Saturday 25 to Sunday 26 October
Konye-Urgench is the twin city of Urgench in Uzbekistan and another important crossroad in the Silk Road. It is actually a huge site with a few buildings in various states of decline.
Konye-Urgench suffered much destruction from Ghengis Khan in the 13th century and again after it was rebuilt by Timur in the 14th century.
The city was finally abandoned when the Amu-Darya River’s course changed soon after Timur’s destruction. Water is such a vital ingredient for life in the Central Asian landscape.
Darvaza – the extraordinary gas crater in the Karakum desert about 260km north of Ashgabat is man made and burning for years. Wikipedia tells you that the gas crater was lit by Soviet engineers in 1971, however our knowledgable guide Oleg told us that a local shepherd rolled a burning tyre into it hoping that it would burn away the pungent fumes that were making the local villagers feel nauseated.
Whichever story you like to believe, the crater has been burning since the early 70’s, fed by natural gas and has now become a tourist site.
There are no tourist facilities, visitors either arrive by train for a quick look-see or camp there. Oleg brought food, vodka, tents and sleeping bags for us. Toiletting was behind a scrubby bush.
But it is on the must see list for Turkmenistan.
We were also taken to two more craters, one with bubbling mud and the other with water, to show us that the collapse of the land which created the craters was due to karsts or sinkholes in the area.
It was no fun driving there. The roads from Konye-Urgench to Ashgabat via the Darvaza crater are horrendous. Most of them are littered with pot holes a car could fall into, in fact most drivers choose to travel on the sandy verge as it is a smoother ride.
To highlight the extremities of life in Ashgabat, we stopped off at a small village on its outskirts called Erbent. It was already freezing cold and snow was imminent. Villagers had prepared corrals of branches to keep the animals warm. Camels are important to the local people for transport, milk and meat.
And the last stop was for Oleg to clean the car after the desert trek. It is illegal to drive a dirty car into Ashgabat!