A Desert of Fire and Monuments

Dasoguz (Turkmenistan), 27.05.2013

To escape the craziness of this absurd and unfree country, from Ashgabat we drove north towards the Uzbek border. The road was better until Derwaza, the destination of yesterday’s afternoon, but I did a mistake reading the map and calculated the trip 100km too short. Also, the paranoia in this country and the third person with us all the time creates a lot of tension. In the desert the daylight lasted until 21:00, shortly before we arrived, and we drove silently for hours through dunes, flat steppe, met occasional camel herds and few cars and trucks on the road. The light from 19:00 to 21:00 was truly spectacular as the sun slowly disappeared and the night took over. A very special sight that only deserts and steppes can offer.

Shortly after 21:30 we reached Derwaza, where a jeep was waiting for us at the side of the road. We followed it for 6,5km through the dunes off the right side of the road and had a chance to try the Range Rover’s sand program for off road driving. And then suddenly it appeared in the dark night, the gas crater. I had found this place researching online many months ago. In 1973 the Russians found a gas field in the desert here but thought it was too small and they better burn it off, it would last only a few days. It is still burning today. The sight is absolutely stunning at night. You see the light of the fire in the darkness of the desert from afar, but only on the last meters you realise what it is. Imagine an enormous gas stove lit at full force. As you approach you can smell the gas, the air gets very hot if you happen to stand in the wind. And then suddenly you see the crater and the earth is burning in it. The gas comes out of the ground some meters under the surface layers and burns, in flames big and small. We walked around the crater fascinated by the sight, silently taking pictures and staring at the fire.

At the crater we met Jason, a Californian traveling through Central Asia, and started chatting, exchanging information ad experiences. We all had dinner together, the two guides, Jason and us. We had bought food in Ashgabat, the desert guide made fire (not with crater gas but with wood), and under a deep blue sky full of stars, the light of the gas crater on one side and of the orange coloured fat round moon we barbecued chicken, tomatoes, peppers, eggplant, bread. Our BBQ sauces from the Madrid household added a familiar taste and we ate, drank and talked a lot before going to sleep, exhausted.

DSC_0348 DSC_0346The next morning the sun rose at 06:00 and we slowly woke up, made breakfast and packed. The crater was still burning, and the dunes still impressive as we drove back to the main road. The road got horrible literally from the place we left it yesterday onwards. As we headed further north, driving became painful. For km the dusty track at the side of what maybe once was a tar road was less bad and we drove on it slowly, at 20-30km/h, leaving a huge cloud of dust behind us. The hours went by and the road didn’t improve. The only thing missing here to make the disaster complete would have been the police checks, but I guessed even these guys have understood they can’t fine people for speeding and driving in dirty cars here, where even the craziest Turkmen cars don’t exceed 70km/h and dust covers cars, trucks, road, everything. After 5,5h we reached Köneurgench, a Unesco listed site close to the Uzbek border. On an extensive burial ground in the desert stood various amazing buildings, particularly a mosque with a dome impressively decorated with mosaics. And that was only what is left today, you could still see the entire building was once covered with decorations inside and outside. The pigeons have worked hard to destroy what the centuries could not achieve so far. The other famous site here was a minaret, 62m high, also here the blue tiled decoration was almost entirely missing and the last 2m of the construction were lost a long time ago. We walked through the site under the sun, the wind kept us from burning but dried us up quickly.

We were exhausted and dirty as we reached Dasoguz, the border town, at 18:00. Time for a shower, prepare Uzbekistan, chill. Tomorrow morning our next border is waiting for us. We can’t wait to escape Absurdistan, eehh sorry Turkmenistan. The craziness of this place is driving us mad.

DSC_0368
Trip data (Day/Total) 26.05.
– Km driven: 366/?
– Hrs on the road: approx 3,5h/-
– Diesel l/100km: 9,7/? (0,58 new Manat/l diesel / 0,16€)

27.05.
– Km driven: 359/?
– Hrs on the road: approx 9,5h/-
– Diesel l/100km: 8,7?

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