Mary and Merv
Trip Start Aug 31, 2005
77Trip End Aug 25, 2006
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Along the way we stopped off at two ancient sites - the old and holy Muslim Jamal Ad-din shrine (destroyed in the 1949 earthquake) and the ruins of the ancient Silk Road city of Abiwerd. It is really sad to see how much the earth has/is changing - in the old days, there was enough water in the area to make Abiwerd a very important and large trading post. Now its just desert ruins... Amazing though to walk around spotting pieces of ancient pottery just sticking out everywhere!
Mary itself was uninspiring. Similar to Ashgabat in the way that it felt virtually deserted despite being the third largest city! We stayed in the worst hotel of the trip so far, Sanjar Hotel - the room above leaked into mine, the entire place stank of toilet and I had fleas in my bed :) I put up with it by sleeping on the floor, but the boys ended up forking out extra and paying for another hotel. Disgusting place! We made up for it though by going out for a night on the town, to a night club, where the boys ogled over the scantily dressed Russian women boogeying around while they skulled back the vodka.
The next morning we had an early 5am start to try and beat the heat on our day excersion to Gonur Depe. What, you may be asking (as I did), is Gonur Depe? Duh, just the site of Margiana, one of the ancient civilisations! Or so the Russian archeologist Viktor Sarianidi is trying to prove, in true Indiana Jones style. In 1972 he set out looking for the lost capital of the Margiana Oasis. What he found in the desert was the remains of a highly developed Margiana society, thought to be the 5th Great Civilisation (following Egypt, Mesopotima, China and India). His theory hasn't quite been fully recognized in the archeological world but is not far from it.
The site has however been confirmed as the oldest fire-worshiping civilisation. Sarianidi's theory is that the site is the birthplace to the Zorastrianism faith and at some time, was home to the founder of the religion, Zoroaster. There are the remains of 4 fire temples and also evidence of a cult based around priests getting high on a drug made from poppy, hemp and ephedra plants (thought to be hoama brew).
The site has been dated as being 4000 years ago, and there is clear evidence of a royal palace and a necropolis holding 2000 bodies. A huge site, with more evidence of the civilisation being uncleared daily. In fact, for me the most amazing part of the whole visit (apart from meeting the man himself, Sarianidi) was seeing a room of basin-like remains that had apparantly only been unearthed 3 days ago (2nd photo below). I was one of the first people to see these 4000 year old treasures!
The whole area is pretty much a living and breathing outdoor museum. Sarianidi and his team have unearthed so much pottery and remains that it is impossible to catalogise and restore them all, and so walking around the site you have to be careful not to trip over 4000 year old bits and pieces everywhere! Absolutely incredible...
The biggest attraction of the area however is not Gonur Depe, but the ancient city (cities) of Merv. If you are a history or an archelogical buff, then Merv is your place. I, however am not, and got a little bored of all the FOURTEEN different main sites after a couple of hours :) For the interested however, Merv is unique in that the area has been used from BC 6th century, right up to AD 18th, through different invading forces and religions, with each different society 'era' moving their living place within a few km of the other (following the movement of the changing steam-way of the river). So, through visiting each of the sites, you can see the different streams from Zoroastrianism, Buddhism, Christianity and Islam ideas, and where these faiths led their levels of culture. A few pretty cool ruins, but two hours is more than enough!
And so, after only five short days, my time in the amazing country of Turkmenistan came to an end. It was a pity, because I hadn't yet got a proper feel for the country, mainly because I was travelling with a guide and so didn't get the chances I normally get to stop and chat to the kids and women around. Never mind, its such a bizarre country that i'm sure i'll be back sometime in the future... that is, if the government approves my visa after all this!