The wonderful roads around Ashgabat soon ran out and we spent many, many hours driving on bumpy, dusty, pot-holed roads. It turned out to be like this for a number of weeks, all the way through Uzbekistan and beyond. We weren’t to experience smooth tarmac for any great length of time until we entered China.
Eight weeks previously I had undergone significant abdominal surgery. I still had a gut full of internal stitches and the bumpy roads for weeks on end caused me significant discomfort. But there was little I could do about it, I was still happy to be there. Bumping along. Day after day, after day.
We asked our Turkmen guide/minder how come the roads around Ashgabat were in such excellent condition yet outside of the city, they soon deteriorate. Apparently they’re ‘too hard to maintain in the heat’. Erm…Turkmenistan is the hottest country in Central Asia – all of the country is hot. It seemed to me that this was yet another example of significant resources poured into maintaining Ashgabat as the ‘super city’ at the expense of the rest of the country – and its people.
We drover further into the Karakum Desert and pitched our site. As the sun set, there was the beginning of a bit of respite from the heat. Once we had all done our chores – setting up camp, fire, water, cooking, washing up and having put up our tents – we set off in a 4 x 4 to reach the Darvaza Crater, and what a magnificent sight it is.
The crater was created when the Soviets were digging for gas. The rigging collapsed in and the crater was formed. Poisonous gas began to be released and as a way to control it they lit the gas, thinking it would burn out in a couple of weeks. That was 43 years ago, and as you can see, it’s still going strong. Very strong.
The heat and noise is incredible. It hisses and crackles and roars. Yet you can peer right into it. Care is needed at the edges though, it can crumble and of course, there’s no safety rail. You’d never be able to get this close to something so wonderful in the UK. We’d probably put warning signs up telling us not to touch either, as it’s a wee bit hot.
Since visiting the crater I’ve heard (sorry, can’t remember the source) that the Turkmenistan Government is considering turning the area into a theme park. I wouldn’t put it past them, but feel it would be a huge shame as part of its charm is that it’s just there, in the middle of a fantastic desert with hardly anyone else around. And certainly no buildings…or gold statues of presidents past.
Photo credit: all photos are mine, except the ‘odyssey’ picture in the header. I was the first S in the picture and it was photographed by a member of the Odyssey team.