March 19, 2004 - April 03,2004

Day 01   Friday March 19, 2004
Arrive at Ashkabad, Turkmenistan
Submitted by  Bob & Carol Okano 


       Turkmen village Life                          Parthian Ruler                     Ahal Teke Horse                      Turkmen Old Man                              Ashkabad Sunday Market

Four members of the group arrived two days early to help us adjust to the thirteen-hour time difference from the Pacific coast.  Yesterday we walked around the area of the government buildings and presidential palace that were a few blocks from Hotel Nissa.  We had our first encounters with the every-present guards.  If we raised our cameras and they didnít want us to take pictures of buildings, especially of the presidential palace, they would wave their sticks at us. 

Today, Musa, the local guide for the tour has arranged to take us to the archaeological site of the old city of Nissa, 15 kilometers from Ashgabad.  Nissa was an important city of large beautiful buildings of the Parthian Empire. Architects and artists of the Greek school were influential in building the city.  It is estimated to have been in existence during the second and third centuries BC.  This city of about 322 acres is located on a hilltop at the foothills of the Kopet Dag mountains.  Parts of the old city wall are visible from the approach to the site.

The sites we visited in  Turkmenistan

The main excavations are of a concentration of larger buildings. Of particular interest is the construction of the columns used to support the buildings.  A few original columns are visible and reconstructions have been done to show their full makeup.  The archaeologists have covered some smaller areas with dirt to preserve them from further deterioration. Significant finds such as beautifully decorated rythons are now housed in the National History Museum in Ashgabad.  Near the Nissa site we noticed some type of construction that zig-zagged up the nearby foothills.  What we thought might be an oil pipeline was a hiking trail that included many stairs on the steep hillside.  The government is improving recreational facilities to encourage people to enjoy the outdoors.

We took a drive into a gorge of the Kopet Dag mountains until we could go no further because of a road closure.  As we ascended into the mountains the terrain became very dry and rocky and natural vegetation appeared to grow only the banks of small rivers or streams. 

We visited the large modern mosque at Geok Tepe that commemorates the bloody battle between the Russians and Turkmen in 1881.  Friday services were in progress.  Near the front of the mosque we noticed prayer rugs of varying designs on the floor.  They had been donated by people.  The ceiling and dome were painted white with simple designs and the walls were faced with tiles depicting the five basic Turkmen carpet designs.

After we returned to the hotel a couple of us visited the Russian Market that was located two blocks from the Arch of Neutrality.  A two-story building of shops enclosed a large covered area on three sides.  The covered area appeared to be somewhat organized in that one area contained refrigerated cases of sausages, cured meats and fresh chicken, another a large bakery area with many fancy decorated cakes, area for produce, area of hot prepared food, and so forth.  There was a separate room for fresh meat that did not appear to be refrigerated. We didnít spend much time in the stalls outside the main building because it was very crowded.    

We returned to the hotel by way of Leninís statue, the only one remaining in the city from the original thirty or so.  The statue stands on an elaborately tiled, high pedestal with Lenin in a typical pointing pose.

Dinner at the hotel was the official start of the tour. 

Pictures below are submitted by Carol and Bob Okano

Gok Tepe


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