Capital | Ashgabat (Ashkhabad)
Population | 4,884,887 (July 2009 est.)
Area | 488,100 sq km
Official language | Turkmen
Holiday | Independence Day, 27 October (1991)
Currency | Turkmen manat (TMM)
Time Zone | UTC+5
Best time to visit | Spring (April to June) and autumn (September to November)
Connecting with the Culture| Staying in a traditional yurt in the village of Darvaza and going to nearby Darvaza Gas Craters- and enormous inferno like a volcano at ground level. Visiting the vast Karakum desert. Enjoying some of the best scenery in the country at the Kugitang Nature Reserve- complete with dinosaur footprints and incredibly deep caves with stalactites. Taking a tour around the historic city of Merv- a huge site of vast complexity, which juxtaposes time scales and cultures. Avoiding the thousand-plus indigenous species of insects, spiders, reptiles and rodents- including cobras, large black scorpions, tarantulas and prehistoric-looking monitors- at the Repetek Desert Reserve.
Read | works by Turkmen poet Magtymguly Feraghy. Sacred Horses: The Life of a Turkmen Cowboy by Jonathon Maslow is a good, if abrasive, account of this naturalist’s visits to the Karakum desert.
Listen | City of Love by Ashkhabad, a five-piece Turkmen ensemble
Eat | diorama (bread with pieces of boiled meat and onions), shashlyk (lamb kebab) and plov (rice, meat and carrots)
Drink | chal (fermented camels milk) for breakfast in the desert, and tea, which you’ll be offered at every juncture throughout the day
In a word | Salaam aleykum (‘peace be upon you’ )
Characteristics | ‘Bukhara’ rugs; deserts; hardcore trekkers; yurts; the personality cult of late leader President Turkmenbashi ( Turkmenbashi translates as ‘leader of the Turkmen’)
Surprises | Merv is Turkmenistan’s only UNESCO World Heritage site; the Karakum desert has recorded air temperatures of over 50 degrees celcius (122 degrees farenheit), and the surface of the sand sizzling at a soul-scorching 70 degrees celcius (158 degrees farenheit)