Tashkent - Ashgabat Rally #4
Days 5 & 6 – Ashgabat, The City of Marble and Gold
Sunrise greets us warmly after the events the night before. Exhausted but otherwise in good spirits, the kids play around in the open desert as we awaited assistance from Embassy Ashgabat. They had earlier agreed to dispatch a vehicle to pick us up at the camp (4 hours from Ashgabat) while we arrange for the caravan cars to be retrieved from the desert. Just before noon, two cars arrive, and Jason goes with the tow vehicle to retrieve the Subaru while the rest of the group heads south. An hour later, and it is on a tow truck headed south. The Mini Cooper was to be picked up the next day and brought to Ashgabat, which meant we had more time to explore the city.
We spent the first day at the mall, which was just as over-the-top ornate as you would expect. The boys rode a bus through the mall (because you could), and we actually saw a couple of Mini Coopers parked out front on display.
We received advice from the Embassy to head 20 miles west to check out a secluded restaurant and entertainment complex in a scenic canyon. An hour on an oversized bouncy castle, seven courses, and $70 (total for seven people, not each) later, and many of entertained thoughts of just moving here and calling in sick to Tashkent for the remainder of our tours.
The streets of Ashgabat are pristine, the police are everywhere, and the city might be the safest in the world, certainly safer than anywhere we’ve ever been. Also, Turkmen drivers actually understand the concept of lanes. We, too, were surprised by this fact. Everything was perfect…. too perfect of course for reality. There will be a time when the money runs out and the city becomes a post-apocalyptic setting in a Call of Duty game. For now, however, enjoy the ridiculousness of it all. Nozomi mentions as we leave the city, “I’m looking forward to returning to the normalcy of Tashkent”.
Aside from the awesomeness of seeing Ashgabat city, you are going there for one reason: carpets. They are awesome there. Think Bukhara and then chop off 2/3 of the price. We met a lovely woman named Olga, who, upon learning we were leaving the next morning at 10:00 a.m. told us, “call me anytime tonight, even 2 a.m., and I will come open the shop for you guys”. The entrepreneurial spirit was alive and well even in secluded Turkmenistan. Her instincts paid off as $8,000 later I am pretty sure we helped her meet her quota that day (or month, or year…). Our final haul was 18 carpets; we probably should have bought more.