By far the most mysterious and unexplored of Central Asia’s 'stans, Turkmenistan became famous for the truly bizarre dictatorship of Saparmyrat Niyazov, who ruled as ‘Turkmenbashi’ (‘leader of the Turkmen’) until his death in 2006, covering this little-known desert republic with golden statues of himself and grandiose monuments to the achievements of his ‘golden age’. But the least-visited of Central Asia’s countries is far more than the totalitarian theme park it’s often portrayed as being – it is an ancient land of great spirituality, tradition and natural beauty.
The ancient cities of Merv and Konye-Urgench inspire visions of caravans plodding along the ancient Silk Road, while the haunting beauty of the Karakum desert and other quirky natural phenomena are less expected but equally mesmerising sights. The full Turkmen experience is ultimately about mingling with the warm and fascinating Turkmen themselves, whose hospitality is the stuff of legend.
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...