Monthly Archives: August 2012

August 26, 2012, Day 16 – Nokhur, Turkmenistan to Ashgabat, Turkmenistan

Sunday, August 26, 2012 – Nokhur, Turkmenistan to Ashgabat, Turkmenistan

Before leaving our homestay we visited our host’s daughter-in-law’s house because she was a silk weaver.  We bought a couple of pieces from her, which were very inexpensive considering the time it took to weave the silk.  She had a loom and worked with her hands and feet to control the weave patterns. She used the traditional Turkmen designs, which included ram’s horns because they represented wealth and protection from evil. Another design was a swastika cross, which was the Zoroastrian cross. The majority of Turkmen were fire worshippers until 651 when the Muslims occupied Turkmenistan and converted them by force to the Islamic way.

Considering we all slept on the floor we felt pretty good. No stiff areas and we all slept soundly, just slightly noticing the braying donkey during the night. The family cooked us a breakfast of eggs and fried potatoes with melons and tea.  For breakfast we are inside in their main room with the TV. The Polish group joined us for breakfast.

Before leaving the village our guide took us to their cemetery, which was very interesting. We could not go in but we were allowed to look over the fence and take pictures. All the tombstones had wild ram horns or wild goat horns on them.  The villagers paid hunters to go kill a wild ram with big horns in the mountains, so when they were buried their tombstone would have a good set of horns on them to protect them from evil spirits. When they buried their dead, the head had to face north with the face turned west towards Mecca.

The construction of the homes in the village was first rocks piled up on top of each other to make a wall, then the spaces between the rocks were filled with dung and mud mixed with straw, sometimes the top is capped with concrete, then a smooth coat of the dung/mud/straw mixture overtop of everything, then painted with a white lime wash.

Next we visited a holy spot for women and to get there we had to enter a Sufism  (whirling dervishes came from this sect) family’s yard.  The man of the house was very friendly and welcomed us to his home. Apparently, the government had banned Sufism because Sufi’s were a difficult group to control. They obeyed their God not the government. Sufism was an order of the Islamic religion. This sect started with Islamic law then they were initiated onto the mystical path of “tariqua”. They were the informal missionaries of Islam. I guess it was a difficult law to control because these people were not hiding.  We walked up the mountain using cement stairs to a cave.  This was the spot women came to pray to have a child.  It was very important that women conceived so they came here to pray.  At the cave site were fossil ram horns lying about.

In the yard of the Sufi man was a prayer tree covered in cloth.  People would come here to pray for something and they would tie a cloth on the tree.  I guess it worked because the tree was covered in pieces of cloth.  Sometimes the cloth would look like a cradle; the prayer with this type of cloth would be to get pregnant. The man came out and showed us a piece of rock that looked like black glass. It was called mummy and they used it as medicine.  Hunters would shoot it down, like stalactites our guide said. I’m not sure from where, a cave I am guessing. Then because it was black I was also guessing if it was a mould and acted like penicillin??  Anyway, the Turkmen used this medicine for broken bones. You could make a poultice by softening the mummy by kneading it and putting it on the outside of a broken bone, or you could drink it by leaving a small piece in water overnight, then drinking the water in the morning. Interesting!  It must have been valuable because this man coveted his piece of mummy.

I asked our guide if this man charged for everyone to be walking through his yard? Elias said that these people gave the money to the poor or orphans in the village.  And if anyone were ever hungry they would just come here and be fed.  The Sufis’ were very generous people.

Leaving the village we stopped and looked at some herbs being sold and lo and behold they had some mummy for sale.  I bought a couple packets and will bring them home for Kelly.  Maybe she will know what it is?

At this sight we met the cutest couple with two small children.  I wish I had taken their photos as they were a handsome couple but I was too shy to ask them. They were here to purchase herbs with their mother-in-law and were from another village.  They were surprised that we did not know what mummy was.  I guess it is a pretty common remedy here.

We were driving to the capital of Turkmenistan, Ashgabat. On the way we noticed that they were picking the cotton by hand.  This was literally back breaking work, as the cotton plants were short.  They would fill large bags or sacks with cotton then load them onto trucks to be taken to the mill.

We had lunch at a café that had private rooms, which were nice and cool.  It reminded me of China where every time we ate we were ushered into a private room.  The food was okay barbecued chicken with fresh vegetables. We fed a couple of dogs and then we were on our way.

We stopped at a huge mosque with 4 minarets. This was the 1st mosque built in 1996 by the 1st President of Turkmenistan after the Soviets left.  All the mosques had been destroyed during Soviet rule; not one was left. The former president Turkmenbashi, the Great, built this mosque here to commemorate the battle of 1881 between Russia and Turkmenistan. This famous battle was led by Nicolas Romanoff, the last Czar of Russia and this was the spot where they invaded Turkmenistan. Russia won the battle and occupied Turkmenistan until 1924, when the Soviets occupied Turkmenistan. When the Soviets absorbed the country into the Soviet Union many Turkmen fled to Iraq and Afghanistan because they did not want to hand over their wealth to the Soviets.

The mosque we toured had beautiful aquamarine domes and designs. The carpet inside had individual markings for the people attending the mosque prayers and there were enough prayer spots for 8,000 people! The sidewalls were decorated with tiles of Turkmenistan carpet designs.

We had to stop at a car wash just before entering the capital city of Turkmenistan because there is a law that no dirty cars were allowed into the city.  A policeman could stop and fine you if your car was dirty. That was a good law! Our cars were filthy because of all the dusty roads we had travelled on and they needed a good wash.

When we entered Ashgabat we could not believe our eyes.  This city was amazing, all beautiful white marble clad buildings, water fountains, statues, parks and many hotels.  Our hotel was a 6 star Sofitel Hotel. In one area the buildings looked like Washington DC, only larger. We could not wait to explore this city!

August 25, 2012, Day 15 – Turmenbashi, Turkmenistan to Nokhur, Turkmenistan

Saturday, August 25, 2012 – Turkmenbashi, Turkmenistan to Nokhur, Turkmenistan

Today was a big kafuffle because our itinerary had us going to a canyon that would have taken us at least 3 hours out of our way. We quickly nixed that!  Then we were to go to a small desert village that sounded appealing to me but we couldn’t drive there as this location was not listed on our visas. We had the same problem, with the next stop, Dehistan a remote historical site in the Sumbar Valley, no visa.  Soooo off we went at 7:30 a.m. following our guide Elias and a new driver named, Desert Rat!  (Well it may actually have been 8 a.m. before we finally took off but if a ferry can take 4 days versus 24 hours we can be ½ late)! We had a lot of mileage to cover (even after nixing half the itinerary) hence our early start.

We began our journey with another beautiful day, sunny skies and very hot weather.  Liking our air-conditioned cars more and more each day. We were going to have a home stay tonight and we were all excited plus a little worried about what to expect after (you guessed it) our ferry experience

The photograph of the current Turkmenistan president was everywhere. On street signs, in restaurants, hotels – even offices. The picture of the president and oil fields were a common sight. We could see a fire continually burning off gas on the far off oil platforms, day and night.

After stopping at the side of the road to take some scenic photos, Elias, our guide pointed out a prickly bush growing everywhere, full of little pods with tiny black seeds. He said Turkmen people burned the seeds inside of their homes to keep evil spirits away and they ate the seeds when necessary because they worked better than Imodium. Apparently, you just popped the seeds into your mouth, drank some water and 2 hours later you would be just fine.

We noticed lots of camels walking freely about on the desert sands beside the highways.  They were the one-humped camels called Dromedary (two humped as in Mongolia were Bactrian). How do you remember the difference, you may ask? Well if you turn a “D” and a “B” on their sides, the D has one hump and the B has two.  A one humped was a Dromedary and a two humped was a Bactrian! Amazing the things a person can learn when they traveled the world.

Lots of vendors were selling their melons at the side of the road. Watermelons and some huge white melons! Have no idea what they were called but they were delicious. Also, lots of people were hitch-hiking at the side of the road only they did not stick their thumbs out like we did, they waved their fingers pointing down at the road to indicate they wanted a ride.

Our first stop was at a police station located inside a tourist hotel. This took about ½ an hour.  We sat around having a coffee while our guides and Russ cleared us. They made sure we had visas to be in this location of Turkmenistan and I am not sure what else they looked for. We passed whatever it was. I think all this paranoia was reminiscent from their Soviet days.  The driving from here on was very bumpy. The highway was full of potholes and ruts. It made for some challenging driving. Sarah McLeod did most of this driving and she did a great job because it was like driving over a washboard where you would just get used to it then it would switch to a mini roller-coaster ride.

We noticed many cars driving along with scarves tied to their outside mirrors.  This meant they were participating in a wedding.  We noticed lots of wedding cars today.

The bride and grooms car would be all decorated and all the following cars would have scarves blowing from the side mirrors.

Next we drove into a tiny village for a picnic lunch.  It was so hot that Elias asked a villager if he knew where we could find some shade for our lunch.  The next thing I know we are driving into someone’s private yard to have a picnic on their back porch!  It was amazing, this woman opened up her home to us.  She and her daughter spread carpets on the porch, which was covered for shade, and then they placed a plastic tablecloth down the middle.  They brought out pillows for us Canadians to sit on, as we are not as flexible as the natives here. She even gave Sarah and I a scarf to put on our laps as we were wearing dresses.

The yard was dirt and gravel but immaculate! Swept clean with chickens, goats, donkey and cow in their own little huts. The outhouse was even immaculate. They had no furniture just carpets on the floor and they all sat around on the carpets. Shoes were not allowed in the house or on the carpets outside.

Her husband was a shepherd and not home.  He worked two weeks away from home, one week at home then back away again.  Two neighbouring men stayed with us to make sure the family was safe.  She had 3 children and her mother-in-law was living with them.  We took Polaroid photos of everyone.

The mothers wore long flowing dresses and headscarves. When the lady of the house came out, she would cover her mouth by biting one end of her scarf.  According to Elias, our guide, this custom was unique to Turkmenistan. Their women had to cover their mouths from their father-in-law and any brothers-in-law because showing their mouths may tempt the men.  This woman and others we noticed later always covered their mouths so I am guessing they must cover their mouths from all men not just in-laws.

The picnic was great, nice and cool on the porch and this family was wonderful, very kind and generous. They opened up their house to complete strangers and even made us tea.  We gave them small gifts and photos to keep.  I think they were just as happy as we were.

On the middle of the road was a load of hay that was dropped but when we got closer we noticed it was not hay but something that looked like dried sagebrush.  They must collect it and bring it to the village to feed their animals. We also got a closer look at the camels and they all had brands on their face and necks. These brands were really big scars in different designs. It looked painful to me like a leather halter was burned into their hide.

Driving along we started to notice water in low-lying areas at the sides of the road.  Apparently this was rainwater from one month ago! The ground was so hard that rain stayed on the surface in low areas until it eventually evaporated from the heat.

Next we saw a bright green bird flying back and forth in front of our car.  It looked like a parakeet.  Not sure but it was very pretty! We also noticed the motorcycle drivers wore white hoods with only their eyes showing because of the sand blowing around.  They looked like Klux Klux Clan members.

In this area, the roadside vendors were now selling honey from beehives on low bed trailers.

We finally arrived at our home stay just as it was getting dark. We had been on the road for 12 hours! Good thing we nixed half of today’s program or we would have been still driving.

Our hosts had us sitting outside on felt carpets that had been placed on the roof of a lower building, which housed their water closet.  The felt carpets felt nice on our feet and they were decorated in different colours and patterns. I hope we get to see how this was done. There were actually two rooftops and the other one was occupied by a group of Polish accountants, travelling through the Stans. They were very keen and enthusiastic about travelling. They were sleeping at a house across the street but eating here with us.  The food was fantastic, simple but very tasty.  A vegetable soup much like borscht, and a meat and vegetable dish over rice. Also, fresh tomatoes, cucumbers, greens, cheeses and of course melons and tea. It was delicious.

After dinner we went to our bedroom, which was a bare room with traditional Turkmenistan wool carpets on the floor.  It did have a row of cupboards along one wall for storage. They provided a quilt and blanket. We used our own pillows purchased at the bazaar yesterday. The boys slept in one room and we girls in another.  The family consisted of grandma, grandpa, dad, mom and a baby girl, and they all slept in another room. Their main room was where they are and watched TV. They had no furniture other than a flat screen TV on the wall.

The mom and dad was a very attractive couple. Both of them could have been models they were so beautiful. They were also very young; I would guess less than 20 years old. Even though we could not communicate with the family they were very nice and very clean.  They used boiling water and soap to clean the dishes.  Even though the family ate their meal with their hands, they had knives and forks for us. Their stove was a small butane fire, outside of the house and their sink was also just outside the door in the garden bed. The water closet was downstairs and consisted of a shower and a western toilet with mirrors and a bench seat for your clothes.  Another sink was outside the WC and we used this to brush our teeth.


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