Places not to miss in Ashgabat, Turkmenistan

When I first saw Ashgabat’s new city, I forgot to shut my mouth for a few minutes. I’m not quite sure if I could describe the feeling from the view. It is a showy, brand new city with hundreds of massive, pompous buildings, memorials, monuments, gardens, and other public buildings and spaces, built almost entirely of marble, which is why they are pure white. Ashgabat was recorded in the Guinness Book of Records as the city with the most marble buildings in the world. Billions of dollars were spent to show the world the greatness and abilities of the Turkmen people. Ordinary Turkmen, however, are not seen very often in the newly constructed part of the city. Buildings and boulevards look empty. Here and there, a cleaner or a landscaping worker breaks the strange, surreal picture, seemingly emphasizing the vast dimensions of this ghost town. It looks like a giant art installation.

Residential apartment building and an air-conditioned bus station alongside an empty boulevard in Ashgabat, Turkmenistan

Below is a list of some of the most exciting places in this strange city, which might be interesting for you.

The first place would be the Memorial dedicated to Turkmenistan’s independence. It includes a large concrete tower, 91 meters high, with a 27-meter tall structure on top of it, surrounded by a 10-meter terrace. The dimensions correspond to the date of the country’s independence – 27.10.1991.

Saparmurat Niyazov’s golden statue in the Independence Park, Ashgabat, Turkmenistan

In front of the Memorial, at nearly 40 degrees, stand honor guards. From time to time, a policeman goes to the unfortunate boys to soak up the sweat running down their faces. When I tried to go up the wide stairs, the policeman waved at me, showing that I shouldn’t use the broad primary way and have to use the secondary, smaller path to the Memorial. We were utterly alone in this vast space, except the service staff.

The most essential monument is of Saparmurat Niyazov, erected in the Independence Park, which occupies about 140 hectares or almost half of the entire park space in the capital.

Another impressive monument is that of the Book of the Soul or Ruhnama, written by Saparmurat Niyazov. The Memorial is in the form of a book which cover opens automatically every day at 8 pm, reproducing a recording of the text. Overall, the book is a combination of spiritual and moral guidance, with many autobiographical elements, and a highly paraphrased history of Turkmenistan. Niyazov said that each student who read the book 3 times would enter Paradise directly (this statement was recorded in March 2006). For more credibility, he adds that this was personally arranged by him with God! The strange thing is that even after his death, the book’s popularity remained high, and the current president still strongly recommends studying it at school. The book has been translated into dozens of languages, even exotic ones.

The Statue Of Book Ruhnama by Saparmurat Niyazov, who was president of Turkmenistan

The Halk Hakydasy Memorial Complex, also called People’s memory complex, is in a great location with the Kopet Dag mountains’ views in the back. There are three external exhibits: the first is dedicated to the Gokdepe Battle; the second is named Ruhy Tagzym, dedicated to the memory of people who died in the 1948 earthquake; the third monument is dedicated to the fallen in WW2.

View of the Halk Hakydasy Memorial Complex or as it is also known People's memory complex

Further, we spotted a wedding in front of a large building that turned out to be the so-called “House of Happiness” (Bagt köşgi), a famous place for happy rituals. Marriage in these latitudes is sacred, hence the enormous pompous building with strange architecture, looking somehow lonely. Everyone who gets married can use the 36 shops, the 2 cafes, the hotel with 22 rooms, a library, a car rental, an underground parking lot with 300 places and everything else you can think you would need for the most important day of your life. The only happy couple of newlyweds with several photographers bustling around have only intensified the feeling of artificially inflated happiness and prosperity.

A wedding in front of the Wedding Palace (Bagt köşgi) in Ashgabat, Turkmenistan

Further, we stopped in front of the 24-story super-chic Yyldyz Hotel (Ýyldyz) shaped like a teardrop. The building is imposing, 107 meters high, with a capacity of 155 rooms. 7,000 tons of metal and 14,000 square meters of glass were used for its construction. A 4-lane boulevard, bus stops with air-conditioners and TVs inside, and vast parks were built around it. We couldn’t see how full the hotel was, but the 4-lane boulevard in front of the hotel was desperately empty.

The Yyldyz Hotel in the outskirts of Ashgabat, the capital of Turkmenistan

The Memorial dedicated to the neutrality of Turkmenistan was built in 1998. It was later moved from the city center to the outskirts, where it can be visited today. A golden statue of Saparmurat Niyazov is mounted on top of it. The locals call it “Tripod” because of the three massive platforms on which it rises.

Neutrality monument as seen at its new location at the southern outskirts of Ashgabat, Turkmenistan

I actually liked the vast parks and gardens. It was relaxing to watch the garden workers taking care of the thousands of newly planted trees and shrubs in contrast to the barren landscape.

You would need to book an organized tour to visit Turkmenistan. It is extremely difficult to get a visa as an independent traveler.

We usually have one or two small groups (max 7/8 participants) per year traveling to Turkmenistan. If you are interested in joining a group setting out from Europe, please drop a line. We will provide more information, like dates, a program, and other details.

 

Year-round, although in the summertime would be nicer!

 

Ashgabat International Airport, formerly known as Saparmyrat Türkmenbaşy International Airport, is one of five international airports in Turkmenistan. It is located approximately 10 km northwest of the capital Ashgabat.

 

Visiting Ashgabat will be part of a tour in Turkmenistan. Usually, Turkmenistan is combined with other countries in the region, as Uzbekistan would be the most obvious. 

 

It is extremely difficult to get a visa for Turkmenistan as an independent traveler.

However, you may try using VisaHQ world service. They might be able to provide assistance in applying and obtaining the visa. Check directly the requirements for the Turkmenistan visa here.

You also can check out the iVisa service here.

 

OTHER USEFUL SERVICES, WHICH MIGHT HELP YOU REACH THIS PLACE

Unfortunately, you can not book hotels using services like booking dot come or other. All your accommodation will be arranged by your tour operator.

However, do not travel without travel insurance! We have an excellent experience with World Nomads, as it is the only company that covers an unlimited budget, provides coverage of a massive bunch of adventure activities and you can purchase it while on the road. Get a free quote using the form here.

 

Woman on the stairs in front of the Turkmenbashi Ruhy Mosque in Ashgabat, Turkmenistan; Black and white photography

INTERESTING BOOKS 

Free delivery worldwide (with no minimum spend) from Book Depository (Amazon), a leading international book retailer. Please click on the title of the book to read the full description and to buy it.

A good collection of books about Turkmenistan