Landscapes with a Story
Day 0: Arrival Ashgabat
Arrival in Ashgabat by air (evening D1 or early morning D2, depending on airline used) or overland from Iran at Bajgiran-Gaudan land border. Transfer to hotel. Overnight.
Day 1: Ashgabat - Darwaza
Morning at leisure in hotel.
Early afternoon we drive northwards and enter the central Karakum Desert for a 4-hour drive to the famous gas crater at Darwaza. While the drive is mainly on a good tarmac road and the majority of villages in this region are along the roadside and easily reachable without 4-wheel drive vehicles as well, we turn off the main road and follow the sand tracks across a large sand dune, to reach the gas crater. The sight of the flaming crater remains one of the most spectacular sights you have ever seen. We accommodate to the yurt camp and while the sun goes down, the light and noise of the hundreds of flames becomes even more surreal.
Day 2: Darwaza - Balishem - Ygdykala
After less than an hour, we go off the road again! Mainly off-road drive westwards towards the riverbed of the ancient Uzboy River. Picnic lunch in Guy-Islam desert settlement. When we come closer to Melegoch village, the track starts to curve more, forcing us to follow the shape of the dry river bed of the Uzboy River. After having visited Ygdykala fortress remains that were located at a high cliff carved out by the river in ancient times, we carry on over softer sand dunes, until we find a good spot to put up camp. Camp dinner and overnight in tents.
Day 3: Ygdykala - Kemal Ata
After breakfast drive to Kemal Ata rock formations. While there is time for walks along the cliffs, the team prepares picnic lunch (near Koymat settlement). In the afternoon we drive on the same poor and bumpy tracks to the pilgrim site and mausoleum of Kemal Ata, which is located at the source of a local spring, that has carved out a nice green patch, lined with hard rock concretions, a geological phenomenon seen only in a few places worldwide. After a long day, we can rest and make dinner in our camp. Overnight in tents.
Day 4: Kemal Ata - Yangikala - Gozli Ata
From Kemal Ata we carry on deeper into the area, to reach Yangikala Viewpoint, another spectacularly shaped and colored phenomenon. The white, pink and orange limestone formations are astonishing and when you take your eyes off the landscape to look at the bottom beneath you, you can find seashells from the time that the seashore reached here. Afternoon continue to Gozli Ata pilgrim site. Opportunity for hiking in the nearby canyons of Gozli Ata. Overnight.
Day 5: Gozli Ata - Turkmenbashi
After breakfast we carry on westwards on the main road Ashgabat-Turkmenbashi. We start to feel that we are driving to the Caspian Sea coast. The landscape is flat and uninspiring, the road is busy with trucks, and cargo trains cross the landscape. The bustling town of Turkmenbashi is different from all other towns we have visited so far, and it is justified to spend some time to visit the local bazaar and the light-blue Russian Orthodox church that protects the sailors. The town is built across several rocky mounts/slopes and therefore cut into several sections that are entirely separated from one another. The population remains a mix of Turkmen, Kazakh, Slavic and Caucasian ethnicities, and more than in any other town in Turkmenistan, Russian is spoken still in public. By the end of the afternoon, we settle in to our comfortable seaside hotel and relax.
Day 6: Turkmenbashi - Dehistan
Today we will again leave the main road 2 hours after leaving Turkmenbashi. We drive through the Balkan Mountains and then for some 2 hours southwards across flat highland and clay ground called the Misrian Salt Plateau, until we reach Madau village and behind it at some 10 km distance from the current village, the remains of the medieval town of Dehistan and its nearby cemetery with the Mashhat Ata Mosque. The rise in the distance of the old city walls in the middle of the barren flat Misrian salt plain is an exciting moment.
Set up camp in the surroundings of the site. Camp dinner and overnight in tents.
Day 7: Dehistan - Kopetdag West
We continue eastwards for the first few hours. We pass by flocks of sheep and small settlements that have a distinct different atmosphere than those we have passed so far. Houses are made from local stones, and camels roam in courtyards of every household.
It is pleasant to be driving on quiet small roads where traffic is few and you can stop anywhere. We enter the mountainous landscapes again as we drive towards Karakala. Just before reaching the sleepy district town, we see barren grey and white hills, covered by a salty crust and lack vegetation, and that are therefore referred to as “moon mountains” or lunar-like landscapes.
We follow the Kopetdag Mountains on our south, and irrigated vineyards, cotton and grain fields to the north of us. A detour off the main road leads us to Nohur along a recently renovated tarmac road. Beautiful views, lush green fruit gardens and typical housing styles in this region make this detour a pleasant landscape to drive through. After our visit to Nohur where we visit a typical tribal cemetery and pilgrim site, we carry on along the foothills of the Kopetdag and set up our camp there.
Camp dinner and overnight in tents.
Day 8: Kopetdag West-Ashgabat
Return to Ashgabat with a visit to the Kowata underground lake on the way. The underground lake is part of a larger cave and underground water system inside the mountains, the exact shape and size of which remains unclear but has fascinated Russian geologists in particular from the time they found out about its existence. Arrival in Ashgabat around noon.
Afternoon at leisure in Ashgabat.
Day 9: Ashgabat departure
Transfer to the airport for departure flight to next destination.