Ashgabat, the capital of Turkmenistan, is a fantastical place long lost in the Soviet past. Constructed in soaring Stalinist style after it was levelled by an earthquake in 1948, the city boasts a handful of historic structures – mosques, statues, and old civic squares – connected by a procession of carefully planned, impeccably clean, marble-flanked boulevards. The city’s ‘Monument to Neutrality’ – a bizarre, futuristic plinth with tripod legs, not unlike a space rocket – is crowned by Ashgabat’s infamous statue of President Niyazov, said to be made of pure gold. Whilst the current administration has not found the heart to melt it down (much less jettison it to outer space), it has moved it from its previously more prominent location in the city centre… and it no longer rotates to always face the sun.
If you’ve ever wondered about life in a hard-line Soviet-style regime, Ashgabat is the place to go. One of the best places to experience the city is the teeming Tolkuchka Bazaar. Filled with authentic hustle and barter, this sprawling traditional market hawks an intriguing array of local produce, crafts, and livestock, from sheepskins to hand-woven carpets to chickens and camels.