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The Travel Journal of Jacqui and Lars


Turkmenistan - 5 September, 2002



Location Latitude Longitude Elevation

Travel Distance

Start Konye-Urgench (Korean farm hostel) N4220.854' E05910.522' 74 meters .
-  Tour Konye-Urgench ruins . . . .
Shasenem Fort . . . .
Finish Bush camp north of Darvaza, Karakum Desert N4057.277' E05828.494' 64 meters

200 km

Total Leg 2:

1,747 km

Total Leg 1:

3,018 km

Grand Total:

4,765 km


Weather: Clear, sunny, windy and very hot (>40C).  Cool/cold at night.



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We have to get up early this morning to prepare breakfast off the truck for the group.  We are out at the truck just after 6 AM cooking up Spanish omelet and toast.  After breakfast we load up the truck and head for the ruins of Konye-Urgench, first making a stop to pick up some fresh bread from the local market.  It is a busy market this morning and there are lots of colorful people there, in particular the older men in their traditional dress.  We also find a bakery for some fresh baked loaves, heading into the back where the stoves are to get the bread fresh out of the ovens.


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The ancient state of Khorezm had its peak at Khonye-Urgench, which became the center of the Muslim world in the 12th century.  Its downfall came when Mohammed II, a man who thought of himself as a second Alexander the Great, shunned an offer of trade accompanied by lavish gifts from none other than Jenghiz Khan and eventually killed 450 merchants traveling from Jenghiz Khan's territory.  Revenge was swift.  Within two years, Mongol armies had sacked Samarkand, Bukhara, Khonye-Urgench and Otyrar and massacred all their people.


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Konye -Urgench was rebuilt, only to be sacked five more times by Timur.  The final blow came after the 16th century when the Amu-Darya changed course, literally drying up the city.  From the ruins that you can view, what is not here is almost more impressive than what is here.  It can only give you an idea of what the city must have been like.  It also highlights the sheer destructive capacity of the armies of Jenghiz Khan and Timur.


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Our first stop is at the Turabeg Khanym mausoleum built in the 14th century.  It is an awesome building, even in its state of destruction and disrepair after so many years.  It is supposed to have been one of Central Asia's most perfect buildings.  We are told that it's geometric patterns are in effect a giant calendar that show man's insignificance in the march of time.  The mosaics are fantastic and we are there at a time when the suns rays shot through one of the windows illumination the interior in a mystical way.


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We then cross the road to the other side to the 19th century Sayid Ahmed mausoleum where the Kutlug Timur minaret stands.  The minaret is all that remains of the city's original main mosque, even though excavations have unearthed certain parts of the old mosque.  The minaret is awesome.  What is left is 67 meters high, but we can only guess what the original height was.  It looks impossibly thin for its height and with its noticeable lean appears that it may fall down at any time.  It serves as light house, beacon, watch tower and a place to call people to prayer.


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As we walked along, we passed by hundreds of graves, many fairly recent.  The entire area is considered sacred and people have been buried here.  Most of the grave sites have ladders, either still standing or fallen over.  The ladders are provided so that the deceased has a means to climb to heaven.  When the ladder falls down, that is when the soul has departed and gone on.


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The next stop is at the Sultan Tekesh mausoleum, who died in 1200.  It has a conical dome with an interesting brick zigzag pattern.  We carry on walking through the desolate, hot expanse to the Il-Arslan mausoleum, the areas oldest standing monument.  It also has a conical dome, this time with 12 faces.  Nearby is the base of the Mamun minaret, reduced to a stump by the Mongols.  As we walk along, we pass a group of ladies - they say hello and are happy to pose for a photo.  We finished off our tour at the Portal of the Palace of Khorezm Shakhp, where the truck is waiting to pick us up.


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We then turn south and head into the Karakum Desert, which becomes clear as the greenery from the irrigated fields gives way to the dusty, dry desert sands.  At first the roads are good, but once we pass the palace of the President Turkmenbashi (more on him later) it quickly deteriorates to a very bumpy, bouncy and dusty ride.  We drive south for about an hour and a half and then stop at the ruins of the Shasenem Fort.  The ruins of the fort are set high up on an artificial platform that can be seen from a great distance.  After we prepare and pack away lunch, we go and explore the ruins.  All that remains are weather worn thick walls and some faint lines of of the original entrance.  As we are about to leave, a big dust devil puts on a show for us, wandering across the desert floor.  As we drive away, another dust devil appears and crosses the road just as we drive by that spot, filling the truck with a dusty cloud as we franticly try to close the windows.


We pass through a number of check points - what a god-awful place to serve your time in the police force or army. Every once in a while we drive off the road and continue cross country.  The open desert is smoother than the road.  But we do have to be careful to make sure that we do not hit a soft patch of sand and get stuck.


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We drive until 5:30 PM, when we turn off the road in search of a good bush camp for the night.  We find a nice spot in a gully cut off from the road and set up camp for the night.  A couple of us go off and dig the latrine.  We also collect whatever firewood we can. The drivers work on the truck - we have been through some dusty and sandy spots.


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After that we just hang out and enjoy the desert as dusk gives way to the night.


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Following a nice dinner, we build a nice fire and just hang around talking and looking up into the clear night sky.  We can also see the fire of another camp up on the ridge above us.  Who are they and what are they up to we wonder, as we throw even more wood onto our fire.  Nights like this are some of the best on trips like this.


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Our tent with the the clear view of the star filled sky is great on nights like this and we fall asleep looking up to the skies.


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