Friday, September 26, 2014

nylon sheets at the truckstop hot pillow inn

We had a lot to do today.

An early taxi was booked for the 140km trip from Bukhara to the Uzbek/Turkmenistan border. A mad taxi driver saw us arrive in an hour an a half and so we were at the border crossing thirty minutes earlier.

It was a quiet and insignificant border with about a dozen Uzbek or Turmen locals waiting to cross.

One of the benefits of being a tourist is sometimes one gets preferential treatment. And this was one of those cases - we were given priority in getting through customs.

The crossing went relatively quickly and smoothly on both sides. And soon we were introducing ourselves to our Turkmenistan driver.

In order for us to get to Iran from Uzbekistan I realised when planning this trip that there was not a lot of choice. One either had to fly from Tashkent to Tehran via either Istanbul or Kuwait or cross Turkmenistan. The visa situation for the latter is quite difficult. A transit visa is available for 3 - 5 days (which is all we would have wanted) but getting this at the border was extremely risky as many people had been turned down for no apparent reason.

So we opted for the tourist visa - which meant procuring a Letter of Introduction and then picking up the visa at the border. With a tourist visa you HAD to have a guide with you at all times.

So we pared back the Turkmenistan crossing to as brief as possible. We had no desire to see the capital (described as a blend of Moscow and Disneyland) and were only interested in the historical site of Merv near the city of Mary. (Mary and Merv - like visiting your aunt and uncle in West Wyalong.)

Our driver was waiting for us on the other side of Turkmen customs and he drove at speed to the ruins of Merv - about 350kms across the most uninspiring scenery imaginable, desolate desert crisscrossed with a tangle of power lines. More than I have seen anywhere else.

Merv, the most important of Turkmenistan's historical sites, lies about 30kms from the city of Mary.Formerly known as Margiana and Alexandria, it had along and varied history - reputedly being the largest city in the world in the 12th century.

What a letdown!

What is left is a few small dissolving mud walls and massive earth mounds. Whilst no doubt deeply historically significant, it was a disappointment after such a long and difficult crossing of half the country to get to.

We toured the entire site in a couple for hours and then headed for our hotel in Mary.

We had leaned the day before that our original hotel ("The best in Mary" according to the Lonely Planet guidebook) had dumped our booking so the agency that arranged our tour placed us in another.

This turned out to be a dire and dismal place on the outskirts of Mary next to a truck station. loitering outside the door of the hotel's "disco" were a selection of decorative 'ladies' which left no doubt in both our minds as to what they were doing there.

The hotel appeared to be closed up - it was dark and quiet inside, with no staff to be seen. Soon a man appeared and gave us a key and pointed upstairs. While I went up with my bags he began to argue with our driver. Paul was told gruffly that breakfast was at 7.00am. Then that was changed to 7.30.

Our room was fairly squalid, the bathroom a wreck and the beds had nylon sheets that were not long enough to cover the mattresses.

In the morning at 7.30 breakfast was nowhere to be seen. 8.00 we were told despite telling them we were leaving at 8 for our drive to the Iranian border. The hotel manager then held our passports hostage while demanding money. (Our hotel was prepaid to the tour company). Paul smoked 5 cigarettes in half an hour through stress while we waited for our driver to turn up to sort out the situation.
V-E-R-Y unpleasant.

Our driver arrived and we left him to sort things out while we climbed into the car with our luggage (sans breakfast). We had almost 200kms to cross to the Iranian border.

The Mausoleum of Sultan Sanjar - built sometime between 1086 - 1157

No comments: