Off-Road adventure – Turkmenistan in 7 days / 8 nights
The Karakum desert blankets 80 percent of the territory of Turkmenistan. With its incomparable vastness and warm people populating its endless dunes, this desert bears, in every respect, the most characteristic features of Central Asia's vibrant Nomad cultures and stunning natural beauty. Owing to the complete lack of infrastructure, and our fortunate luck, the only way to explore this remote territory is by 4WD and the heavy trucks. Our 7-day itinerary combines an adventurous four-day off-road and trekking trip to some of the most secluded flat-roof and nomadic settlements in the Central Karakum. An extension of our desert crossing will take us to the country's most fascinating active archaeological site, Gonur Depe. This 4,000 year-old Zoroastrian capital is mysteriously located in the heart of the Karakum desert and is Central Asia's sole entirely excavated city site, allowing the visitor to stroll through the countless alleyways, fire temples and shrines.
Day 1: Turkmenistan arrival / Ashgabat
Early morning arrive to Ashgabat Intl. airport with TK flight via Istanbul (optional and subject to possible change). Complete border crossing formalities; meet your guide/driver and transfer to hotel (immediate check-in). Overnight at hotel.
Morning is free at leisure.
PM City Tour of Ashgabat, visit Independence period parks and monuments. Tour today also includes visits to Old Nissa fortress (World Heritage site of UNESCO) and Turkmenbashi Ruhy mosque in Kipchak (the largest mosque of Turkmenistan). Rest of the time is free at leisure. Overnight at hotel in Ashgabat.
Day 2: Ashgabat – Darvaza
Morning is free at leisure.
PM from Ashgabat we start our expedition driving along the main north-south highway, following the traditional travel route across the Karakum desert. On this first day we will cover 260 km, stopping en-route at Erbent desert village and two gas craters, located 100 m from the main road, one with water and the other with mud, both bubbling with natural gas seeping from underground. Arriving at the border between the northern and southern regions of Turkmenistan, we turn off the main road for an exciting eight-kilometer off-road adventure. The drive over, we find ourselves a couple of hundred meters away from the flaming crater. Dinner & overnight in tents (wild camping).
Day 3: Off-road drive to Damla
After camp breakfast we start off-road tracks, passing the Uzboy riverbed. Several stops en-route available to take photos of this stunning desert landsape. After crossing the Uzboy we continue onwards to the settlement of Damla. Lunch en-route or at local house in the village. PM we take some time to explore the Damla village. We set up camp near-by the village (or sleep in a yurt of a local family).
Day 4: Off-road drive, Akmolla, Murzechirla, Desert camp
After a hearty breakfast, we continue our off-road drive on a sweltering plateau cut to pieces by the advancing dunes, only meeting scattered shepherd families at the salt-water wells once every 50 km. After a 4-hour drive we reach the settlements of Akmolla and Murzechirla. Picnic lunch before exploration of these villages; then see the locals in their every-day routine- milking the camels, beating and combing the wool and giving water to the animals using unusual "band pumps". The villages are also home to the beautiful Tazy- a very elegant and fast, pure Turkmen hunting dog, as well as the muscular Alabay, used as guard dogs all over Turkmenistan. We continue our drive south in the direction of the Mary Oasis. In the cooler evening hours we will set up camp among dunes of the “Black Sand” desert. Dinner & overnight in tents (wild camping).
Day 5: Off-road drive to Gonur Depe
From here we continue along the canal south towards Gonur Depe, the main site of Zoroastrian Margush or Margiana. It is the centre of a great 4000-year old fire-worshipping civilization. Perhaps older than Mesopotamia and known only to a few experts, Margush is famous for its rare seals and unusual burial practices. The capital temple-city of Togolok is the sole entirely excavated site of this size in Central Asia and the visitor can stroll through its ancient alleyways and shrines littered with shards. We will camp and dine with the international team of archaeologists (subject to availability) enjoying the wide-open spaces and the same spectacular stars enjoyed by civilizations thousands of years ago.
Day 6: Gonur Depe & Merv, Mary
In the morning we will take some time to investigate the Necropolis with burials from various time periods, significant for its style of burial sites that have not been discovered anywhere else in the world. We will also explore the capital-settlement of this unique site. Today we will also have the unforgettable opportunity of visiting the ancient city of Merv. With the magnificent Mausoleum of Sultan Sanjar and the Gyz-Gala fortress, two of Islamic Architecture's grandest monuments, Merv is by far Turkmenistan's most recognized heritage site. It impresses with its vast size of over 2,000 ha and comprises of 5 different city-sites from 3 millenniums. After a short catnap we get back to our vehicle and continue to Mary itself staying in a hotel for our final evening on the trip. Overnight at hotel in Mary.
Day 7: Road drive to Ashgabat
We return to Ashgabat by way of a 360 km drive along the asphalt road crossing Tejen and the Kaakhka region. The latter is located at the foothills of the Eastern Kopetdag mountain range and is loaded with ancient monuments. En route we will rest at the ruins of Abiverd medieval fortress in Kaahka and 15c mosque in Annau. We reach Ashgabat in the late afternoon with the rest of the day left to rest, sit by the pool or explore the city on your own. Overnight at hotel in Ashgabat.
Day 8: Departure home