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  • Penelope Haines

Darvasa to Kunye Urgench - Day 3


After an early get up to watch the sun rise, we broke camp and were on our way by 8.30. The group is surprisingly efficient. Breakfast was eaten, tables and chairs packed away, washing up done (there is no drying up because wet cloths mouldering around the truck are considered to represent a health hazard, so we flap our plates and dishes around in a complicated form of calisthenics until they’re dry).

It was another long day of travelling over atrocious roads for several hours. Lunch was a picnic of left-overs, eaten beside the truck in a small little village. There was at least a public toilet, even if it was a squatter, and given my condition I was grateful to find it and overlooked the grimy conditions.

Mid-afternoon the nature of the country changed. We were approaching the Oxus which provides water to a large area of Turkmenistan through a complicated system of irrigation canals. Now the paddocks were full of rice and wheat and we began to see more settlements, stock and people. We frequently passed men fishing from the canals. I was ridiculously excited to cross the Oxus, albeit an irrigation channel. It’s one of the most evocative names I know!

Kunye Urgench is a giant necropolis and religious area. Most of it has been in ruins since Tamerlane sacked it and enslaved the population, removing them north to his own capital of Samarkand. Some of the ruins are being restored and it’s possible to see how magnificent the buildings must have been and what a magnet for weary travellers on the silk road. The use of blue tiles on the arches and domes is striking. Apparently the colour signifies the dome is blending into the sky to be closer to God (and consequently worshipers share the experience.)

Our second night of camping was in a large area of scrubby broom like bushes which at least gave us privacy when we needed the toilet in the night. I’m becoming a dab hand with the trenching trowel.

We were much slicker at getting the tent set up and at unpacking our gear. In spite of my doubts, I’m having no trouble getting to sleep on the inflatable pad, and the sleeping bag is warm and comfy. A couple of our number wanted to sleep outside, but the cold drove them inside after about an hour. It was a magnificent starry night, although I couldn’t recognise a single constellation in this unfamiliar northern sky. Fortunately, Slava, the lovely official Turkmenistani guide (and I assume government snoop), had a very useful phone app which identified them for me.

Our group is 23 in number, consisting mainly of people in the 50+ age bracket, although there are younger travellers in their twenties or so as well who are exploring the world’s more exotic regions. It’s a good collection of people and a very travelled bunch at that. It would be hard to find a corner of the planet that someone in our group hasn’t explored.

Tomorrow we cross the border to Uzbekistan.

Bush camp at Darvasa


Camping out


Flapping the dishes dry


Our motto


Inside Archie: on the road


Kunye Urgench



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