Turkmenistan is a key passage for cyclists travelling the Silk Route, linking Iran with the rest of Central Asia.
The country offers its own quirky attraction in the form of an omnipresent dictator, Saparmyrat Niyazov, who ruled the country until he died in late 2006. Larger-than-life statues of Niyazov are everywhere along with photos and busts of him in businesses and on government buildings. His Ruhnama book which is required reading for all Turkmen citizens and displayed everywhere.
Since being granted independence from the Soviet Union in 1991, Turkmenistan has become one of the world’s most closed countries and is often compared with North Korea. It’s opened up a crack since Niyazov’s death but independent cyclists tend to travel through Turkmenistan on a transit visa since getting permission to visit as a tourist means hiring a costly guide. Only about 3,000 tourists travel to Turkmenistan each year.
Transit visas are only issued for 5 days so your trip through Turkmenistan will be rushed. The flat landscape helps and with luck you can cover the roughly 550km without much trouble. We had crosswinds and headwinds of varying strength and a short sandstorm but still managed to arrive in Turkmenabad on the afternoon of our fifth day. That included a rushed tour of the ancient city of Merv.
In a pinch, you can charter a taxi or put your bike on a bus. The train is painfully slow and will require some forward planning. Locals may offer you a lift, especially if a sandstorm appears out of nowhere. The 14 Degrees site has an account of Turkmenistan by train with a bicycle.
The friendly and smiling Turkmen people will be a highlight of your journey through Turkmenistan. You’ll find many curious onlookers when you stop for a break at one of the many roadside cafes. A surprising number of young people speak English but Russian is still much more widely used.
- Serahs to Farab: The main route covered by most cyclists, through the Turkmen desert.
11th August 2015 at 3:24 pm #
Thanks for your excellent description for cycling Turkmenistan. Iris and me did a part of it, a Swedish girl did it all this July. Here is some information you probably can use.
The Turkmen customs took us about 1.5 hours. The guys were helpful, the filled in the forms for us. It helps to have a list with hotels where you are (not) going to stay. We named hotels in Mary, Bayramali, and Turkmenabad (2 nights). This was completely ok for them.
The hardware store still exists and still does change money. Now Turkmenistan introduced the new Manat with an exchange rate of 1 $ = 3.5 Manat. This exchange rate seems to be fixed.
The road from Saraks to Hauz Hahn is still very bumpy, but from there it gets better on the highways.
Here are the positions of the cafés, where the Swedish girl managed to get water, food and sleep for a while.
First after Bayramali:
Second after Bayramali (seems to be nicer than the first one)
Fifth, shortly before Turkmenabad
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