive strata are exposed on the surface. The Big Balkhs field is double layers, the lower bed is 0,8 m & top bed is 0,1 -0,25 m. The Tuarkyr brown coal field has 18 low efficient strata, six between it are up to 0,4-1,0 m. The estimated coal supplies: in Big Balkhan 0,4 million tons, in Tuarkyr 1.628 million tons.

Slate coal

It had been discovered in eastern Turkmenistan, between the Eocene epoch sedimentations, the thickness of the bed 0,5 -1,0 m

Ferrous metals

It is represented by iron ores (pennystone, clay ironstone), in coal beds of lower & medium Jura of Big Balkan, Tuarkyr and Kuguitangtau. It is also shown by compound of manganese, having non commercial significance, in Palaeogene clays and in Neocene periods of Turkmenbashy peninsula, Tuarkyr, Kopetdag, left bank of Amudarya river area.

Non-ferrous metals

The lead-zinc deposits had been discovered in Kuguitangtau, Magdanly, Kopetdag, Tuarkyr. The lead deposits and other metals had been found in wellbore walls of Cheleken and Magdanly.

Copper

There are known the small bedded (in Kuguitangtau), vein (Kopetdag) deposits. Copper are also met in igneous rocks of Gubadag.

Aluminum

There is bauxite ore, containing aluminum, in ancient residual soil of Tuarkyr. In Badkhyz, Central Karakum, Magdanly there is alunite, discovered due to sulfur-acid weathering in the areas.

Mercury

In Kopetdag there are 12 mercury polymetallic fields of mineralization, ore occurrence & there are numerous small mercury deposits in quartz-calcite veins of brecciated zones.

Molybdenum

The molybdic mineralization can be met in Big Balkan white Jura limestone stratum and in Eocene clays

Strontium

The Celestine mineralization, containing strontium, are developed in gypsiferous- carbonate strata of Magdanly, Kuguitangtau, Badkhyz, Central Karakum regions.

Zirconium

The contemporary, ancient coastal and alluvial sands, containing the ilmenite & zirconium, are

known in the west of the country (Meshhed, Cherkezli, Geirdjan), also in interfluve of Kushka

and Kashan.

Burnstone

Burnstone deposits are discovered in Magdanly-Kuguitangtau, in Karakum, Badkhyz, Kopetdag

regions and in Turkmenbashy peninsula.

 

 

Gas brimstone

In the country there are 10 carbonic gas deposits containing hydrogen sulfide up to 4 %, in

Samandepe, Metedjan, Gugurtli.

Potassium and rock salts

In the south-east of the country there is Central Asia rock salt basin (White Jura)

 

Also there are in Turkmenistan:

saltpetre, barites, witherite, fluorite, boron, phosphorite, zeolite, bentonitic clay, mineral

paints (jarosites, limonite), quartzose sandstone, dolomite, building materials, cutting and

facing stones, stone casting rocks, semi-precious stones (onyx, agate, jasper, gypsum druse,

blue Celestine, amethyst), iodide-bromine waters. In Gara Bogaz Gol deposits – sodium

sulfate, magnesium sulphate, potassium sulfate, lithium, rubidium. Ozocerite in Cheleken.

Medicinal bitumen in Kopetdag and Kuguitangtau mountains.

 

History of relief formation

In the beginning of Cainozoic era all territory of Turkmenistan had been covered by the giant sea. The contemporary relief started to be formed in the end of Palaeogene epoch. The Kopetdag & Kuguitangtau mountain ranges appeared in Oligocene epoch.

The tectonic movements increased during Neogene period & issued the raise of Big Balkan mountain range. The folded structure started its formation in the platform zone: Tuarkyr & Karashor anticlines, Uchtagan sag. In the beginning of Miocene, only the separate parts of Palaeogene Sea are still remained: the bays in Pre- Kopetdag sag area and in northern parts of Turkmenistan. In the late Miocene the ‘Sarmat’ sea inundated almost all territory of the country. The arid climate, low banks, absence of big rivers, shallow sea have been the factors favored the laying off on the flat & wavy sea floor - shell rock, gypsum, dolomites. In the beginning of Pliocene, the factors as the isolation of Caspian basin and its floor lowering down, Paleo-Volga stop- flowing in, concluded the retreat of the sea. The denudation processes became stronger & opened the vaults of Tuarkyr and Karashor anticlinal folds. In the middle of Pliocene were formed the Kubsebshen, Sarakamysh, Akjakaya, Kaplankyr, Gara Bogaz gol and Aral depressions. The flat up-raised plains of the former big ‘Sarmat’ sea floor can be seen in Ust-urt, Chelinkyr, Kaplankyr areas.

The powerful tectonic movements caused the lowering down the South-Caspian depression and entailed the important changes in the whole East of Central Asia. The snowy mountains appeared, the powerful river systems created, causing the further denudation in Karakum desert. In the middle of Pliocene increased the lowering of Pre-Kopetdag sag, grasping the southern wing of Central Karakum vault. Paropamisus range came up higher the snow line, have becoming the source of many rivers. The big rivers turned in lower Karakums, creating here, to the late Pliocene, the deep 1.000 m Erbent cutting. The accumulation of Zaunguz stratum stopped, the armored low-Pliocene carbonate-sandstone crust is mainly preserved there and in south-eastern Karakum, on the right bank of Amudarya.

Fundamentally the temporary relief of mountains, hills, depressions, up-raised plains has been formed in the middle Pliocene.

 

UNESCO world heritage sites

 

Gonur/ Margiana (where the history of Merv starts)

The present day of the east of Turkmenistan (Margiana), the north of Afghanistan (Bactria), the south of Uzbekistan, the west of Tajikistan contain a group of archeological sites dated to Bronze Age period (from 2200 to 1700 B.C), those sites centered, and connected with upper stream of Amu Darya river, referenced as “Bactria- Margiana Archeological Complex” and Oxus (Amu Daria) civilization. The archeological expeditions started to work in the area, from the beginning of 20th century. First in Bactria archeological sites (Afghanistan) and then crossed the river and entered into Kara Kum desert to discover Margiana sites, in present day Turkmenistan. Starting from 1972 one of the archeologists was Viktor Sarianidi, who worked in different sites of the complex: Togolok 21, Kelleli, Dashly and Gonur.

Gonur or Gonur depe site discovered to be the most impressive and called by the head of Russian archeological expedition, Mr. Sarianidi, as the capital or “imperial city” of Bronze Age state (which probably has thousands of sites around in desert, still covered by sands). The people of Gonur state had lead sedentary life in oasis richly watered by Murgab river (after many centuries Murgab river changed its course and now can be seen in present day Mary), practicing irrigation farming of wheat and barley. Artifacts of Gonur are sophisticated and ingenious consists of bronze tools, horse training tools, ceramics rich in forms and usage, lapis lazuli, carnelian, gold and silver jewelry, semiprecious stone objects, stone seals – now it can been seen in history museum in Mary and  in the National museum of history in Ashgabat.

Gonur site impresses with its monumental architecture and planning. It had three circles of fortification walls dividing the cities’ buildings, temples (of water, fire, sacrifices), hearth rooms to play the roles it had been designed for. There are the buildings and constructions of religious, funeral, royal power functions. Necropolises have been found inside of Gonur and outside of its walls. The number of tombs, the difference in rituals, locations and findings astonishes the archeologists. The monumental temple “Temenos” can be seen outside of the site. Gonur wasn’t only the centre of royal power but also the religious centre. Inside of royal complex two brick constructions are found, presumably the first observatories of ancient world. It had also underground ceramic water supply and sewage system for different applications.

Mr. Sarianidi tries to prove that this state to be one of the center of ancient civilization (writing not yet found) and the place where Zoroastrism was based.

 

The site is around 2 hours drive from Mary. Usually 4 WD car is advised for last 30 km in the desert but with a good driver and period it can be done without it.

 

Merv

One of the famous cities on the ancient Silk Road, more 2500 years of history, declared a World heritage site from 1999 (http://whc.unesco.org/en/list/886) . It is located 26 km to the east from Mary, the first ruins appeared on the outskirts of Bayram Ali town. Its immense domain enclose five main sites (Erk Kala, Gyaur Kala, Sultan Kala, Abdullah Khan Kala, Bayram Ali Khan Kala) and numerous remains of caravanserais, fortresses, fortified castles and small towns or estates now seen in the forms of mounds, total surface is around 70 sq. km. As Gonur, the Merv in its turn had appeared, thanks to the Murgab river, flowing in the area in ancient times. Silk Road important city, Merv opened four directions of trade caravan routes: Kunya Urgench to the north, Bukhara and Samarkand (Sogdiana) to the east, Herat (Bactria) to the south, to Mashad (Iran) to the west.

 

Merv main sites:

Erk Kala(also named Alexandria Margiana)

The immense and high tell of Erk Kala can be seen from the entrance of Merv historical park. It was built by Achaemenians from 6th century B.C., as outpost to protect the borders of the empire and later enforced by the troops of Alexander the Great. It is around 500 m in diameter and high slopes of former fortification walls completely hide the interior view. You need to be ready to climb up to the top, to see inside: the remains of former palace, garden, estate, garrison barracks.

If you are curious, come to the middle of western wall and see the archeological cut hewing the former fortification through outside. This site still safes a lot under 17 meters of cultural layers and we can only guess the secrets it covers or wait new archeological team eager to open a mystery. There is a good view to see all main sites of Merv at top of Erk Kala and feel a wind of the desert.

 

Gyaur Kala(also named Antiochia Margiana)

After Alexander the Great, the new dynasty of Seleucids took the power of the lands. The son of Seleucus I, the Antiochus I (280-261 B.C) extended the city of Merv to the south of Erk Kala, each side more one kilometer walls formed the second city “Antiochia of Margiana”, 340 h. Erk Kala became its citadel. Another works the Antiochus ordered to built, at Merv, were more impressive: it is the wall around the area of his new city, enclosing the region around 6000 hectares, to protect the lands against the mobile sands of the desert and incursions of the nomads.

This city saw a lot of dynasties come and vanished, the Seleucid empire was defeated by Parthians (250 B.C). The Parthians disappeared and Sassanians (226 A.D) come, who in their turn defeated by Arabs (649 A.D)

After 660 A.D. Merv become the capital of Khurasan region (Persian: “where the Sun comes from”). The site contains the remains: Christian community house (north – estern part), Buddhist stupa (south-estern corner), the ruins of first mosque built in Merv “Banu Makhan” (centre of the site), and the bastion protecting the flow of the canal inside of city (south-eastern corner of the city wall).Other treasuries disappeared due to the time, destructions and weather or still covered by 12 meters cultural layers.

 

Sultan Kala(also named Marv al- Shahijan “city of kings”)

In the beginning of 8th century the administrative suburbs and bazaars of Gyaur Kala started to form a new city of Merv, called now Sultan Kala. The new defense walls were appeared to be more decorative and only in 11th century the real fortifications been materialized.

Sultan Kala become the acme of Merv’s development, as a city and source of power, it was equal between Baghdad, Nishapur or Bukhara. It had importance under Abbasids and Tahirids rules but later lost its power till arrival of Seljuks in 11th century, who done Merv their eastern capital and called city  Marv al- Shahijan “city of kings”. Inside, in north-eastern part there are still remains of royal fortress “Shakhriyar Ark” (fortress fortification, palace, treasury, “pigeon house” building). The important crossroad point of caravan routes, it became a scientific centre of the epoch, twelve libraries and one observatory was built there, but locations are not certain due to total destruction of the site in 1221 by Mongol army. Only one building of that time survived: the mausoleum of Sultan Ahmad Sanjar (1118-1157) and can be visited in the centre of the site. Other parts of Sultan Kala are completely covered by ceramic and brick debris of pre- Mongol period.

Other sites around this city: pilgrimage and mosque of Hoja Usuf Hamadany, the founder of “Sufi school” in central Asia, beyond Sultan Kala north walls. From another side, behind its south-eastern and south walls it can be seen the Askhabs tombs (or Timurids ivans), “Ice house“ 12th century, Gyz Kala castles, 7th century A.D. (impressive by its corrugated walls).

The mausoleum of Mohammed ibn Zaid 12th century, hidden to the left from historical park entrance (around 200 m) 

 

Sultan Ahmad Sanjar mausoleum: In the middle of XII century, expansion of ancient Merv continues and in center of Sultan Kala has been constructed the mausoleum of Sultan Sanjar, adding to the earlier built architectural ensemble of Cathedral mosque and Sultan’s palace.  

Ancient written source description of Sultan burial place:  “Sultan’s sepulchre is inside of dome-shaped building divided from Cathedral mosque only by latticed window. The turquoise dome soars above the building, and caravans can see it one day before they come to Merv” (within 30 km).

The most numerous ancient sources describing Sultan Sanjar mausoleum are dated back to XIII century but first archeological researches started in 1894 by Russian archeologist Mr. Zhukovsky “ Ruins of ancient Merv”, in 1937 by Mr. Zasypkin and Mr. Bachinski, and finally from 1947 by ‘South Turkestan Unified Archeological expedition’.

The name of ancient architect who realized the mausoleum of Sultan Sanjar, had been written in its inside. Russian archeologists Mr. Masson and Mr. Vyatkin translated it as: “one of creations of Mohammed ibn Atsyz as- Serakhsi”.

The mausoleum had the square structure, inside 17,2 X17,2 m and outside 27 X 27 m., and above - the centric arrangement of double dome, flat inside and pointed dome soaring above. It is unique ancient constriction in Southern Turkmenistan in form of big building, with extensive bay covered by dome. The square of the walls at 14,2 m height is transformed in octahedron platform of dome, walls at this height are 5 m wide. Next level has architectural invention in form of elegant arcade along the perimeter of the construction and open outside. Arcade adds good view to the building and makes walls 1.5 m wide at this level. 

            Arcade as architectural structural element of a building appears in XI-XII centuries and it gives to the mausoleum new quality and become architectural accent in overall composition of the work. Arcade with its spatial quality, makes the passage of massif cube of the building to its octahedron and then to dome, more elegant and graceful. The inner dome pierced with reinforcing ribs ‘sails’, removing weight from its brickwork and making it more stable.

            In ancient architecture of northern Khorassan, the leading development in monumental constructions was the research of new and more spatial compositions. The mausoleums in Mekhna (20 m high) and in Serakhs (15 m high) are vivid examples of this work. The Sultan Sanjar mausoleum, after century long research and development of techniques, become 36 m high. The unique example of its time and Islamic architecture, in central Asia.

Abdullah Khan Kala

After 1221 Mongol massacre in Merv remains fantom of itself, in ruins and disrupted from caravan routes. Only in 14th century it joined to Timiruds empire. In 15th century, Timurid ruler Shahrukh (1405-1447) ordered a new planned settlement near Sultan Kala, now known as Abdullah Khan Kala. Total area 46 h, with newly built buildings, irrigation network, it got fortification walls only in 16th century, under Shaybanis period (1500-1598). Having citadel in its northern corner, it had also mosque, madrasa, water reservoir, well reputed by its strong fortification at the time. Now only remains of the fortifications survived, mainly it is empty inside, surface covered by ceramic debris and high bushes in spring period.

 

Bairam Ali Khan Kala

In 18th century it was built as extension of Abdullah Khan Kala and probably in use till 19th century. After 1884 this region has been integrated into Russian empire, the residence was built in new Bairam Ali and old dismantled bricks used for later constructions. Only the traces of former ramparts can be seen, just across the modern Bairam Ali bazaar.

 

Kunya Urgench

Today Kunya Urgench (Old Urgench) is the small town, of 28000 inhabitants, standing not far the border with Uzbekistan (Khodjeili, Nukus). Northern part of Turkmenistan, 560 km from Ashgabat to the north or 85 km to the west from Dashoguz. Historical site “Kunya Urgench” contains the survived monuments: mausoleums of Il Arslan 12th century, Sultan Tekesh 12th century, Turebeck Khanym 14th century, Najm addin Cubra 14th and Sultan Ali 16th century, minaret of Kutluk Timur 14th century (probably started in 11th ) 62 meters high, the tallest old brick construction in central Asia. The capital of Khwarezm had the most power in 11th – 13th centuries, overcoming in population and fame other Silk Road cities of central Asia. In 1221 it was razed by Genghis Khan army on its way in central Asia. After the revival in 14th century, the city was left forever due to Amudarya river course change and new destruction this time by Timur in 1370 and new town of Urgench was built in present day Uzbekistan.

Today Khwarezm (also named Chorasmia), can be discovered in Dashoguz region of Turkmenistan & Karakalpakstan, Khoresm regions of Uzbekistan.

The main towns of Khwarezm are: Kunya Urgench, Izmukshir, Toprak Kala, Dzanbas Kala

To the north from Kwarezm it was stretched the steppes of Kazakhstan, Aral sea and Syr Darya river, to the west Ustyurt Plateau and Caspian sea, to the east Kyzyl Kum desert and Sogdiana, to the south Karakum desert, Merv and Bactria.

In 2005, Kunya Urgench become a world heritage site protected by UNESCO http://whc.unesco.org/en/list/1199

Mausoleum of Turebeck Khanym is the famous monument in Kunya Urgench (old Urgench). Its period is connected to the local dynasty of Kungrad Sufids. The mausoleum is designed as monumental construction and named after Turebeck Khanym, the wife of local governor Kutluk Timur. The period of construction is dated to the second quarter of XIV century.  The monument is talented realization of scientific knowledge, high culture and experience of ancient architects, accumulated by previous epochs. Instead of traditional cubiform volume of a building on a steady square platform, we see the polyhedron with three-part division on the major axis of construction. The deep entrance niche designed above by lancet arch and divided from chief hall (100 sq m Zirayat Khany) with use of intermediary small rectangular space broadside directional to its opening. From one side, the intermediary space has offshoot to monastic cell and to stairs from opposite side, leading to the flat balcony of mausoleum. The square annex is seen behind the main hall. Probably, it had built in later, as archeological excavations revealed the burial crypt underneath the hall. In ancient architecture of the region, there are combinations of mausoleum with funeral hall but the three-chambered mausoleum placed to accurate axial construction it is unique example of ancient Islamic architecture in central Asia.

Inside planning of the mausoleum offers to view the hexahedron, one side to the main entrance and second to the annex, the rest of it form the deep arched niches with full aperture outside. Outside planning of the mausoleum has dodecahedral form with placed in niches. Inside niches structure are rectangular in form and from outside there is combination of rectangular shallow niches and others are deep, close to semicircle form. The sharp geometric building plan of mausoleum has fine sculptural view. All elements have rich pilaster sides differ in deepness and form, inside and outside of the building. Rich combination of forms and its geometry subject to standards elements and its rhythmical layout of the surface plan and volume structure of facades and interior of building. It is almost rectangle of golden section, framed by deep arch niche, put under certain angle to each other, with small turn. Small deviation of the arch niche opens good perspective for perception of interior space, underlined by numerous facets of pilaster sides. Unlike to the interior arch niches, the rectangular in form lancet arches-niches of facades have shallow deepness and almost flat facets. They have view in form of panel, drawing up separate borders on dodecahedron of building, directed accordingly to the cardinal points. Brightness of different borders depends on position of sun, what creates different perception of the mausoleum during a day.

Dodecahedron of building with flat roof holds up the icositetrahedron of cylinder. It has honeycomb design and framed with twelve lancet arches. The cylindrical drum, holding up the dome, finished with ornamental frieze and stalactitic cornice where it starts the smooth curve into turquoise cupola.

The south side of building has high and graceful portal. The deep and high arched niche, above the mai