Turkmenistan: travel books to read before you go
This excerpt from Lonely Planet’s Central Asia guide provides a selection of travel literature to get you in the mood for your trip...
Places in Turkmenistan
With its lavish marble palaces, gleaming gold domes and vast expanses of manicured parkland, Ashgabat (‘the city of love’ in Arabic) has reinvented itself as a showcase city for the newly independent republic and is definitely one of Central Asia's – if not the world's – strangest places.
Squeezed between the inhospitable Karakum desert and the rugged Afghan frontier, the fertile plains of eastern Turkmenistan have long been an island of prosperity in Central Asia. The rise of civilisations began in the Bronze Age, reaching their climax with the wondrous city of Merv.
In its heyday it was known as Marv-i-shahjahan, ‘Merv – Queen of the World’, and it stood alongside Damascus, Baghdad and Cairo as one of the great cities of the Islamic world. A major centre of religious study and a lynchpin on the Silk Road, its importance to the commerce and sophistication of Central Asia cannot be underestimated.
The capital of the Mary region is a somewhat spartan Soviet confection of administrative buildings and vast gardens disproportionate to the size of the city. Mary (pronounced MAH-ree) is the centre of the major cotton-growing belt, which gives the city an air of prosperity; the markets bustle on weekends and commerce is surprisingly brisk.