Caucasus Silk RoadExplore the natural, cultural, and religious heritage of the Caucasus region.
When I was a kid we used to play marbles. I don’t know why it was called marbles because we played with glass spheres. In my whole marble playing career I never played with anything that was actually made of marble. It must also have been the case when President Turkmenbashi was a lad. Glass is clearly no substitute if you can have the real thing and too much of the real thing can lead to a much larger enterprise than fiddling little spheres around a playground.
Mr Turkmenbashi’s enduring enterprise is the new city of Ashgabat. It is such an improbable collection of gardens, boulavads, edifices and monuments set on the edge of the Karakum desert that it has variously been described as Lego Land and Vegas without the fun. The fun is down in the old Russian part of the town amongst the leafy plane trees and soviet era appartment blocks. Uptown there are square kilometres of empty white marble apartment blocks, 6 lane boulevards without a single car navigating the cloverleaf overpasses or waiting at the high tech traffic lights. Public transport circulates to bus stops where no one waits and high tech retail markets lack the one essential ingredient; there are no shoppers. Occassionally citzens do appear on the streets but to all intents and purposes this ‘new’ town is a ghost town conjured up out of the desert by an alchemist who learned how to convert natural gas into marble.
We have arrived in Ashgabat from Mashaad, Iran by way of the Bajgiran border which is only 40Km from Ashgabat. An early AM start from Mashaad ensured that we were out of the city and heading north before the locals busy with their daily routine of clogging up the highways and byways. Last night while out to dinner in a swanky neighbourhood I noticed a fair smattering of Porches and Mercs amongst the swarm of boxy little family cars. In a city of 27 million tourists/pilgrims per annum someone has to be making money. The road to Ashgabat is smooth but the immigration procedures at the Turkmenistan border are long winded. There is more than just a whiff of the old soviet era paranoia in the air. This is something that is likely to cause the Turkmenistan authorities strife if they dont get a simpler, smoother process in place by the time the Asia Games take place in Ashgabat in 2017. The facilities, gleaming white and palatial will be empty while regiments of pen pushers labor to record, register and process the atheletes. Early tomorrow we are off to the north. To ancient Khorozem to persue our silk road objectives. Our goal is historic Konye Urgench, the once upon a time lavish capital of a long vanished empire of builders in mud brick and glazed tile. When the water supply dried up so did Konye Urgench. Funny that. It leaves me wondering how Ashgabat will get on if and when its tenuous water supply fails.