We set off early this morning to get to the border between Iran and Turkmenistan. The first 130 kms was fast and easy along good roads. We took this opportunity to fuel up before the border and for Team Quokkastan to buy engine oil to service their car later in the trip.
The last 50 kms were very mountainous, a winding steep drive into the bare, spectacularly scenic, mountain range on the border.
We eventually reached Bajgiran, a small town that exists only to support the border crossing. It was very quite apart from a busload to Turkmen women in their colourful dress crossing the border after shopping on the Iranian side. It was great to see colourful, women again.
The processing out of Iran took about 90 minutes. The main process involved the cars, checking the carnet,which is the car passport, confirming the VIN and Engine numbers, sending sniffer dogs around the cars checking for drugs. They were thinking about X-raying all our cases and supplies, but luckily reneged and we were spared that tedious process. They were all very curious about our trip. The map on the car draws a lot of attention. We then said goodbye to our guide, Arman, who had taken us around Iran for the last week. He was great and made the trip easy.
We drove through the gate onto Turkmen territory, where a young army conscript directed us to park next to some large buildings. The Visa process was relatively fast. We were granted a 5 day transit visa and it was pointed out to us that we had a specific route we needed to take. Any deviation from this would incur “penalty!”. This was repeated many times.
The border crossing was very quiet. We were the only cars being processed.
We then processed through 10 different offices in total, details painstakingly written in large ledgers. Multiple rubber stamps, 2 to 3 per office. Move to next office, pay fee, move to next, more forms, more rubber stamps, another fee. At the end of 4 hours we had the stamps, we had the receipts, we were waved off only to travel 20 metres and be called back. One step in process was missed. Again, more documents, and then finally we were off.
The weather was hot as we descended through even more spectacular scenery through 40 kms of no-mans land, both sides of road lined with barbed wire. Cameras on top of hills. In the distance we suddenly spotted the white city of Ashgabat. Wow!
We turned a corner only to confront a large barrier across the road, manned by the army. A final document check. They saw my camera on the dash. I had to erase all photos taken since the border. More writing of our details in ledgers. Then up went the barriers and after a few minutes we entered this amazing city.
In the day, it is a sea of white marble buildings, all separated from one another by beautifully manicured gardens. There are gleaming gold domes, acres of perfect parkland. Wide, straight boulevards. Orderly traffic of gleaming new cars, most of them Toyotas and Lexus
A perfect artificial looking place. Each building trying to outdo the other in whiteness and marble. In the distance we finally saw the hotel we were looking for, the Sofitel Oguzkent, described in Lonely Planet as Central Asia’s most impressive place to stay.
As we arrived, we drove past tumbling waterfalls and fountains up the huge winding driveway to stop under a 4 storey portico. Then, approaching huge gold handled doors, they opened automatically to welcome us into an enormous cool, fountain-enhanced, multi storey atrium. Luckily they had room for us, as we had no reservations. We doubt more than a dozen people are staying in this hotel.
After cooling down, showering and settling in, we had a taxi take us to a Turkmen restaurant recommended by the concierge. An important point being it had beer! We have had a week in Iran remember!
After a short ride we arrived, only to be guided into our own yurt, lavishly decorated and air-conditioned (aren’t they all?)
After blindly selecting a variety of dishes with the help of one of the waitresses, who had a little english, we had that first beer! God it was good!
Each course was a surprise, sometimes good. We decided to try some local wine, first a Turkmen one and then a Russian cabernet. Not good choices, we might stick to the beer here.
Driving back to the hotel, the town was like Las Vegas. All lit up and bright and brash. It really is a unique city.
A driving exploration of the city tomorrow as there are hardly any people on the footpaths and the buildings are too far apart.
Then thee night will be spent at the gas crater 400 km to the north.
C-YA Andrew and Jeff
Mongolia Charity Rally 2015