Ashgabat: The Myth vs. The Reality
There's a lot of mystery surrounding Turkmenistan and Ashgabat. And lots of information and misinformation.
Let's bust some facts about Ashgabat!
This is a commonly asked question.
The thing to remember is that Ashgabat is only home to around 1 million people.
This may sound a lot, but the city has a low density with housing being spread out over a vast area, and most local people own cars and drive even for short distances.
Most areas visited by tourists tend to be the large monuments, grandiose buildings and museums. Local people tend not to spend their time within these places.
Ashgabat is also a city of large temperature fluctuations which range from the mid ’40s in the summer to just above freezing in the winter. The best places for people would be the shopping mall, one of the true local parks, local restaurants or a local market.
The simple answer is yes.
But you should take care where you take them.
Government buildings and the palaces of the leader are a strict no-no.
There are soldiers and police watching these places and grabbing a quick shot will result in a telling of.
Markets and shopping areas are kind of ok, although one has to remember that people here are quite personal and really don’t like photos taken especially whilst at work. The best places are out and about building up positive interaction and asking politely. Around some of the city streets away from the main structures photography is more well received and photos can be taken.
For any visitor coming to Ashgabat, the experience becomes a surreal one even before arriving. No tourist can enter the country without passing through the invitation process as listed later on in this piece.
All cars entering the city limits of Ashgabat must be clean; there are car cleaning businesses at every major entrance point it costs around 1 USD for a clean thus avoiding a possible 14 USD fine from one of the traffic police officers.
Smoking in Ashgabat is generally frowned upon by the authorities but allowed in certain areas. Travellers entering the country are only allowed to carry two packets of cigarettes.
Shops are not allowed to sale them, although there is a black market selling highly-priced packets.
This is not true as many licensed properties sell alcohol ranging from home produced vodka to one of the two main local beer brews.
There have been times when alcohol has been banned normally around important public holidays and events.
In February of 2004, president Niyazov decreed that men should no longer wear long hair or beards.
This rule is aimed at men less than 40 years of age and is possibly a way for the government to limited membership to Islamist movements.
As a visitor to Turkmenistan, you will see older gentlemen in tradition Turkmen dress sporting an impressive growth, furthermore, as a bearded traveller it will be fine to enter and exit.
This seems to be more advisory and less of a law as some locals can still be spotted spring those typical central Asian golden gnashers.
It seems to be a way to limit the flouting of wealth and to limit the obvious bad dental hygiene with the advice given again by the President as follows:
“I watched young dogs when I was young. They were given bones to gnaw to strengthen their teeth. Those of you whose teeth have fallen out did not chew on bones. This is my advice.”