Turkmenistan is a sovereign state in Central Asia. It was formerly known as Turkmenia. The country has a population of about 5.6 million, making it one of the least populous and sparsely populated states in Asia. The state was annexed by Russia in 1881 and consequently became part of the Soviet Union in 1925 as the Turkmen Soviet Socialist Republic. It declared independence after the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991.
Least Visited State
Turkmenistan is among the world's least visited destinations. Although reliable numbers are not readily available, it is estimated that less than 15,000 people visit the country annually. There is no shortage of natural beauty and places to visit in Turkmenistan, but a shrewd visa regime hinders the growth of the tourism sector
Turkmenistan is Largely a Desert
The desert landscape is the prominent feature in Turkmenistan. About 70% of the state is covered by hot and dry climate including the expansive Karakum Desert. It is remarkable to imagine that millions of years ago the country was covered by a sea. Remnants of aquatic life such as sea fossils are found all over the deserts.
The Darvaza Gas Crater is Man-made
The Darvaza Gas Crater is among the popular tourist attraction sites in the country. The crater burns continuously in the desert, creating the impression of the gates of hell. The view is awe-inspiring at night as the flames light up against the pitch darkness of the desert. Although the crater looks like a natural feature, it is a result of drilling by Soviet geologists in the early 1970s. During the drilling, their equipment, including heavy machines fell into the crater, and natural gas began escaping. The geologists lit a fire imagining that it would burn for a couple of days. Nearly half a century later, the fire is still burning.
Turkmenistan also has Silk Roads
The Silk Road sights of Turkmenistan might not be as popular as those of its neighbor, Uzbekistan, but they are still impressive, authentic, unique, and undisturbed. The roads provide an in-depth history of the role of the region during the Silk Road era between the early 8th and late 13th centuries.
Turkmen are descendants of the ancient Oghuz communities that migrated to the region around the seventh century. Modern Turkmen continue to associate themselves with the five original clans. The telpek is an ancient wears that has eluded the test of time to remain relevant. The garment is made of sheepskin and is worn on the head to resemble a turban.
Ashgabat, the White City
The capital city of Turkmenistan, Ashgabat, resembles a blend of Pyongyang and Las Vegas due to its fountains, boulevards, statues, and white buildings. During a sunny day, the city center shines glamorously due to the white marble. So much white marble was used in Ashgabat that it holds the Guinness World Record for having the highest density of marble buildings.
The Favorite Dish in Turkmenistan is Plov
Plov is the favorite dish in the country. It is composed of rice, carrot, meat and lots of spices cooked in a large plan. It is popular across the entire country and is a must-have dish at every event from family picnics to weddings and social gatherings. It is a cultural sign of appreciation for a family to offer guests a plate of plov whenever they visit.
A Melon Holiday
It is nearly incomprehensible that a desert place can produce melon, but some of the best melons in the world are grown in Turkmenistan. The melons of Turkmenistan are so sweet and revered that they are recognized by a national holiday. During the second Sunday of August every year, every person in the country is advised to eat melons grown in the country.
Turkmenistan president Saparmurat Niyazov (1991-2006) passed unusual laws during his term in the pretext of preserving ancient Turkmen culture. One of the contentious laws outlaws gold teeth, opera, and spandex. The presidents passed other laws just because he had the power to do so; for example, he named the days of the week after his immediate family members. In January 2018, the president banned black vehicles in the city because he associates black with bad luck.
Turkmenistan is one of the most censored countries. It is so hard to legally get to the county that smuggling cartels are a better option for many. In 2017, the World Press Freedom Index ranked 178th of 180 countries, just below Eritrea and North Korea.