Tucked below a range of imposing mountains and the only sign of civilisation as far as the eye can see, Balkanabat is the logical stopover on the long haul across western Turkmenistan. Oil was discovered in the vicinity in 1874 and a small refinery was built, only to be abandoned for 50 years after being bankrupted by competition from the Baku oil industry.
Originally called Nebit Dag, Balkanabat is a staging point for trips to Dekhistan and Yangykala Canyon. It may be necessary to overnight here between these destinations, bearing in mind that accommodation ranges between wretched and plush with nothing in between.
The main axis is Magtymguly şayoli, running east–west and parallel with the railway. At its midpoint is Niyazov Sq, watched over by a lonely statue of the former president. Note that Balkanabat uses both street names and block numbers (kvartal).