At the Gateway to Hell

As previously told, Turkmenistan’s wealth is mainly based on its rich oil and gas reserves, and already the Russians had come to the idea of looking for those natural resources. Although no one seems to know what really happened 40 years ago, the results of their failed search are very impressive, even if actually made and set on fire by humans: the huge Darvaza Craters, filled with water, mud or most famous with burning gas. We arrived to the area with the help of a friendly and very competent travel agency (Owadan Tourism Operator), who organized the transfer through and the camping in the Karakum Desert (which by the way also was a great experience). Words cannot describe the heat, flames and power that comes from the burning crater, nor can the photos probably capture the effect of the scenery neither. Even I simply stood there – speechless – again contemplating something completely distinct from what I had ever seen before. You almost have the sensation that this place must be the entry to Lucifer’s underworld and you definitely would not want to fall into this big hole. Continue reading

The Great Turkmenbashi

After almost 4 successful unforgettable weeks in Central Asia, the destination with most doubts and open questions about was yet to come: Turkmenistan – the region’s own version of North Korea. We had heard many horror stories from people being controlled or observed all the time, who were not allowed to move freely or always had the feeling to be spied upon, or even who were denied the entrance. In fact, the only “official” way to visit the country is via a fully organized tour, where you are accompanied by a guide 24/7. Regarding the price of a pre-booked all-inclusive trip, and also because of our aim to travel independently without the help of an operating company, such a tourist visa was no option for us. Luckily, there is the possibility to obtain a cheaper five days transit visa, which besides enables you going to wherever you want and doing whatever you like alone. Just a little problem: the use-case of a transit visa clearly states that you have to leave Turkmenistan towards a third country other than your homeland …. but we intended to fly back to Germany from the capital city Ashgabat! Fortunately, thanks to the super friendly Turkmen Consulate in Francfort, we were anyhow issued a five days transit visa which in reality we should not have received (we guess he rather made a mistake and was not very well informed).

So while being quite nervous overall, we took a taxi from Nukus to the Turkmen border post of Konye-Urgench nearby and hoped for the best. Then came the first big surprise: entering our last country was astonishingly uncomplicated and nothing compared to the Uzbek struggles we had experienced previously. Of course the officials checked our passports and bags, but they stayed friendly all the time and asked us a few interested questions about Europe and our journey. After perhaps 30 minutes we were stamped in with a nice and warm “Welcome to Turkmenistan”. Continue reading