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Life in Ashgabat, Turkmenistan

Updated on December 20, 2012

Life in Turkmenistan

I work in a travel agency. I do not travel that much as I would like to and often ask my clients and tourists about places they visit. This hub is written based on the impressions of other people about Turkmenistan and how it looks like from the point of view of a foreigner. It isn`t a hub about the tourist attractions in Turkmenistan.

I believe you can find information about attractions elsewhere. One of the best writers I follow, UnnamedHarald, just wrote an interesting hub about one of the biggest attractions of Turkmenistan -the Gates of Hell. You can read it here : http://unnamedharald.hubpages.com/hub/Gates-Of-Hell

I should actually thank UnnamedHarald for writing this hub. He gave me the idea.

public domain
public domain

This country is full of contrasts.

Turkmenistan is one of the closest countries among all ex-USSR countries. Citizens of ALL countries need visa to come to Turkmenistan. It makes a simple travel to the country a very complicated event.

There are three ways to open visa – to get an invitation from a relative which lives there, to buy a trip in a travel agency or to make a transit visa for 5 days.

You should apply for a visa well in advance – 2-3 months prior to the planned trip. It is absolutely impossible to apply for a visa if you made a booking in hotel yourself. Only authorized travel agencies may submit your documents to a visa section of the embassy.Airport in Ashgabat is modern but there is no any information for passengers. People stay in crowds fearing not to border their plane. Another reason for a crowd – several control points. People, their passports and baggage are checked 5 times before they board the plane.

The buildings in the new city center are ultra modern, but empty. The city center has many fountains, the new streets are just wonderful yet there are no people walking around. Wide streets become absolutely empty in the evening.

There are no big shops or big malls. People go to a market to buy food. Shops can sell you expired food.

Local road police is strict and can fine you for beeping without reason. At the same time drivers violate traffic rules almost everywhere.

There are no benches under the trees and if you wish to have a rest on the lawn it can cause a serious trouble with police.

There are many restrictions which a foreigner must know. Smoking is prohibited everywhere, unless you are in your own apartment. You can not smoke outside too.

You cannot make any photos outside. If you make photos of buildings and streets policeman will approach you and order to hide the camera. If you insist on making photos police can take your camera away. Police and men in military uniform are almost everywhere near every monument and place of interest. They say the rate is 2 policeman to 1 civilian. The most interesting that they do not explain why you cannot make a photo. It is prohibited and that is it!

Monuments and portraits of Turkmenbashi are everywhere
Monuments and portraits of Turkmenbashi are everywhere
Streets become empty in the evening
Streets become empty in the evening

There is only one cellular operator is in Turkmenistan- «Altyn Asyr» («The Golden age»). There was another one Russian telecommunication company operating there till the 2010 but the government cancelled their license and half of the population lost their phone numbers just in one night.

Local railways operate only inside of the country. No trains go from Turkmenistan abroad.

Train tickets are extremely cheap. A trip from Ashgabat toTurkmen Abad which is around 700 kilometerswould cost you just around 4 USD.

The trains are new, comfortable and have air conditioning. By the way Turkmenistan is the only country of all ex-USSR countries which totally renewed their trains and bought absolutely new ones from China.

The trains are new but the traditions on the railway are still old. Your shoes may be stolen at night, service is far from desired and personnel may be rude to passengers.

Banks in Turkmenistan exchange USD only. No other foreign currency is accepted.

Russian language almost disappeared from the official documents. At the same time people in the cities often speak Russian. This is peculiar much more to the capital – Ashgabat than in other towns and cities.

All school children wear a uniform. Girls must have their hair weaved in braids. If their hair is short girls weave artificial hair in braids. Their uniform is of green color. Girls wear dresses with national ornament, boys, even small, wear suits with ties. Not only pupils wear national uniform. Teachers and students wear it as well. The only difference that after school color of the dress is changed from green to blue or red. Both sexes wear a skullcap.

All citizens of the country obtain absolutely free electricity, gas, and salt from the government. (One of my clients said that she pays 6 USD annually for electricity which is close to free).

Every driver can obtain monthly 160 liters of gasoline for free (this information was correct in 2010. Nowitcouldchange). It is usually more than enough to cover monthly necessity. If you need more you can buy it. The price is around 1.5 USD /5 liters of gasoline.

When a child is 16 parents in a wealthy families buy a car for a birthday present. But it is difficult to obtain a driver's license. Bribes, corruption and clan relations are so strong in this society that such a simple thing as to pass exams for a driving license means paying for a school + bribe in the amount of 1000usd for a man and 3000usd for a woman. In spring 2012 women were not allowed to pass exams to get a license at all. I thought is is an influence of a Muslim religion but was wrong. Most likely it was some legislative act of the local authorities. Nowadays woman have to go to United Arab Emirates to get their driving license.

Retirements are pretty good for the country but it is not good compared to other counties. Every family has 1-2 persons which usually go to work in Turkey or in Russia because often people can not find job in Turkmenistan.

People in villages live much worth than those who live in Ashgabat. Pretty often people in a rural area can`t afford milk, butter or meat. The main food of the poorest people is bread and tea.

In the suburbs of Ashgabat a “Path of health” was made. This path has a length of 27 km and it looks much more like a road with rails, lamps and bushes planted along it. I feel uneasy to call it the “path” it is much more a road or a “boulevard of health”. Not everyone is able to cover the distance but the idea of good health is supported by all presidents of Turkmenistan.

Entry fee to the museum is different for local people and for foreigners. If you have a camera – most likely you are a foreigner and pay 10 USD, without camera you may pretend to be a local person and pay only 1 USD (if you can speak Russian of course to cheat the cashier girl :).

It is difficult to cover all facts about Turkmenistan. The isolation of the country from the rest of the world is not good both for the economy and for the well-being of the population. The country has big natural recourses, but all of them are not enough for a development of the country with such generous free services to the population.

All photos are taken from public sources:

http://forum.awd.ru/viewtopic.php?f=633&t=59014

http://www.gazeta.ru/travel/2011/04/07_a_3577637.shtml

The "Path of Health"
The "Path of Health"
A road cafe
A road cafe
Ashgabat  city streets
Ashgabat city streets

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    • Pavlo Badovskyy profile image
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      Pavlo Badovskyi 4 years ago from Kyiv, Ukraine

      Glad to "see" you again. Thank you for a nice comment!

    • MargaritaEden profile image

      MargaritaEden 4 years ago from Oregon

      Pavlo, thank you for giving us such a wonderful tour of Ashgabad! I love the pictures too. My father been to this city, and he also was amazed with it's interesting customs and traditions, I still remember his stories about it.

    • Pavlo Badovskyy profile image
      Author

      Pavlo Badovskyi 4 years ago from Kyiv, Ukraine

      To MartieCoetser and Gypsy Rose Lee : I believe every country has some very specific features interesting to others. Glad you liked the hub!

    • Gypsy Rose Lee profile image

      Gypsy Rose Lee 4 years ago from Riga, Latvia

      Voted up and interesting. Sounds like a fascinating place where everything is well ordered. Great pics. Passing this on.

    • MartieCoetser profile image

      Martie Coetser 4 years ago from South Africa

      Thanks for this very interesting information about Ashgabat. Every country have its jackals in the grape-vine.

    • Pavlo Badovskyy profile image
      Author

      Pavlo Badovskyi 4 years ago from Kyiv, Ukraine

      Thank you for a comment !

    • teaches12345 profile image

      Dianna Mendez 4 years ago

      I like the idea of free gas and electricity, but don't think I can survive without a mall. Such a very interesting country. THank you for the education.

    • Mike Robbers profile image

      Mike Robbers 4 years ago from London

      Fascinating hub about a place we don't really know that much. You did a great job Pavlo. Voted up and shared.

    • Pavlo Badovskyy profile image
      Author

      Pavlo Badovskyi 4 years ago from Kyiv, Ukraine

      I am glad you liked it! Thank you fo sharing it with yoour followers!

    • TToombs08 profile image

      Terrye Toombs 4 years ago from Somewhere between Heaven and Hell without a road map.

      Excellent information and very well presented, Pavlo! I now have a new destination to add to my bucket list. Thank you! :) Voted up and shared a couple of places. ;)

    • Pavlo Badovskyy profile image
      Author

      Pavlo Badovskyi 4 years ago from Kyiv, Ukraine

      It is OK about late comment :) I do not mind. Glad you liked it. In fact it was interesting to WRITE this hub. I digged a little bit in the net looking for those who also visited the country and I was surprised myself how much contrast there is in this country.

    • UnnamedHarald profile image

      David Hunt 4 years ago from Cedar Rapids, Iowa

      This is a great article, Pavlo! Turkmenistan is definitely a land of contrasts-- at first it sounded a bit like a sloppy North Korea, but free electricity, etc? The land looks beautiful-- your images are also terrific. You've given lots of useful, every day type of information. And many thanks for your kind words. I would have read this earlier but, again HubPages didn't notify me of your Hub and I had to go searching when I realized I hadn't read anything from you lately. Voted up, awesome, interesting.

    • Pavlo Badovskyy profile image
      Author

      Pavlo Badovskyi 4 years ago from Kyiv, Ukraine

      to rajan jolly and aethelthryth : THANK you for a comment. There is a strange thing about this country. You both have never heard about this info while Rajan is in the East and Audrey is in the West :) It shows just again how diferent our worlds are!

      If I ever travel to East I will take a flight by Turkmenistan airlines. As a specialist in the airline tickets, I can bet that they give the best prices with transfer in Ashgabat.

      Audrey, you gave me a good idea to write about ex Soviet republics and their independent way of development. I have plenty of info about it here.

    • aethelthryth profile image

      aethelthryth 4 years ago from American Southwest

      I was in Turkey once and would love to visit the other Turkic countries, especially since they all seem to speak some combination of Turkish and Russian, and I can speak Russian almost as badly as I speak Turkish!

      I would be interested to read more articles like this, especially about parts of the world like this that are not well known, at least in the West.

    • rajan jolly profile image

      Rajan Singh Jolly 4 years ago from From Mumbai, presently in Jalandhar,INDIA.

      Some very interesting information here about a country I have no idea about. It is both fascinating and painful to read about a country that has immaculate infrastructure but people do not move out as evening falls. Strange that in spite of the corruption in the country, things like electricity, gas and salt is given free by the government.

      The pictures are awesome.

      It should be a fascinating experience, though stifling at times, to visit this country. Thanks for sharing this unique information, Pavlo.

      Voted up and interesting.

    • Pavlo Badovskyy profile image
      Author

      Pavlo Badovskyi 4 years ago from Kyiv, Ukraine

      This country is really so special. I believe the government could use its authenticity as an attraction for tourists. Of course people come there to see the country but the number of tourists could be trippled if the country had a policy of "opene doors".

    • xstatic profile image

      Jim Higgins 4 years ago from Eugene, Oregon

      What a strange and regimented place it is. Every time it comes up in the news, I wonder about it and its name too. You have given us am interesting sketch and good photos too of a place we know little about.

    • Pavlo Badovskyy profile image
      Author

      Pavlo Badovskyi 4 years ago from Kyiv, Ukraine

      You are so welcome! Glad you liked it. I guess any country can be interesting. It depends which angle you choose to look. A country without problems can hardly be found. The other thing is how easy for local people to handle with these problems and how the state can help with it. Thank you for a comment!

    • RTalloni profile image

      RTalloni 4 years ago from the short journey

      An interesting read. I tried to set aside my USA perspective and read it from yours. Of course, the circumstances people there live under are still very difficult for us to grasp. You've touched on some thought-provoking points that it is important for Americans to consider. Your country side photos are quite beautiful. Thanks for this look at Ashgabat.

    • Pavlo Badovskyy profile image
      Author

      Pavlo Badovskyi 4 years ago from Kyiv, Ukraine

      Your comments shows how much ignorant I am supposing it is a islam prohibiting woman having a licence. I am sorry, and will change it. THank you very much for a valuable comment!

    • agusfanani profile image

      agusfanani 4 years ago from Indonesia

      An interesting hub with beautiful pictures. I've never known this country until I read this hub. As long as I know Islam doesn't prohibit women to drive and get driver's license just like what happen in my country. So, I think the prohibition is due to local or cultural norms. Vote up this hub !

    • Pavlo Badovskyy profile image
      Author

      Pavlo Badovskyi 4 years ago from Kyiv, Ukraine

      Hi. Thank you for commenting! I would like to visit this country. It would be a very unusual experience. Like many other people I also like to visit other places :)

    • The Dirt Farmer profile image

      Jill Spencer 4 years ago from United States

      An interesting article and concept--building your hub from the first-hand experiences of your clients. Not sure I'd want to visit Ashgabat. It sounds a bit joyless.

    • Pavlo Badovskyy profile image
      Author

      Pavlo Badovskyi 4 years ago from Kyiv, Ukraine

      Thank you for a comment! Glad it was interesting for you.

    • grand old lady profile image

      Mona Sabalones Gonzalez 4 years ago from Philippines

      What a very interesting article. I love the fact that it's not your typical touristy type of piece. My sister stayed in Ashgabat for awhile but she didn't tell me anything like this. Instead she talked of taking a mud bath and shopping, including buying me a lovely dress. I will send it to her and ask her to comment on it. Thank you for sharing:)