Goodbye Turkmenistan and Goodbye Silk Road

Today, 29th September 2017, we left Turkmenistan, our last country on the Silk Road, early in the morning. We flew via Istanbul to Zurich.

Turkmenistan is a fascinating country with very friendly people. We could easily have continued our visit to see other places in Turkmenistan. Again, we got to know a country which we can only recommend to visit.

Our three-month travel, first with the Transsib from Moskau to Vladivostok plus Kamtchatka and second the Old Silk Road starting from Bejing through China, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Usbekistan and finally Turkmenistan, came to an end today. Looking back, time was flying by …. . What made this trip so unforgettable are the interesting and friendly people we met. We learned so much about their cultures and their history. We explored so many beautiful spots in these less known regions and we experienced many unforgettable moments. This travel was an endeavor to new horizons, provided new perspectives and forced us out of our comfort zone many times. We are also very proud that we could adapt to new and unforeseen situations. A lot of challenges could be solved with kindness and patience. But above all we loved being together and realizing that we could rely on each other in every situation. We are so grateful that we could realize these travel dreams and never had an accident or serious health problems.

Now, it is time to meet Valentin in Aarau. We are looking forward to hearing about his first weeks in his new student apartment in Lausanne as well as about his first two weeks of his second bachelor year at the Ecole Hoteliere in Lausanne.

Furthermore, we are looking forward to flying to Hong Kong next Wednesday to visit Julian. He is doing his exchange term there until December. We are going to spend four days with him before flying on to Australia. Another dream will come true – we will travel by RV from Darwin to Perth for the following six weeks.


Ashgabat – the White City

Ashgabat is the capital of Turkmenistan. When visiting the city one feels like being in a play … is it real? Or fake? All new buildings are made of white marble. All buildings are like monuments – all very big! The streets are very wide with tons of street lamps. There are large parks – thousands of trees have been planted in and outside the city to make the area green! You wonder how many of the buildings are really used and how many are still empty. Where are all the people – it is said that more than 1 million live in Ashgabat?! But where are they? The streets, parks, hotels and squares are empty. We heard so many interesting stories about the city. For example that all the cars have to be white until 2020, or that the marble that is used is from Italy and/or Spain. Furthermore, the president’s picture is seen everywhere (but none of his family). No hotel, no restaurant or no street is without him smiling on a picture. Roads are blocked for undefined periods when he is moving within the city but people are used to it and stay calm.

At night the city is beautiful with all the colorful lights – sometimes we felt like in Las Vegas – just without the gambling halls….and without the people…. .

All in all – an amazing and unique city – worthwhile to see once.

Karakum Desert, Old Nisa, Geok Depe, Akhal-Teke-Horses

After having seen the Flaming Crater we continued our travel through the fascinating Karakum Desert. Lots of dromedars along the road provided for nice pictures.

The historic site of the earliest Parthian Empire capital, Old Nisa (UNESCO World Heritage) can be regarded as a cradle of the unique Hellenistic (Greek-Persian) culture. Old Nisa is a special landmark on a hill at the foot of the Kopet-Dag Mountains. Excavations are still on-going and remarkable remains were found. Old Nisa was inhabited from the 3rd century BC to the 3rd century AD. Thereafter, its function was conveyed to New Nisa which is an important medieval Silk Road city a few kilometers away.

Geok Depe is a famous site of a battle between the Turkmen and the Zaristic Russians in late 19th century. Turkmen lost the battle and their independence. There is the large Saparmurat Mosque remembering those days.

Turkmenistan is also very famous for its centuries-old Akhal-Teke-Horse-Breeding tradition. These horses have a reputation for speed, endurance, intelligence and a distinctive metallic sheen. They are also referred to “winged”, “devine”, “heavenly” and “blood-sweating”. We visited a stud (horse breeding farm) and we were deeply impressed to see the graceful creatures in their natural environment.

Darvaza – the Breathtaking Flaming Crater

In the middle of the Karakum desert one can find the Darvaza Crater. Its diameter is about 200 meters and its depth is about 50 meters. Gas exits from the bottom of the crater. In the old days animals died when getting close to the crater because of the deadly Methan gas. That’s why the gas was set on fire. Today, this results in a unique and breathtaking experience in particular during the night. It is also called “entry to hell”.

We camped in a tent close to the flaming crater and we could enjoy the view of the amazing crater on fire. Awesome! Spectacular!

Welcome Turkmenistan

Turkmenistan is probably one of the least known countries of the “-stan” countries. It opened up for tourism during the last few years. The Turkmen people welcomed us and were very friendly, too. Turkmenistan is a large country (more than 10 times bigger than Switzerland) but only with a bit more than 6 million inhabitants. It is rich of gas, oil and other natural resources. Consequently, the country has great potential.

First, we visited Kunya-Urgench (UNESCO World Heritage Site) which was once a glorious capital of the medieval Khorezmshah Empire. It was the biggest Muslim Empre of the late 12th – early 13th century. Kunya-Urgench was the largest city on the northern branch of the Silk Road. The site displays outstanding monuments: Mausoleum of Turabek Hanum, Minaret Kutlug Timur (the former highest minaret in Central Asia) and two other mausoleums with unique cones of a dome.

Dashogus is the administrative capital of the northern Welayate (=region) Dashogus. It is a small town but there are several new monumental buildings. All new buildings are in white marble and very impressive.

Izmukshir is another impressive ruin city. Its origin dates back to the 3rd century BC. But its cultural peak was in the 9th and 10th century AD.

Goodbye Uzbekistan

25 September 2017, our last day in Uzbekistan. At 6.30 we went for an early morning stroll. We enjoyed the calm streets of Khiva and were fascinated by the changing of the colors when the sun got out.

After breakfast we visited two of the many ruins of forts (“Kalas”). First, Toprak Kala about 90 km north-east of Khiva. The fort, palace and buildings are from the Kuschan times (3rd and 4th century AD). From Toprak Kala one can see the agricultural land (cotton, corn, rice, melon, etc.) of the river oasis as well as the so called black mountains.

The second ruin, Qizil Kala, was a fortified manor and was in use from the 1st to 4th century. Again, very interesting and a beautiful scenery.

A remarkable fact about Uzbekistan is that all cars are Chevrolet Models manufactured in Uzbekistan. And these cars run on gas and petrol. Uzbekistan is rich of many natural resources, in particular gas. Therefore, almost all cars run on gas. However, these cars need petrol to start the engine and petrol is imported. Petrol is expensive and there is not enough petrol at the petrol station except in the capital city. Consequently, you see very long queues of cars waiting to get some petrol….

At about midday it was time to say goodbye to Uzbekistan. We had a fantastic time. It is a beautiful country with very friendly and genuine people. Its history is unbelievably rich and there are so many breathtaking monuments, cities and landscapes.

We can recommend visiting Uzbekistan to everybody – it is worth it! After Tajikistan we were surprised to see so many tourists. But then we found out that there was also something positive about it – we could exchange travel experiences with other tourists. For example, there were two Swiss we met while having dinner and we ended up sharing a bottle of Wodka together – telling each other stories of our travel. It was interesting and a lot of fun.

Khiva – Walking through a Museum of a 1001 Nights City

Khiva was founded about 2,500 years ago and was an important city on the Silk Road. It is also famous for its long and brutal history as a slave trading poste.

We immediately fell in love with Khiva – it is like a museum of a historic 1001 nights city. The inner part of Khiva is only 800 meters long and 400 meters wide – and there are no cars – but hundreds of historic and beautiful buildings and towers … amazing! The people are extremely friendly and easy going – very relaxing!

The Itchan-Kala (old inner city) is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. There is a large wall surrounding the inner city as well as the Citadel Kunya-Ark with its buildings and a mosque. The view from the roof of the Citadel onto Itchan-Kala is amazing.

The Kalta Minor Minaret is a unique monument in the city. Its diameter is 14 meters but its height is only 26 meters. Its decor and colors make it very special and beautiful with different light during the day. Its name means “short minaret” because it has never been finished. Story tellers say that the master-builder promised a higher minaret to the emir in Bukhara and that’s why he did not finish the Kalta Minor Minaret.

The Islom-Xo’ja Minaret is another beautiful landmark in the city. We climbed up the narrow and very steep stairs – and it was worth it – other beautiful perspectives of the city.

The Juma Mosque is very special. From the outside one does not realize that it is a mosque. Inside, there are lots of beautifully carved wooden columns from between the 10th and 16th century.

The palace Toshhauli consists of a court, a ball room, a harem and several smaller rooms. Many of the halls and rooms are beautifully decorated.

And there are lots of Madrasas, some without decoration and others colorfully decorated. All together adding to an amazing historic Arabic city.

Khiva in the morning and in the evening becomes even more unique thanks to the special sunlight and its quiet atmosphere!