Turkmenistan’s creepy capital Ashgabat

Grand Turkmen Hotel
Grand Turkmen Hotel

The view from our hotel room

Ashgabat is the closest I’ve ever been to another planet. The roads are smooth, the gardens perfectly manicured, the grass is green and soft, and the buildings are all made of the same white marble topped with gold. The cars are all clean. There are no advertisements anywhere. There is no litter on the ground. Everything in the shops and markets is perfectly arranged. The people are well groomed and well dressed, in colourful traditional garments or tailored Western-style clothes.

Everything shines, everything is perfect, and it’s incredibly eerie.

You can tell the former president, founder of Turkmenistan and self-declared Turkmenbashi (father of the Turkmen people) had some deeply-ingrained personality issues, and a bad case of OCD. His capital, Ashgabat, is beautiful to see and incredible to experience, but in the end it’s a very creepy place.

There is a policeman on literally every street corner. Photography is prohibited except for in designated areas, a rule that is enforced by both the cops and the locals. Internet access is hard to come by outside of five-star hotels. Almost everything closes at 11pm. ATMs don’t work with international bank cards. You can definitely feel the isolation, hanging over the city and the people like a heavy silence.

We used our time in Ashgabat to relax after a stressful two weeks in Iran. I got sick and spent most the time in our (very expensive) hotel catching up on a backlog of work, and unfortunately wasn’t able to take a lot of photos around the city.

Ashgabat is really a city that needs to be seen, and the story behind the creation of Turkmenistan as it is today is so bizarre it’s hard to believe it’s not fiction. For some extracurricular browsing, I urge everyone to check out:

The City of White Marble: Ashgabat, Turkmenistan

Badass of the Week: Saparmurat Niyazov

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