Turabek Khanum Mausoleum © Stefan Krasowski
Turkmenistan is a central Asian country bordered by Iran, Afghanistan, Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan and the Caspian Sea and is considered to be a somewhat off-beat destination.
Turkmenistan has a subtropical desert climate with long, hot summers and cold and dry winters and is home to a good few captivating attractions, despite the fact that much of the country is desert and that the capital city Ashgabat was almost totally destroyed by a 1948 earthquake.
For those among visitors who are interested in the country's history, Turkmenistan certainly has one worth exploring. The country achieved independence from the former Soviet Union in 1991 under the eccentric leadership of President Niyazov who ruled as dictator until his death in 2006. Niyazov took autocratic narcissism to heights unscaled by some of the world's most notorious dictators: He renamed Monday after himself and decreed that bread be referred to by his mother's name; he also famously insisted on being referred to as Turkmenbashi ('Father of all Turkmen').
Although Turkmenistan is a young state, this region is one of the oldest inhabited areas on earth. Dekhistan is a considered a lost city of the Silk Road. Today its remote 10th-century ruins make for a fascinating excursion into the desert. Near the city of Mary are the ruins of the ancient Persian town of Merv. With over 4,000 years of history, this is the oldest and best preserved oasis city on the Silk Road. Despite these intriguing attractions Turkmenistan still receives more business travellers than tourists. With Niyazov's demise there are signs the country is opening up a bit but nevertheless Turkmenistan will, in all likelihood, remain an unconventional destination for some time to come.