Pic #3926-34(from border) & 3935-3975
To the border & Turkmenistan(Mary) via Turkmenabat…hired a taxi($15 US) got there by 8:30, then a short taxi to actual customs & immig out of Uzbek. Then a hike of 1 + km to Turkmenistan where we approached w/ trepidation since we only had our LOI(letter of introduction). No worries…out of the door to immigration popped Yelena Vasiliyeva, our guide, who did all the work in getting us thru customs by 11 am(including an arm twisting of several authorities to let me wander over by some trees to pee! Ha!) Then a Toyota SUV ride to Turkmenobat(old Soviet city, 2nd largest) where we had lunch. Lvg. at 1:30 we headed down the 1000 km main hiway in Turkmen…straight, w/ RR on one side and paralleling the main canal bringing water to Askabat…eventually, road enters Iran. The road is surfaced but none too smooth – wibble wobbles, dips & blips quite uneven(as are most of the main roads in Turkmen) – at 95 mph a bit jolting once in awhile. This is sand desert but w/ lots of scrubby shrubs & weedy plants. Saw girls near a sm village selling camels milk + water mix in plastic recycled bottles – reputed to be very good for your health(when you know the conditions under which it was bottled that is!).
They are resurfacing the road and where it is done the road is smoother. The closer to Mary the larger/greener & more prolific the shrubs. In 17th century Mary was an oasis, low land therefore, lots of agric…now sustained by irrig. via the main Karakum Canal…cotton(special fiber type, only hand picked), wheat, sheep, camels, cattle. We see piles of the white stuff here and there out in the fields all along the way. Passed huge cotton gin(factories now in Turkmenistan produce finished products from cotton – towels, linen, etc.) w/ piles & bales of cotton and cotton seed(for oil). Passed old 5th century wall of old Merv and on to hotel where we chkd in and had dinner - again, too much to eat, good food.
Tour of Merv 5th century BC – Razik canal, is largest city site undisturbed in C. Asia. Sites…Mausoleum Sultan Sanjar, one of the ‘Alexandrias’, Merv from 5th cent BC to 2nd AD rivaled Damascus, Bagdad, & Cairo as trading ctr. Known for its libraries and splendid & legendary architecture. Craftsmen developed highly prized Damascus steel here centuries before products came from European foundries. CIS’s most extensive archaeological site. Zayd & Talkhatam Baba – sufi & dervish mausoleums.
Drove to Ashgabat arr. at 10:30 pm!