Gallivanting the globe 2019 - RTW and then some | Page 15 | Australian Frequent Flyer
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Gallivanting the globe 2019 - RTW and then some

JohnM

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Stadium built for the Asian Games in 2017.

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Starting to look more mundane and busier as we get out of show-town.

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The museum. We were the only group – in fact, about the only people - and the guide gave a rote spiel as she took us around. Other staff just stood around. Quite bizarre.

Apparently, the flagpole in the square opposite has a jet engine in the base to keep the flag flying when the wind drops.

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Trying to capture some of Las Vegas-like nature of the place at night from the moving vehicle.

A very strange day…

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JohnM

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Next morning, we went out of Ashgabat to visit the WH-listed ruins of the ancient Persian-era fortress of Nisa. It’s pretty much destroyed, so a lot of imagination was needed with the help of drawings toted by the on-site guide to visualise its previous glory.

Returning to Ashgabat, we visited the new ‘statement’ mosque and tomb on the outer fringes, and the traditional smaller mosque closer to the old centre. Photography in the new mosque was not permitted but surreptitious shots while we sat on the floor were encouraged…

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A few general street shots from the bus on the way back into town. The sun was very bright and toppy, so it was hard to avoid reflections.

The name of the main train station ‘Wokzal’ is apparently derived from a corruption of ‘Vauxhaul’, IIRC.

Typical garb for women is a long colourful dress with a head scarf, but no face-covering.

The old mosque. Apparently the new one is a white elephant in terms of usage; most people attend the old one, probably out of greater convenience.

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JohnM

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Later that afternoon we jumped into a convoy of 4WDs for the c. 4h drive N for the eagerly anticipated visit to the Darvaza gas crater, aka ‘The Gates of Hell’ or ‘The Door to Hell’.

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The anticipation rises to a frenzy.

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Needless to say, our guide was p!ssing himself as he watched the jaws drop!

“Aaahhh, so you chumps want to see the proper one? Why didn’t you tell me? We have all sorts of fake stuff in this country.” And his cruel laugh echoed across the desert…

(He was actually an absolutely fantastic guide with a great sense of humour. Just a terrific bloke. I couldn’t recommend him more highly.)
 

JohnM

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Fifteen minutes later and a slightly different sight – and your two intrepid correspondents getting toasty in front of the fire that’s been burning coming up 50 years, before we went to the nearby camp for dinner and to await sunset.

After that, it was back into the vehicles and high-tail it back to Ashgabat, arriving about midnight.

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Next day we left Ashgabat and began the journey east along one of the old silk road routes across southern Turkmenistan and towards the other Stans. Today’s destination, the town of Mary, about 5h drive.

Early scenes indicative of what was to become all too familiar across many of the Stans: poor agricultural practices, notably in cotton production which is extensive in central Asia.

Patchy crops, poor weed management and poor irrigation with wasteful flooding at one end of a field and dryness at another end. And apparently a near-universal continued reliance on manual harvesting – an horrific task.

Also, small machinery and implements – notably tractors with quaint old-style centre front wheels.

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A good main road. First stop the ruins of the 15th century Anau Mosque which is located on the edge of a bronze-age settlement. Again, the site is extensively destroyed.

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Iran is over those mountains.

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Next stop the major 12th century silk road centre of Abiverd, long abandoned and seriously decayed.

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And on into Mary (MAH-ree).

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The mosque, but the Pokrovskaya Church had a little more character, while the old MIG down the road in front of the old air force base offered a soviet touch.

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Outside Mary are the ruins of the ancient and then very prominent city of Merv. At its 11-12th century Silk Road peak it sat alongside Damascus, Baghdad and Cairo as great cities of the Islamic world. It was ultimately destroyed, and its citizens systematically slaughtered by Tlui, the most brutal of Chinggis Khan’s sons in 1221.

It’s WH-listed and Turkmenistan’s most important historical site, with some unique architecture.

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Some very friendly Turkmen people and what the ladies typically wear.

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It was peak season for cutting and gathering forage - with quaint implements.

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Approaching the Uzbekistan border in NE Turkmenistan. The border is a river, so agriculture was common. Cotton starting to flower – patchily. Rice.

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The border crossing was administratively not difficult. The real difficulty was that there was a lengthy no-man’s-land that was serviced by a single beaten-up van as a taxi that was overwhelmed. We crammed into two trips. Then another less beaten-up van, in which I snared 1K, to exit. All part of the fun.

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The first stop in Uzbekistan, arriving late in the day, was Bukhara. It was regarded as Central Asia’s religious and cultural heart in the 9-10th centuries, and a major city on the Silk Road. A walk after dinner to take in some of the sights on the pleasant warm evening was suitably mind-blowing.

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The Kalon Minaret (1127 CE) is just astoundingly beautiful – particularly at night with modern floodlighting. I’ve seen the odd minaret or two, but this one captivated me. Even Chinggis Khan ordered it spared from his plundering hordes.

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Roaming around the sights of Bukhara the next day. There is plenty to see and I’ve forgotten details of some of the buildings – mausoleums, madrassas, covered markets, museums. A lot of WH-listed places.

Lyabi-Hauz is the plaza built around a pool (the ’hauz’) in 1620. Our hotel (amongst several) was opposite this and I’d suggest anyone going to Bukhara stay in that area. It’s walking distance to many sights.

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To the Ark – which was a town within a town, and very large. Only a relatively small part of it has been restored.

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Next morning, before leaving Bukhara, we visited quaint Chor-Minor which was the gatehouse of a long-gone madrassa. Then it was out of town to the last emir’s (1912-1918) summer palace before the drive to Samarkand.

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Along the road to Samarkand, a stop at a caravanserai ruin and a dome-covered well on the other side of the road.

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Then onwards to our digs for two nights in Samarkand and just along the road the Gur-e-Amir Mausoleum (14-15th centuries), the final resting place of Timur (Tamerlane).

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After dinner, it was over to the famous Registan. It was being set up for a major music festival. The upside was the laser light show came on for a rehearsal of the lighting; the downside some areas were fenced off. Rooy and I then walked back to the hotel past Tamir’s tomb to catch it lit up at night.

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The next day was full of sightseeing in Samarkand – generally viewed as the most famous of the Silk Road cities.

First, Ulugbeks’s Observatory. Dating from the 15th century, it is one of the great archaeological finds of the 20th century. Ulugbek was probably more famous as an astronomer than as a ruler. The 30m quadrant, designed to observe star positions, was part of a three-storey observatory built in the 1420s, but all that remains is the instrument’s huge curved track, unearthed in 1908.

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Next morning, we left Samarkand and headed S, the destination for the next two nights being Termez, very close to the Afghanistan border. First stop was Shakhrisabz, Timur’s birthplace in 1336. He turned the town into an extended family monument.

It’s WH-listed but is now listed as ‘WH in danger’, owing to the large-scale ‘beautification’ works that have left the major historical sites marooned in vast plazas and parks. Things like the ancient bazaar have been bulldozed, leaving the remaining monuments looking rather sterile. It’s possible that the WH-listing will be revoked.

We were there on a Sunday and it was massively popular for weddings.

We then pressed on, arriving in Termez late in the day.

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