Sunday, November 15, 2015

Ashgabat and the Silk Road

My first Sunday in Ashgabat, I went to Tolkuchka Bazaar and then rode around the city. It was an interesting experience, definitely worth spending a couple of hours there. The sprawling bazaar is just outside of town, and was designed to look like the Ahal pattern. Here's the Google Maps satellite view:
I caught a cab to the bazaar from the hotel, and was rather proud of myself for confirming both the destination and price in Russian. Tolkuchka? Da. Skolka? Tresat. Tresat (30 Monat). I had expected 20, but that 10 Monat is roughly a $2.80 USD difference for a 25 minute cab ride. Definitely not DC prices.

Tolkuchka Bazaar
Upon arrival at the bazaar, I was initially met by a wave of choking diesel exhaust. Getting out of the road and into the buildings, I saw row after row of silver jewelry safety pinned to blankets - was it for anti-theft or simply a convenient way to wrap things up at the end of the day? There were lots of the traditional, colorful, matronly headdresses and I finally saw the padding that goes under the headdress too. It looks like it would do a good job keeping their heads warm. I'd have taken some photos, but there are enough undercover police in the area to make you think twice about it. I thought they were pretty easy to spot: most of the shoppers are women, and then there are random guys just standing around not trying to sell you stuff. Seems like a give away.

Lunch was deep fried dough with spiced meat inside. Think empanada, but the size of a quesadilla. I got two, since everyone line ahead of me was getting 2-3 per person. I gave the cashier 20 and got back 18.40. So, they are 0.8 monat each: that's like 25 cents each? I had them again for lunch later in the week, they are called "prashka", I think.

The bazaar is divided into sections to make it a little more organized to find what you're looking for. The Ç section had the most traditional clothing/jewelry, while the F section had the carpets. I wasn't really looking for large carpet (we have enough already, from Morocco, Qatar, and Turkey), but I did want to get something representative. For only 20 & 30 Monats, I was able to get mouse-pad sized carpets with the most common Guls (tribal designs):
The Teke pattern

The Guls (tribal carpet designs) on the Turkmen flag (Left side, top to bottom),
in traditional order: Teke, Yomut, Saryk, Chowdur, and Arsary.
I tried to haggle both carpets for 40 Monat, but the vendor came back with calculator. 50. Yes, I know that's what 20+30 is. But that's still only $14. Hard to argue that down to $12.

I walked thru the housewares and home decor section (which has more shops than stalls), but everything started to look the same, so I decided to take a cab home. While there were plenty of cabs, many already had someone in them. I found an empty one for 40 back to the hotel. Yes, it cost more to get back, but that's probably because they know you're pretty much stuck otherwise: It's either that or walk through the Karakum desert. So I agreed to what I think is double the price of what it ought to be.

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Windshield tour of Ashgabat
So, with all the police out, taking pictures while walking is a bit of a challenge. But when you have a driver who will slow down for you to get the shot before they see, it becomes a bit of a game. Here are my "drive-by" photos of the white marble and gold city of Ashgabat.

(photos to be uploaded soon)
-wedding palace
-thermometer spaceship
-others



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There was lots more to write about, so I hope you'll check out the links below.

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