ITINERARY & MAP
In the early morning arrive to Ashgabat, for example with Turkish Airlines flight. After customs formalities meet Turkmen guide/driver. Transfer to hotel in Ashgabat for rest.
After breakfast in hotel start sightseeing of Ashgabat, visit independence-period parks and monuments, including the Park of Independence, Neutrality Square, and some others. Tour today also includes visits to Old Nisa fortress (UNESCO site) and Turkmenbashi Ruhy mosque and mausoleum and visit National Museum of history and ethnography, whose halls are dedicated to various themes and historical periods. Demonstrating a rich collection of artifacts from all over Turkmenistan, including ivory rhytons from Old Nisa, the museum will also offer us reconstruction models of most of the sites that we are going to visit. Welcome dinner in a nice restaurant in the city center.
In the early morning take a flight to Mary (40 mins). On arrival, drive to Gonur Tepe/Margush (100 km including 40 km off road). Here first agricultural settlements appeared in the delta of Murgab River as back as 3 millennium BC. Fertile silt coming from mountains, abundance of water and moderate climate had created favourable conditions for good crops and the progress of the ancient economy was continuing for several centuries. The American newspaper “Boston Globe” wrote that before we knew the four oldest centers of the world’s civilizations: Mesopotamia, Egypt, India and China, and due to the fantastic results of the Margiana expedition it is quite possible to think that there was another, the fifth center. Picnic lunch. Later drive back to Mary.
After breakfast, we head 25 km to the east of Mary, towards Bayram-Ali, the contemporary re-incarnation and humble suburb of the glorious Ancient Merv (UNESCO World Heritage Site). One of the major archaeological sites of Central Asia, Merv played an important part in the development of the Silk Road for more than 2 000 years. Within the limits of the archaeological park, which is 1200 ha, we will have a chance to observe all constituent parts of the “wandering city”. A series of adjacent cities, which can be roughly divided into the ancient (Erk Kala and Gyaur Kala), the medieval (Sultan Kala with its suburbs), and post-medieval (Abdulla-Khan Kala and Bayram-Ali-Khan Kala), appeared in the course of time as a token of the natural progress of the city from initial stages of its existence to a more advanced level. Besides remnants of the cities of Merv, we will visit the VI-IX cc. AD forts of Big and Little Kyz-Kalas, excellent examples of the so-called corrugated Koshks; the splendid XII c. mausoleums of Sultan Sanjar and Muhammed ibn-Zeyd. After sightseeing, we drive back to Mary where we will have lunch.
In the afternoon we visit the local history museum and do some sightseeing in Mary. In the evening we take a return flight to Ashgabat.
Just 40 minutes drive by car from Ashgabat we visit Geokdepe fortress. This site includes the remains of the ancient fortress Geokdepe (Green Hill) and modern Mosque Geokdepe. Geokdepe is a fortress from the 19th century, from there we will drive 1 km further to a local private stud farm, where we will have a look at fabled Akhalteke horses of Turkmens.
Back in Ashgabat we will have lunch before heading north to the burning gas crater at Darvaza. On the way we might also visit Erbent desert village and two more craters, both bubbling with natural gas seeping from underground – one with water and one with mud. Upon arrival, we find ourselves a couple of hundred meters away from the flaming crater. As the sun sets, the simple whole of the crater turns into what may seem a front door to hell, a fire temple or any other mysteriously spectacular place that a romantic’s imagination may associate with fire. Dinner and overnight in tents near “Door to Hell” (wild camping).
Overnight in tents
After early breakfast, we drive back to Ashgabat, where we have lunch. In the early afternoon, we take the flight to Turkmenbashi, city at the Caspian Sea. Upon arrival in Turkmenbashi we will visit a local market and then transfer to modern Awaza Caspian Sea resort, just 12 km west of Turkmenbashi city. You can relax at the beach.
Hotel Yelken Yacht Club or similar
Today morning after breakfast, we drive to one of the most spectacular attractions of the entire country – Yangykala Canyons. On the way, we visit the Gozli Ata, one of Turkmenistan’s remotest shrine pilgrimage destinations. Its setting is also among the most beautiful. It lies in the center of a natural bowl, surrounded by escarpments of bands of pink and white rock. Gozli Ata was reportedly a respected Sufi who lived in the early part of the 14th century. Upon arrival at the red and orange colored Yangykala Canyons we enjoy the view and have a picnic on top of the Canyon. In the afternoon we drive around 4 hours further to the city of Balkanabat, where we stay in a hotel for the night.
Today is another long driving day back to Ashgabat. On the way we stop at the truly unique mountain village Nokhur. Rich in history, nature and tribal customs, Nokhur is set 1,100 m above the Karakum Desert in the cool mountain valleys of southwestern Turkmenistan. The Nokhur people have maintained a highly homogenous society based upon ancestral rights, and tribal customs. We will explore the village and have lunch in the house of local family, living among the orchards high on the slope of the local mountain, offering spectacular view of the Nokhur village.
In the afternoon on the way to Ashgabat we make one more stop at the underground lake Kow Ata. The lake is an unusual natural site in the biggest cave of the Kopetdag Mountains. Located 52 meters underground, the lake is 72m long and 30m wide. The water has a constant temperature of 33-37° Celsius. We will go swimming and then drive further to Ashgabat, where we plan to arrive just in time for farewell dinner.
Transfer to airport for departure flight back home.