Turkmenistan, Asia - Stein Travel
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Turkmenistan

Turkmenistan is a central Asian country roughly the size of California bordered by Iran, Afghanistan, Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan and the Caspian Sea.

The country achieved independence from the former Soviet Union in 1991 under the eccentric leadership of President Niyazov who ruled as dictator until his death in 2006. Niyazov took autocratic narcissism to heights unscaled by even North Korean dictator Kim Ill Jung. He renamed Monday after himself and decreed that bread be referred to by his mother's name. He famously insisted on being referred to as Turkmenbashi ('Father of all Turkmen'), and erected a 49 foot (15 metre) high gold statue in the capital that rotated throughout the day to face the sun.

Turkmenistan has a subtropical desert climate with long, hot summers and cold and dry winters. Much of the country is desert, but the small portion of the land that is arable is extensively irrigated, allowing Turkmenistan to be one of the top 10 producers of cotton in the world. The real wealth, however, lies under the ground in the form of extensive oil and gas reserves.

The capital city Ashgabat was almost totally destroyed by a 1948 earthquake. The rebuilt modern city has been conceived in the grand Soviet style with plenty of monuments and statues to Niyazov.

Although Turkmenistan is a young state, this region is one of the oldest inhabited areas on earth. Dekhistan is a considered a lost city of the Silk Road. Today its remote 10th century ruins make for a fascinating excursion into the desert. Near the city of Mary are the ruins of the ancient Persian town of Merv. With over 4,000 years of history, this is the oldest and best preserved oasis city on the Silk Road.

Despite these intriguing attractions Turkmenistan still receives more business travellers than tourists. With Niyazov's demise there are signs the country is opening up a bit, Turkmenistan will, in all likelihood, remain an off-beat destination with limited appeal.

Information & Facts

Customs

Etiquette in Turkmenistan is governed by Islamic principles, though the state is officially secular. Conservative dress is required at all times, and neither women nor men wear shorts. Respect for elders is considered very important. Do not refer to Turkmens as Russians or Soviets, and avoid criticising the country in front of locals.

Duty Free

Travellers to Turkmenistan over the age of 21 years can import 2 litres of any alcoholic beverage for without paying duty; those over 16 years of age may import 200 cigarettes or 200 g of tobacco and personal belongings up to a reasonable value. All narcotics, firearms, ammunition and accessories, and antiquities are prohibited from either import or export. The customs declaration, filled out upon entry to Turkmenistan, should be retained. When leaving this form may be used to audit items for export. Video camera are allowed for personal use, but must be declared on arrival.

Passport Visa

Visitors to Turkmenistan and transit passengers are required to hold sufficient funds and onward/ return tickets and documentation for the duration of their stay in the country. Most visas for Turkmenistan are issued on arrival if visitors are travelling from countries without an embassy or consulate of Turkmenistan. Entry visas can be obtained for a maximum stay of 10 days provided the visitor has a letter of invitation from a company registered in Turkmenistan which has been approved by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. A fee of US$ 61 is incurred for this visa.

Visas issued are for the whole of the territory of Turkmenistan, however special permits are required for visits to specific areas in the country. Valid visas in expired passports are accepted provided that the passport holder also has a valid passport for the same nationality. Immigration authorities in Turkmenistan simply transfer the visa into your new passport on arrival, for a fee of US$ 40.

All visitors to Turkmenistan are required to fill out a landing card which incurs a US$ 12 fee. Furthermore, visitors must register themselves with the police department within three days of arrival. It is highly recommended that passports have at least six months validity remaining after your intended date of departure from your travel destination. Immigration officials often apply different rules to those stated by travel agents and official sources.

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