After a week with Ben and the YPT group, I was alone again, getting only 4 hours of sleep before having to wake up and be picked up by a random driver at the hotel for a 6am flight to Mary.
The check-in and flight went without a fuss, and I arrived in Mary, Turkmenistan’s 4th largest city, at 7am.
I was immediately picked up by Mohammed at Arrivals, where he promptly drove me 30 minutes out towards the ancient city of Merv.
Listed by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site, Merv was a major oasis-city in Central Asia located on the historical Silk Road. As several cities have existed on this site, it gained significance for the interchange of culture and politics at a site of major strategic value throughout history.
Our first stop was to check out the Gäwürgala’s (aka “Fortress of the Zoroastrians”) walls or defensive installations.
From there we drove inwards where I paid a 31 manat joint entry and photography fee. Adjacent to the tourist office is a small museum explaining the history of the site.
The most famous iconic site of the Merv oasis is the great Kyz Qala or kepderihana (from Persian, “Kaftar Khana, or “pigeon house”, i.e., the columbarium).
This mysterious building is among the best-preserved in the whole Merv oasis. Theories of its use include that it was a residence of royalty, a library, a treasury, a residence for the women, and finally a giant roost used to raise pigeons.
Huh? Why pigeons? Why to collect their poop so they could grow some melons for which Merv was famous, of course.
Facing the great Kyz Qala is the smaller Kyz Qala:
You can climb ontop of the little Kyz Qala for views of the Merv plains:
Nearby is a restored mosque and mausoleum:
Climb on top of the tallest hill for views over the entirety of the Merv oasis:
We then stopped by another mosque-mausoleum complex, filled with Friday worshippers:
Behind is a free kitchen where you can cook your own meat for free:
We then drove to the best-preserved of all the structures in Merv: the 12th-century mausoleum of Sultan Sanjar.
The largest of Seljuk mausoleums, this structure is also the first dated known mosque-mausoleum complex and has stood its ground despite multiple invasions given its exceptional double-domed architecture.
Our last stop was the Mausoleum to Mukhammad ibn Zeyd:
Mohammed then fed me some lunch and dropped me off at Mary hotel where I crashed for 2 hours on their couch to recharge.
After also doing some work here without anyone’s care in the world, Mohammed picked me up again in the later afternoon for a quick exploration of Mary, which included its mosque…
…and its Pokrovskaya Church:
Then I had one more meal at the local megamall before being dropped off back at the airport for an 8:10pm flight back to Ashgabat.
I arrived back at the capital city at 8:50pm.
I was then picked up by the same driver who picked me up earlier this morning, taking me to the international terminal 5 minutes away for my 3:30am Lufthansa flight out of Turkmenistan for Azerbaijan.
Given I was at the airport 6 hours early, I crashed on the café couches in the back, getting in another good 2 hours of sleep.
I tried to get another hour of sleep at the gate, but to no avail given the predominance of Jackie Chan movies and Turkmen music videos playing in the background.
My onward flight boarded promptly at 3:15pm, taking off on time at 3:30am where I got in another hour and half of sleep before landing in Baku at 4:30am local time to begin the next monsoon.
Wow Turkmenistan. After 5 days here I feel like I need a drink or have had one too many.
- At time of posting in Merv, it was 28 °C - Humidity: 23% | Wind Speed: n/a | Cloud Cover: clear