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Overview

Turkmenistan is without doubt one of the oddest and most isolated corners of Asia. A hermit desert republic bordering Iran, Afghanistan and the Caspian Sea, the state has been dominated for the last 15 years by a presidential personality cult that is rivaled only by that of North Korea's Kim Jung Il. The capital Ashgabat is a city of golden revolving statues, marble monuments and huge empty palaces, all dedicated to the former president Turkmenbashi, the "Father of the Turkmen." Beyond this modern facade are some impressive historical sites, such as Konye Urgench, a Silk Road transit point destroyed by Genghis Khan and Tamerlane, and the ...

Turkmenistan is without doubt one of the oddest and most isolated corners of Asia. A hermit desert republic bordering Iran, Afghanistan and the Caspian Sea, the state has been dominated for the last 15 years by a presidential personality cult that is rivaled only by that of North Korea's Kim Jung Il. The capital Ashgabat is a city of golden revolving statues, marble monuments and huge empty palaces, all dedicated to the former president Turkmenbashi, the "Father of the Turkmen." Beyond this modern facade are some impressive historical sites, such as Konye Urgench, a Silk Road transit point destroyed by Genghis Khan and Tamerlane, and the ruins of medieval Merv, once the world's largest city. Surrounding the oases are the desert sands of the Kara Kum (Black Sands), home to such oddities as stretches of burning desert, dinosaur footprints and lost Silk Road cities. Independent travel is somewhat limited in Turkmenistan, as you must travel with a guide, but with the recent death of the president the country is finally starting to open up, making this a great time for connoisseurs of off-the-beaten-track travel to explore this lost corner of Central Asia.

Bradley Mayhew
About the Expert

Bradley Mayhew is the author of more than 25 guidebooks for Lonely Planet, including Central Asia, Tibet, Nepal, Bhutan and Jordan, and is coauthor of the Odyssey guide to Uzbekistan.

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Bradley Mayhew for Triporati

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Facts at a Glance

  • Location: Turkmenistan is a Turkic country in Central Asia. It is bordered by Afghanistan to the southeast, Iran to the southwest, Uzbekistan to the northeast, Kazakhstan to the northwest, and the Caspian Sea to the west.
  • Language: Turkmen official, Russian, Uzbek, Dari
  • Currency: Manat
  • Research: Wikitravel | Turkmenistan
  • Weather: Rainfall | Daylight