After one month in Iran it was time for us to leave this remarkable country and move on to a new a cultural area, a new adventure, and on the 31st of July we crossed the border to Turkmenistan – after we finally found the anything but eye-catching border station in the middle of the dessert. For the first time in this trip the border crossing took some hours, especially because the Iranian customs officer took their time to go through all our luggage and pictures (with particular interest in Martina’s photos in the chador – “so much more beautiful!”). And after showing our passports to literally every man in a uniform in the short no-man’s-land, getting a stamp from every counter clerk and convincing the customs officers that we really don’t have a copy of “Mein Kampf” or any terror movies, we finally set foot on Turkmenistan ground.
When reaching Mary, a city with real post-Soviet charm and the first stage on our transit route, we directly sensed the difference in the general atmosphere compared to Iran: women were finally showing their beauty wearing colorful, form-fitting dresses (quite a relief after all this black chador monotony) and elaborately pinned-up headscarves that looked like multicolored beehives and people on the streets were in general more relaxed with tourists, so that we no longer felt like some exotic zoo animals.
But on the other hand we also experienced that police presence is still strong: when starting a conversation with a random guy at a bus terminal, it didn’t take long until a police officer politely but vehemently pulled him away in the middle of the sentence and made clear that any further interaction between locals and us foreigners is undesired. This might be a remnant of the old Soviet era or a sign for the still totalitarian regime, which had his origin in the bizarre dictatorship of ’Turkmenbashi’, who covered this little-known desert republic with golden statues of himself and grandiose monuments to the achievements of his ‘golden age’.
Since we just had three days before we had to head on to Uzbekistan, we didn’t have the chance to see much of the country’s natural beauty or ancient traditions, but therefor we saw some pretty expensive yet extremely dilapidated hotel rooms and a lot of dead-straight roads leading through dry, completely deserted regions. This might be a reason why Turkmenistan won’t achieve a place on our favorite list, but at least the local Samosas were delicious 🙂