mi ruta de la seda » 2010 » October
This is the last delivery of Turkmenistan pictures. In the previous post I posted the Darvaza gas crater video because I thought it was more beautiful to see the crater in video before seeing the pictures. If you haven’t seen the video, I think that it’s better you see it before these pictures. Click here to see it.
On the way to the crater we stop in a small village of the Karakum desert. In Ashgabat people are fined for having a dirty car, making people wash it one day after rain and here there is no road with asphalt, isn’t it contradictory?
Kids of the village.
Plats, pony tales and other decorations.
After seing the village we went to the craters. There is one full of water, other with bubbling mud, the one in the picture and at last the most impressive the gas one.
Some German travellers. I’m joyous about people that travels with their vehicle but at the same time you become the save of it.
Every time I see the pictures a smile comes into my face, I’ve loved the crater.
Another car camped near ours. A French guy had come to see the place, it’s in the picture in the distance revealing the size of the crater.
As a last picture of Turkmenistan a picture of Turkmenabashi statue with his own book in his hand. His great slogan was “People Nation Turkmenabashi”. He could have also said “Turkmenabashi People Nation”, nobody would have been surprised.
Dima, the guide, leaves me at the border with Uzbekistan. He helps me to fill up the papers, in half of the blanks he says “that doesn’t matter” followed by a loud laugh, he also finds so many papers are a nonsense. We say goodbye. It’s been fun, his laugh is contagious and laughing is always good.
From the Turkmenistan border police post there is 500 meters of no mans land to Uzbekistan, a small van takes me there. Incredibly there is also cotton planted here.
In one hour I’ll be in Khiva, the smaller of the three marvelous cities that awaits me in Uzbekistan, Central Asia jewel. The other two cities are Bukhara and Samarkand. I have enormous expectations of what I’ll find here.
A place that seems it can´t exists. The video says it all:
This time the music from “The crazy world of Arthur Brown” from 1968. I was about to put some classical music, that looked good too, but decided that some psycodelia was better.
The crater is amazing at night but at sunset and sunrise is awesome as well so I´ll post some pictures as soon as I have a descent internet connection.
In the east of Turkemenistan is Merv, one of the most important oasis in the silk road in Central Asia. We drive for five hours in a straight line watching non stop cotton fields. Here you have some pictures of these two days.
I’d never seen cotton fields before. This is the collecting time, when they are more beautiful. Nearly all the cotton is collected here with John Deere machinery, the most expensive ones in the market, consequences of having money from selling gas.
A three wheel tractor.
The remains of one of the oldest mosques of the country. Here Islam is mixed with previous beliefs and Islam is lived in a relaxed way.
Wish tree. They tie pieces of clothing with wishes, it may come from Buddhism.
The old women rolls the kids by the rock. This type of practice is unthinkable for a pure Muslim, “Ála is the only god and Mahomet is his prophet”.
Getting out of Ashgabat we’ve gone by a grain museum. Here they’ve found evidence that 6.700 years ago they already selected seeds to get better harvests. They’ve also found millenary evidences of cotton production.
We continue, every 25 or 30 kilometres There are little humps or mounds. They were caravanserais and now they are nearly destroyed as they were built with mud bricks and they erode easily.
Walking in the ruins pieces of ceramics are found. The different colors reveal the technique used and therefore the culture that used it and the age.
This place was a fortress. Every four or five caravanserais there was a fortress to keep the people of nearby caravanserais when an attack was coming. There were 999 caravanserais in Turkmenistan, so you don’t forget the number.
To get into Turkmenistan there are two options:
– Get into the country with a transit visa. The visa lets you be in the country up to five days and you have to say the entry and exit point and you can’t get away from your itinerary between those two points.
– A tourist visa with which you can go anywhere in the country and stay longer. The problem with this visa is that is compulsory to have a guide with you all the time(except Ashgabat and around).
I wanted to see a bit more of the country so I got a tourist visa so I had a guide with me. Having a guide has some advantages, I’ve heard horror histories of people being asked for their passports ten times a day and having a hard time with policemen so I wanted to avoid this also. Apparently lately the police are more relaxed so it is not that bad.
With the guide on your back you miss that part of the trip that is discovering things by yourself and it’s something I enjoy a lot however it has the advantage that he tells you a lot of things and that for a few days I’ve been able to leave the book at home. Having a guide is also quite expensive, it’s screwed my average spend of 25 Euro a day I was doing in the last countries and I’m going to spend in eight days more than 1200 euros but it was the only way to see some of the places in the country so It’s worth it.
Like five times cheaper than in Spain.
Mary is the soviet city built next to Merv. The soviets looked at it as a strategic place to connect with Afghanistan and they built a new city. It has some similarities with Ashgabat, with wide avenues and exaggerated governmental buildings but with a bit more flavour. It’s curios to see how key settlements revive every once in a while after centuries of lethargy.
A brand new mosque.
In dinner I get a shashlik, the way they call kebab here. I ask for a beer. In Iran I haven’t have beer for three weeks as in Iran it’s forbidden. It’s good and the jar is 0.57 Euros. With this price I can’t avoid having a second one. The shashlik, is really good too.
I try to buy a copy of Ruhnama but they don’t have either in Spanish or English. During the previous government most of the books in bookshops were written by Nizayov himself.
Another statue of the ex president. How can you dare to build gold statues of yourself?
A copy of Zara(Spanish clothing brand that doesn’t seem to be suitable for copying). It’s not the first time I see one.
It’s not only another statue of Nazoyev, he also has the country at his feet. I’ve realized he looks like my dad with a suit.
Merv was one of the great cities of the Islamic world with Damascus, Baghdad and Cairo. It was called Marv-I-Shahjahan, “Merv queen of the world”.
It’s peak was between the XI and XIII centuries when was the capital of the Seljuc empire and the silk road was boiling. It is said that it was the biggest city in the world at some time but they made the mistake of trying to avoid paying tax to Genghis Khan. Boldness that proved expensive and Tule, one of Genghis Khan sons, destroyed the city to ruins killing a million people. By the way he took back home the most beautiful ladies.
Merv was an oasis city in the middle of the Karakum desert. Now it’s small but it’s importance has made it a world heritage.
In Merv. Since we got into the complex we’ve drove four kilometres inside the walls. Five cities were built here one next to the other. The wall that surrounded Merv was 40 meters high, more than the great wall I’ll see in three months. As there is no rock all was build by adobe and that’s why it’s in ruins.
This was possibly a library.
My guide takes me to see archaeologists, one American an one English, that are working in the area.
They’ve been excavating five weeks and today is their last day. They are happy, have found a little funding oven that had not been found before and some vessel pieces. They explain everything to me.
One of the mausoleums of the complex.
We stop in a little mosque on the way out, we see decorative mosaics with triangles. This is not seen in the Islamic architecture normally. The triangle is a Zoroastrian symbol. Here as in Persia the zoroastrism was the official language even if there was cult freedom existing Buddhism and manicurist(possibly my favourite religion).
We come back to Ashgabat. I have only two days left in Turkmenistan. Tomorrow we go to the north where we’ll se Konye-Urgench, another important stop on the silk road. But before I’ll publish a video of one of the most ideal places I’ve seen in my life. Hope I can make the video like what I’m imagining in my head.
Soon on video.
The good thing of a country like Turkmenistan is that we know little or nothing about it so everything is a surprise. If you go to Venice you know that you are going to find channels and bridges, is one of those things that everybody knows like that it’s cold at the pole, that kiwis come from New Zealand and that snots don’t smell.
I’ve read about Turkmenistan to prepare for the trip, but I haven’t been able to manage an image of how it would be. They have money from gas reserves, but even with this it’s not a modern country. They’ve got one good thing and that is they are a democracy, the bad thing is that they have only one political party since they became independent from USSR and that means they have had a dictatorial regime for 20 years. Here you have the pictures from the capita, Ashgabat.
Coming from the border with no traffic, Iran is just a few kilometres away. For being such a restrictive country I was stunned by the fact that policemen had a canteen on their belts instead of weapons.
The university library just opened. This is how all the governmental buildings look like, new, with copulas and columns, golden and a bit exaggerated
White marble in an apartment block. The white, “ak”, means good.
During the night they light up everything even the apartment blocks. If you have money to light up all that you don’t need to light up, why don’t you do it? They generate electricity burning gas, the excess is sold to nearby countries generating 8% of the PIB.
Ashgabat had no river but the previous president Nizayov visited Europe. London had the Thames, Paris the Seine, Rome the Tiber so he decided expending 63 million dollars and building a river in the middle of the city with lions at the entrances of the bridges. The river walls… guess. In white marble.
A hospital on the left hand side. On top there is a golden face of the old president.
I don’t know how many times a day you see the map of the country.
This is one of the best monuments, a pity it is being fixed. The arch of neutrality. It had a golden statue of the ex-president. It was 12 meters high and turned with the sun 24 hours a day. This is not just being megalomaniac, it is also having imagination. In 1998 it decided to become neutral. Not to have conflicts with the neighbouring countries. It’s an intelligent position, as with the money they have, if they have no conflicts they just need time to progress.
Soviet war memorial with an eternal flame.
Earthquake memoriam. In 1948 a 9 in Richter scale demolished the city killing 150.000 people, only two buildings remained standing. The city was closed to foreigners for five years while rebuilding. I don’t know what the bull means, neither the earth, no idea about the mother meaning, but the golden baby, guess, baby Niyazov.
This is the statue that represents how women are, most of them have looooong plats hanging. They don’t have the horse.
I spent the last day in Ashgabat with Richard, an English guy that has been living five years in Dubai. He’s been impressed by the buildings, the lights and the streets, and taking into account that Dubai is an exaggerated place made to impress.
Ashgabat is a ghost city, seems they’ve build it recently and no people live there. The streets are wide and nearly empty and the buildings are separated by gardens and monuments. Not even downtown are there people, it has no atmosphere at all.
Tolkuchka bazaar on Sunday.
Here you see the traditional dress, with a brocade in the middle and strong colours.
I had shorts, flip-flops and t-shirt.
She’s got a nice face.
The current president. It’s difficult to imagine the Spanish president on merchandising products.
The health stairs. Another great idea from the former president. Two circuits, eight and 37 kilometres of concrete on the mountain. He also made a cable car nearby.
We should make a SpainCola.
The former president was self named Turkmenabashi that means Leader of the Turkmen’s. Ataturk had his name from other people not from himself.
The huts are great.
The Ruhnama is a book written by Turkmenabasy talking about the Turkmen’s and it’s history. He translated it into 52 languages(Turkmenista has only five million people). It was compulsory to study in schools and universities and there was an exam to become a civil servant. He wrote a second part and there was a moment in which English books were forbidden as they were a menace for Turkmen culture. The book can be opened to project things on to it during celebrations
The biggest fountain in the world, that doesn’t mean it’s beautiful.
Over the fountain, enjoying the waste of electricity that happens in the city.
The plan is to have a million trees in the next year. It’s going to become a forest with buildings.
Are all those lights needed?
Ashgabat is not a place to come if you are looking for interaction with people. They don’t look or talk to you, they have a total indifference. Being a country isolated for so long it seems that they have to have curiosity towards the little amount of tourists(around 15.000 a year), but no, they have a no interest. If you talk to them they don’t know whether to reply or not. In the shops they make an effort to answer, seems the isolation has affected their capacity to have social relationships.
Ashgabat has been a pleasant place, but at the same time somehow disturbing. I’ve loved having been here. Walking by the city I’ve got jiggling a lot of times when looking at the buildings, the indifference of people or the total waste in each corner. With this memory I leave, jiggling with no meaning.
Soon more from this country.
My days in Tehran have been incredibly pleasant even having been run over. The city is chaotic but it’s also interesting walking along the streets looking at the start of autumn. With the road sweepers fighting with it’s leaves. I’ve walk a lot, buying Iranian films in the museum of cinema, watch palaces and eaten ice-cream in the streets and finally I feel sad to leave.
Apart from Ferran I’ve met more interesting people as this couple from Logroño (Spanish city in the north) that have come here by R5 (Renault 5 car) from Switzerland. Iran is full of French cars, there are a lot of R5 so they’ll be unnoticed. They wanted to continue to Pakistan but now they don’t get visas if you don’t apply in your own country.
The Ramadam has already finished so I can drink water and eat when I want, it’s function has worked, now I appreciate more being able to do it, hahahahahha. With Ramadam I’ve missed some things, but I’ve also gained some other, I think people were even more willing to talk and complain. I’ve meet very few people following it, even most of them follow it outdoors. There’s people telling me that it’s something backwards and that the country’s productivity stops for a full month and that it’s bad for the country.
It has survived the coming and going of the embassy, but I have to repair it again. This time I’ll put more superglue. I’m one of those people that thinks that the more superglue or duck tape you use the better things get fixed.
The passport apart from the glue also has a great wall crossing on of the pages of my passport. It’s taken me two more days than what I initially thought but I leave with something important done. The embassy guard surprised me when after telling him I was Spanish he asked me about Federico García Lorca (one of the most important writers).
I left in another night bus of 14 hours. My destination; Mashhad; the most holy place in Iran. It’s on the east, towards I way always go, near the border with Turkmenistan.
In the bus my seatt buddy became instantly my “protector”. The protector is a non typified figure that exists. When you are a bit (or very) lost in a bus station, train or in the street, it appears and takes charge of you. He ensures you get the right seat, helps you to understand the ticket inspector… Today’s protector told me how many hours the bus journey was, helped me to know the length of the stops, help me to ask for dinner, he invited me even though I opposed, and when I arrived to Mashhad he didn’t move until he had clear I had got my bearings.
Mashhad is interesting from the point of view of being such a holy place. Here is the temple-mosque-mausoleum of the eight Imam Mohammed Reza. To visit it does not have much so I leave my backpack in the first hotel I see. I talk with the hotel manager in French (my French has like 12 words and the rest is made up) he offers me to have breakfast. I think that as I leave the backpack I can spend something so I have it. I just want to see the Shrine and leave. He does not let me pay.
Three kilometres of concreted avenue separates the station from the shrine. I see it’s copulas in the distance after the lines and lines of traffic. The access to the interior of the Mausoleum is not permitted to non believers, so you don’t get to see the place where the 20 million visitors a year pray and cry for the Imam. To compensate you have a free guide that talks great English and that shows you around the complex. You get a welcome kit with postcards and leaflets that tell you about the wisdom and charisma of this man. I’ve read it all at night and what I’ve liked the most is: “To be kind to people is half of the wisdom”.
Iranians are tacky. This is not an insult, it’s a fact. They like the overloaded, the exaggerated, the golden, the decorated… Who otherwise would tint the water of the fountain in turquoise to match the copula of the mosque in the back? Specially in such an important place.
In three hours I’ve gone, I’ve seen the shrine and I’ve come back. I get into an archaic bus to Quchan where I think I’m going to sleep today. A young girl carrying “English grammar in use”, that I’ve used, starts chatting with me to practise. She want’s to get out of the country, learn French and see the world. She insists on paying the bus and I give her some sweets in exchange as I have nothing better.
Quchan is not very touristy so everybody looks at me and stops me to know something about me. Some kids with bicycles try to get me to the hotel but I end up in this English school (look at the poster with body parts) talking with teachers and pupils. They gave me a video to put in the web page!
Majid, the guy in the middle of the picture, invites me to sleep in his place, when I told them the crappy hotel I was going to sleep in they recommended me the best hotel in town. I told them I preferred the crappy one and finally Majid has taken me to his home.
I have dinner with his daughter and his brother-in-law. We chat until midnight. In the morning they prepare me breakfast, they offer me washing some clothes, they offer me some medicines as they see I have a small cold, they gift me some postcards of the area and they ensure I get the right taxi to where the share cars depart to the border. The first taxi does not let me pay even I hand him the money three times. .
As I don’t have many pictures I put you a bored Iranian.
And some train writting. I.R. means Islamic Republic.
And a street picture. Chador means tent. Koran recommends modesty on clothing with no more specification. I have seen nobody with burqa here. The chador is the most conservative thing I’ve seen here, seems totally uncomfortable, they have to grab it with their hands constantly. With it you can’t probably work much, moreover with the heat in summer, it could at least be white. From the distance they look like nuns and when there are a few of them you feel like in a convent.
And some tiles.
And a picture of Prophet Ali, the forth. With the beard as Islam recommends not shaving. The representation is similar to the representations of Jesus, but with the eyes a bit more highlighted. I told you they like exaggerating things.
With these last hours in Iran an example I’ve said it all. Iran has been intense. I’ve talk with a lot of people, I’ve had tea with them, they’ve invited me for food and to sleep in their houses… I’ve only met fantastic and hospitable (apart from the idiot army man that ask me for my passport) people. For a little bit they outdo the Albanians as the nicest of the trip which is saying a lot for me.
I’ve achieved my objective; trying to understand the country a bit more, see the real images not what the catastrophic media wants to tell us. Even the image that a foreigner gets in a short trip is not real either, the people that talk in English, the people that are easier to communicate with, are more open and liberal. I leave Iran with my positive prejudices reasserted.
I go towards the border. On top of my fear of the amended border I have to sum that I’m leaving the country two days after my visa expires. In fact the day of expiration has pass, but I entered 21 days ago and the duration of the visa is 30 so I may be fine. I put good-guy-face and give my passport to the Iranian policeman, a few seconds later I hear TUC!. My passport has been stamped, all is fine. I have a deep breath and walk to the Turkmen post. I’m about to get into Central Asia. Goooood!
Soon from a new country.
- Turkmenistan: I’ll be given it at the border, I have the papers ready.
- Uzbekistan: got it in Tehran in five minutes because I had a letter of invitation(this is not that someone appreciates you a lot and invites you to his country. It’s an official paper that agencies ask the government before you pay them 30 Euros).
- Kyrgyzstan: I want to get it once in Uzbekistan.
- China: I hope to get it here in Teheran, if not I’ll get it in Kyrgyzstan.
I tried to get the Chinese visa in Damascus as I had some time there. It was impossible, they asked me about plane tickets to get in and out of the country, hotel reservations for my whole stay, 5000 dollars in a Chinese bank account and a residence permit for Syria. So I left it for later, the closer you get to a country the easier it usually is to get the visa.
¡Crap! My passport is broken, just came back to my mind. Supposedly I can’t travel. I have two options:
- Wait three weeks for the Spanish embassy to make me a new one. I don’t know how it works, but probably the visas I have in the broken passport would be null.
- Buy glue.
I hope the glue lasts the activity inside the Chinese Embassy. The idea of having a possible illegal passport stresses me a little bit. I’m scared of having it damaged inside the embassy or as I cross the border.