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!