Ashgabat, the otherworldly capital of Turkmenistan

Bordering Iran to the west and Uzbekistan to the east is Turkmenistan, one of the least visited and most secretive countries in the world. Obtaining a visa is a notoriously lengthy and unpredictable process to so I felt fortunate to finally get one in advance of my Silk Road journey. After crossing the border from Iran, I arrived in the city of Mary, known in ancient times as Merv. Here I rested a few days before heading to Ashgabat, Turkmenistan’s otherworldly capital, with my government appointed guide. It is certainly one of the most surreal places I have visited.

As we drove into the city, I was first struck by how bright and clean it was. Almost every building is clad in white marble. The city is blinding in the sunlight. The roads are pristine and the gardens manicured. Vast statues, futuristic monuments, and enormous fountains adorn the city but there is barely a soul there to see them. Guards stand silently to attention but there is no one there to protect the monuments from.

Outside the huge government ministry buildings, not even a smoker is in sight. I look for a trace of life on the balconies of the gleaming monolithic apartment buildings – drying laundry or a plant – but find none. I visit the National Museum for a tour, I am the only visitor.

The country’s symbol of an eight pointed star appears everywhere; elevators, railings, windows, street furniture, paving stones, and billboards. Even some monuments are constructed in the shape of this symbol.

I hope you enjoy these photos of the this otherworldly city.

Monument to Neutrality. The monument is topped by a 12-metre tall gold-plated statue of Turkmenistan’s first President Saparmurat Niyazov which rotates to always face the sun.
Monument to Neutrality
Independence Monument, Ashgabat
Independence Monument, Ashgabat
White marble-clad apartment blocks
With my guide
Independence Monument
Empty roads
The Palace of Happiness, a marriage registry office
A new park
Golden Horse Monument. It features current Turkmen president Gurbanguly Berdimuhammedov riding an Akhal-Teke, Turkmenistan’s national horse.
Empty roads
The international airport. Several of the more important buildings in Ashgabat are designed in the shape of something that resembles their function or purpose.
The view toward the Independence Monument
Marble-clad apartment blocks
A shopping mall
Ashgabat contains the world’s greatest number of fountain pools in a public place
An almost-empty pavement
A government building of some sort
White marble-clad apartment blocks
Constitution Monument
Constitution Monument. Spot the two guards at the foot of the steps.
Alem Entertainment Centre. Home to the largest indoor ferris wheel in the world.
Alem Entertainment Centre. Home to the largest indoor ferris wheel in the world.
A solitary figure outside the Ashgabat National Museum of History
More empty roads
Kipchak Mosque; the largest mosque in Central Asia. 10,000 worshipers can attend services inside the mosque, but most of the time it is empty.