Far from the Glitter and Gold

August 8, 2019

The cities of Turkmenistan are modern with excellent roads, fleets of new cars and slick buildings. Important landmarks are lavishly decorated with over-the-top grandeur. Strange monuments dot traffic roundabouts, to be topped by even stranger ones at parks and boulevards.

But heading out of any city, I go past old Soviet-style blocks of apartments. The newer ones are identical – there is that law of uniformity again. Further out, the newer buildings are smaller, made uniformly of yellowish brick. They stand are cheek by jowl, sporting corrugated tin roofs. Satellite dishes stare upwards from many a roof.

Nearer villages, it is yet more humble. In the backyard, instead of cows or goats or chickens, are camels. But these are not the two-humped Bactrians that I expected, but single-humped ones. They graze placidly not perturbed even when I go up close to take photos.

Passing through the country in trains, I see vast fields. The ones of cotton near Turkmenabat and Mary are gone. Instead, from Ashgabat to Turkmenbashi I see fields of fodder, grapes, cabbages and corn pass by in a blur. I have a bird’s eye view of small villages with their tin-roofed houses and shacks. Here, life is rudimentary at best. It is far from the glitter and pomp that are ostentatiously on show in the cities.

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