Little visited, Turkmenistan is quite different to its Central Asian neighbours and this cultural tour is a great way to become acquainted with its mix of ancient and modern sites. Full of surprises, you will visit the modern municipal capital which holds the world record for the density of white marble buildings and Kunya-Urgench, a fascinating ancient site, which was once one of Islam’s major cities. Also camp by the extraordinary flaming gas craters in the Karakum desert before exploring Merv, which 1000 years ago was a magnificent city on the Great Silk Road.
On arrival in the capital you will be met by your guide and driven through the city to your centrally located hotel. After you have checked in, go with your guide on a tour of the main sights of this interesting city. Largely rebuilt after a major earthquake in 1948, it has huge marble municipal buildings and carefully manicured parks and gardens. Visit the statue of Lenin, the Presidential Palace, the National Museum, the mosque of Khezert Omar and the botanical gardens. Depending on timings, you may also be able to visit Independence Park, the Arch of Neutrality and Talkucha Bazaar, the largest market in the country.
Today head west of Ashgabat to visit the ancient Parthian fortress of Nissa, a UNESCO World Heritage site, which was the capital and winter residence of Partian kings. Continue west to Bakharden cave, famous for the underground Lake of Kow Ata where you can take a dip in the warm therapeutic waters. Next, visit Geok Depe fortress, constructed by the Russians in 1869 and the Saparmurat Hajji mosque. This evening take a trip south of the capital to the Kopet Dag Mountains and join locals walking in the area or take the cable car for a magnificent view of Ashgabat.
Early this morning fly to Dashoguz, a town located in the northern part of Turkmenistan and close to the border with Uzbekistan. 100 kilometers from here is the ancient city of Kunya-Urgench (Old Urgench) which in the 11th century was capital of Khorezm and one of the most important cities in the Islamic world. With your guide, visit the 15th century mausoleum of Turabeg Khanum, Central Asia’s tallest minaret of Kutlug Temur – measuring 62 metres in height, the 12th century mausoleum of Sultan Tekesh with its turquoise cone of a dome and the 12th century mausoleum of Il-Arslan, the founder of the pre-Mongol Khorezmshah empire. In the afternoon return to Dashougz and visit the large bazaar.
Today, drive south through the desert to Izmukshir Fortress (Zamakshar). An ancient mud brick city, this was the birthplace of the great philosopher Az-Zamakshari. After exploring the ruins, journey deep into the Karakum desert with its moving sands, saxaul and kandym desert trees to Darvaza gas crater (known locally as the Gates to Hell). This unusual site is a massive burning crater in the middle of nowhere. Camp nearly and experience the impressive flames that billow from its 70m diameter rim while you enjoy a Turkmenistan style barbeque before retiring to your tent.
After breakfast explore other craters in this remote desert before travelling to Ashgabat. Before checking into your hotel visit Talkucha Bazaar if you haven’t already done so – (open on Thursday, Saturday and Sundays) considered to be one of Central Asia’s most impressive markets, where the local trade jewellery, carpets, species, nuts and livestock. The rest of the day is at leisure.
This morning drive south east to the 15th century Anau Mosque which is located on the edge of a Bronze-age site. The site includes the remains of the ancient settlement of Anau-Depe and Gatar fortress. Next it is on to the remains of the Silk Road-era town of Abiverd. This settlement was once a wealthy fortress city with fertile lands and extensive markets. Finally, arrive in Mary the third largest city of Turkmenistan, situated in a big oasis in the middle of the Karakum Desert. Today it is a major centre of the cotton industry and the main center of the gas industry which brings the most revenues to Turkmenistan’s treasury.
Spend the day with your local guide discovering the magnificent archaeological site of Merv, once one of Central Asia’s most civilised cities and referred to as the Pearl of the East. In the 11th century the Seljuk Turks appropriated Merv and made it the centre of a dominion that stretched from Afghanistan to Egypt. This is a vast site of 125 square kilometres and due to its ideal location along the Great Silk Road Route, several cities have existed here. In the afternoon visit the local History Museum and fly back to Ashgabat.
Transfer to the airport for your onward flight.
This itinerary costs from £1990 per person B&B based on 2 sharing and including all private transfers but not international flights.
You can get flights from as little as £570 per person return and do ask us for advice. Alternatively we can book the flights for you but a booking fee may apply.
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