Epilogue: Race to the Uzbekistan Border.
Part 1 – Intro
Part 2 – Brief history
Part 3 – Visas & airport
Part 4 – Sightseeing in Ashgabat
Part 5 – People & police
Part 6 – Getting to the desert
Part 7 – Hiking to the gas crater
Part 8 – Escaping the desert
Part 9 – Crossing the border to Uzbekistan
The tragedy of a transit visa is you only have five days to explore this weird and wonderful land. Five days and then your amazing adventure is all over. You don’t have time to feel sad though, as you’re too busy rushing to the Uzbekistan border, slightly anxious about the consequences if you don’t make it across in time.
From Konye-Urgench, it’s simple enough to get there. You simply take a short taxi ride to the border post, where the staff are far too excited to have a foreigner visit them. At least one of the guards spoke decent English and all of them wanted to check our passports, apparently just for the novelty of doing so.
You have to have your baggage searched, answer a few questions and fill out a form. Though they’re not too strict on what you write. For “valuables” I was instructed to just put “tourist baggage x1”.
Once you’ve passed through Turkmenistan customs, you’ll have to walk across what seems like a mini-desert to get to the Uzbekistan side. Here they’re a lot more strict, serious and to be honest professional. As expected, you’ll have to fill in a form (properly this time), have your baggage scanned and answer a few questions. I was asked about an Italian book I had in my bag, to which I replied it was a novel. This being a Muslim country, I decided they didn’t need to know that the subject matter was the life of a gay doctor.
All our Documents Present and Correct, We were Allowed into Uzbekistan.
Nukus is an ugly border city. So, instead here is a photo of beautiful Samarkand.
For a moment we thought we were going to have to hitch-hike again, but luckily there was a lone taxi waiting at the other side. He charged an amount that we thought was slightly exorbitant to take us to Nukus, the nearest town to the border, but at least he was flexible enough to accept Turkmeni manat.
The driver, like most Uzbeks, was chatty. He told us resentfully about Turkmenistan’s policy of free gas and electricity, sounding almost jealous of those that lived there. Uzbekistan is still an unabashed dictatorship, although it doesn’t reach the excesses and abuses of its Turkmen neighbour. But Uzbekistan doesn’t have the gas revenues enjoyed by Turkmenistan and to a certain extent its citizens. So… who is better off?
Turkmenistan is a unique social experiment, demonstrating what happens to a population when cut off from the rest of the world and cultural expression is regulated into oblivion. The experiment has lasted for decades, and by all indicators is infuriatingly and unsettlingly stable. It is set to perpetuate for many years yet to come.
His legacy lives on.