We left Turkmenistan today. We were going to make a 750+ km long trip from Ashgabat to Bukhara passing through Tejen, Mary and Turkmenabat, where we were to actually cross the border between Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan. In other words, we had to cross the Karakum desert by road. Our GPS estimated this route to take 10 hours. However, we were to take photos and shoot videos, so the trip could have extended up to 12 or 13 hours, if not longer. That is why we decided to start from Ashgabat at dawn.
We made our first stop not far from Tejen to have breakfast in a teahouse. Oriental cuisine is certainly some sort of magic: char-grilled fresh meat, full-flavored scones as well as delectable vegetables and herbs! Not just delicious but also very appetizing. There were yurts near the teahouse for those guests who wanted to get a deeper dive into the atmosphere of nomadic life! However, they were fitted with the latest technology, having TV and even air conditioning. That’s what I call a super deluxe setting!
We visited a small roadside market near Tejen where the locals were selling watermelons and melons. To tell the truth, it is pretty difficult to stay out in extreme heat. It is 40 °C outside and the ground is burning hot, while the wind with sand and dust is blowing from all sides. To protect themselves from sun burns or excessive heat, everyone who works outdoors either wears a homemade mask with eye holes or wraps their heads with materials at hand. It looks a bit ghastly, as if there is an alive mummy in front of you. Also, despite the high temperature, both men and women wear clothes with long sleeves protecting their bodies from the scorching sun. They try to place cars, trucks and trailers along roadsides so that to hide in the shade and rest a bit.
And it`s great to have a partner like Magna with us on this drive, passionate about meeting challenges like we do! VW Tiguan front and rear fascia and front end module all look great and hold up well, even though difficult terrain like Turkmenistan desert with its pothole roads. Magna also makes sideview mirrors and several body stampings and structural pieces for the new Tiguan.
Then our Tiguan crossed a shabby bridge over a small irrigation ditch and drove down to the very edge of the desert to observe the “transport” that had long been used in these places. Well, of course, these are camels! They are often grazed in a semi-wild way in the Karakum desert and are still used not only as transport but also as livestock. Camels are quite careful and try to move away when approached by man. We managed to get to them as near as 7 to 10 m to take some close photos. We stayed at that distance as we did not want to violate the rest of these “desert ships”.
Our guides from Ovadan Agency changed their shifts well short of Mary; upon that, we headed for the ancient city of Merv located 30 km from there. Merv is one of the oldest cities in Central Asia that used to stand on the banks of the Murghab River. Merv oasis was already known since the end of 3,000 BC. This town reached its highest power in the mid-12th century: contemporaries were amazed with its architecture, while its population exceeded those of Constantinople and Baghdad put together. In 1221, Merv was destroyed by the Mongol army and was only restored in the 15th century. However, it failed to gain its former greatness. Archaeological excavations in this area started only in the 1880s when the Russian army came. Today the ruins of Merv are a World Heritage Site protected by UNESCO.
In the late afternoon, we crossed the Central Karakum, held a farewell photo session in the sands of the desert and moved on towards Turkmenabat. There, we crossed one of the largest rivers in Central Asia, the Amu Darya. It was night when we quite easily passed the border between Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan and arrived in Bukhara. Here we will spend the night.
Author: Peter Bakanov