I slept very well in the sand of the Karakum Desert. It wasn’t cold at all and I even had to take off clothes during nighttime. Unfortunately I couldn’t see as many stars as I usually see when sleeping in the desert since the burning gas of the Darvaza crater was lightening up the sky.
We continued our drive towards the border of Uzbekistan. The roads in this area of the country were in pretty bad condition. They weren’t covered in tarmac and had many potholes which made the ride somewhat bumpy. The drivers of our jeeps were quite funny and I started to call them “товарищ” in English “comrade”, another useful word I learned in my Russian class at Eastern Germany times. After a while the drivers made a laugh out of it to call me “товарищ” as well.
At lunch time we stopped at a little restaurant right next to the road. There was a choice of three dishes: a Turkmen type of pizza, dumplings and soup. I ordered the pizza and dumplings and shared them with Jason. The pizza looked very interesting. It was more a big piece of bread flavored with onions. Since I like warm bread I really much enjoyed it. The dumplings were very similar to Japanese Gyoza just the meat inside was a bit chewy.
While us having lunch a bridal couple showed up to celebrate their wedding in the restaurant. Since the restaurant was very small we were right in the middle of the action and the locals seemed not to care. The bride was very beautiful wearing a white wedding dress. The couple was supposed to sit down at the small table where my fellow travelers Paul and Mike were having their lunch. They quickly stood up so the bridal couple could have a seat. Afterwards the doors of the restaurant were closed, the light switched off and the whole restaurant received a nightclub type of atmosphere. They played loud dance music and everybody was dancing. I simply stood up and joined the people on the dance floor and a few others in my travel group were following.
In the afternoon we stopped at Konye-Urgench. I don’t know if this is just the name of the historical site in the area or the name of the small town next to it as well. However, I and a handful others volunteered to go shopping on the town’s market and cook tonight’s dinner. There wasn’t much choice and so we bought a bunch of vegetables and some bread to prepare a salad. We also bought some more bread, jam and fruits for breakfast.
After shopping we had a look at the historical site of Konye-Urgench which is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It’s the site of an ancient town featuring a number of ruins. First we had a look at the Törebeg Hanym Mausoleum with a colorful dome in blue tiles. Next was the Gutluk Temir Minaret which has a height of 60m and looked like a big chimney. Minarets are visual focus points and used for calls to prayer, so no chimney but a big loudspeaker. Also on the ground of the site was the Il-Arslan Mausoleum with the tomb of Mohammed II’s grandfather. It’s a holy place so we weren’t allowed to go inside but just relaxed a few minutes outside the building. The last building we saw was the Soltan Tekes Mausoleum with a small blue dome covered in a scaffold.
Next to the mausoleums was a small hill. In front of it were two wooden sticks in the ground and it’s said if you walk through them three times in counterclockwise direction one of your wishes will come true. Just for fun I used this opportunity and made a wish. On top of the little hill was another place with special power. It was a round object on the ground consisting of small handmade baby cribs. It’s said you need to circle it three times for each baby you want to receive and since I still want a bunch of kids at some point in my live I circled it a few times as well to be on the safe side. I just wasn’t sure about the direction and thought counterclockwise will do. The last thing to see at the small hill were some old Russian graves.
Around 5pm we set up our camp at the Amu-Darya River. While some used the opportunity for a swim, I and a handful others prepared lunch. Same as last night we had no cooking equipment available. We reconstructed an old cardboard box and covered it with plastic bags from shopping to serve as a large salad bowl. Chopping the vegetables with a pocket knife to make a salad for 21 people was quite painful but we somehow managed it. Cooking tonight somehow felt like a teambuilding exercise and I really much enjoyed it since it was very much basic.
Since there were many mosquitos right next to the river I decided not to sleep under the stars tonight since I caught already a number of bites during dinner. Instead I shared a tent with Helen, a fellow traveler from Australia now living in Sweden.