It was the morning of my border crossing into Turkmenistan, the last ‘stan’ of my Silk Road travels. I was leaving the dazzling blue tiled cities of Uzbekistan behind to head to the land of dictators, bizarre architecture, and one of the strangest countries in the world!
My guesthouse in Bukhara had arranged a taxi for me to Farab on the Turkmenistan border and it took about an hour to reach the border. Just as I arrived so did a group of five Swedish tourists. I was really happy to see some fellow travellers as it meant I would be doing the border crossing into Turkmenistan completely on my own.
While declaring what cash I was carrying out of the country and getting my medications ready for inspection by the Uzbek customs officials I got chatting to the Swedish about their travel plans. They were entering Turkmenistan with their own your guide and were surprised to learn I was travelling into this unusual country on my own. They were even more surprised when I explained I had no transport waiting for me at the border and I was hoping a taxi would be waiting. Lovely, kind and slightly worried they offered me a lift to our next destination, Mary, if there was room in their car.
The Uzbeks weren’t interested in the cash I declared or my registration slips but they were interested in checking my medicines. That, thankfully, didn’t take long and soon I was stamped out of Uzbekistan. Seeing that stamp come crashing into my passport is always a relief when the country is so particular about their entry and exit requirements!
After leaving the building I walked through a road kind of area more for vehicles than pedestrians. At a large gate and fence a solider holding a big gun checked my passport – a typical encounter at border crossings in Central Asia.
I was now at the edge of no-man’s land and I waited for the Swedish here. When they arrived we took a minivan for 2000 som each through the no-man’s land to the actual Turkmenistan border. The Turkmen wouldn’t let us walk the no-mans land to their immigration and customs building even though it wasn’t too far. Probably because the narrow road was lined with semi-trailers and more trucks were passing them.
So after another minivan ride we arrived at Turkmenistan’s immigration and custom building. Inside was slightly disorganised and chaotic with lots of large local men milling around in very rough formed lines in a small room. The Swedish and I entered into the confusion, unclear of where or what to do.
After a little while it was indicated I should enter a room where a nurse waited inside. I thought she might take my temperature or something. Instead she gave me a form to fill in – it wasn’t in English. After another woman helped me fill it in I went back to the main area.
The confusion and disorganisation continued and after some time we worked out we had to pay USD12 to enter Turkmenistan. Once we had paid this and were issued a receipt we went back to another line. After some more waiting I was stamped into Turkmenistan! But before I could leave the customs officials wanted to search my bag. After pulling out a few things and having a rather cursory look they let me go.
I was finally in Turkmenistan!!
The Swedish group did have room in their car so I left with them. As it turned out they were stopping at the ruins of Merv on their way to Mary. Perfect! I’d been planning on visiting Merv the next day and I would’ve needed to find a taxi/car to take me and drive me around. Now I’d I saved a day, and potentially a lot of hassle!!
Merv, once known as the Queen of the World, was one of the great Islamic cities of the ancient world comparable to Damascus, Cairo and Baghdad. It was also the oldest and most preserved of the oasis cities along the Silk Road. Today it stands in barely discernible ruins.
Across a large flat expanse stand the remains of mud-brick fortresses, restored mausoleums and the bizarre Erk Kala, a hug earthen circle-type fortification like structure.
Whilst the ruins weren’t necessarily beautiful or impressive the scale of the ancient city was absolutely clear. It was huge and Merv was clearly home to many, many people at one in time.
As evening approached our tour of Merv concluded and we headed to Mary. The hotel in Mary where the Swedish were staying was completely full so I took a taxi across town to a hotel listed in the Lonely Planet, Hotel Yrsgal. It was now dark outside and I was tired after a long day so I was extremely happy to hear they had a room available. Time to rest and prepare for the next’s day journey to Ashgabat, the capital of Turkmenistan.
Next Post……..Ashgabat, The Weirdest City in the World
I stayed at Hotel Yrsgal in Mary for USD50 a night including breakfast. My room was a simple, smallish but functional room with my own bathroom. The staff spoke some basic English and the hotel is close to the train station and where shared taxis leave for Ashgabat.
When leaving Uzbekistan it’s important to note that Uzbekistan requires all travellers to declare how much money they are bringing into the country. When you leave the country you need to to declare all the money you have on you again. You cannot have more money with you when you exit Uzbekistan than when you entered.
Uzbekistan also requires tourists and travellers to register your stay. Hotels licensed to take foreigners will automatically register you and provide a registration slip. You are technically required to have registration slips for your entire stay and may be asked to produce these when exiting the country.
For more helpful tips and helpful information, particularly in relation to entry and exit requirements and border crossings, I recommend http://caravanistan.com