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Turkmenistan: Dekhistan

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Dekhistan | Turkmenistan | Asia

[Visited: May 2010]

We had observed that we were entering a desert environment on the way from Balkanabat: sand was being blown across the road, sometimes obscuring our view, we saw herds of camels in their natural habitat, and small villages where not many people could be seen - apparently preferring to stay inside and escape the mercilessly blowing sand. At a certain point, we left the road behind and were merely following tracks in the plain. At a certain moment, it seemed to us that the driver was not sure where to go anymore, but then loomed ahead of us several buildings clearly sticking out of the horizon. These were the remains of the cemetery of Dekhistan. We got out of the car, and walked up to the ruins of Shir-Kebir, the oldest mosque of Turkmenistan. Instead of the brilliant and intricate blue tilework we would get accustomed to during much of our trip in Central Asia, here we found a very simple, bare structure stripped of all superfluous decorum: dome, square interior with mighrab, the outside walls as empty as the inner ones. Only the mihrab had some form of decoration by means of koranic scripts engraved in its lintels. We quickly visited the other ruined mausoleums here before continuing to Dekhistan proper.

Picture of Dekhistan (Turkmenistan): Early morning sunlight falling over Dekhistan

As the light was being taken out of the sky - the sun had disappeared a while ago - an enormous structure became visible in the distance, and we knew we were about to arrive. In fact, we had to drive all around the utterly destroyed walled city of Dekhistan to unload our baggage in a lonely house. While the driver started to prepare dinner, the guide took us to the ruins of the ancient city of Dekhistan. A hazy light gave the ruins an eerie look. We first climbed the remains of the city walls, in which you could discern the remains of watchtowers at regular intervals. From here, we got a much better impression of the sheer size of this city. From out vantage point, two tall minarets and a huge, almost square structure seemed to be making a statement: Dekhistan had once been an advanced, beautiful city and had only been unfortunate to be in the path of the ruthless hordes of the feared Genghiz Khan. One of the minarets had a big hole in it, and it is said that this was the result of the destructive powers of the Mongols. The larger structure still had parts with tilework in it - and it was easy to see that this must have been a very impressive structure. In fact, walking around the ruins, and paying attention to the ground, we found many small reminders of this. Pieces of tilework, still brightly coloured shreds of evidence of the greatness of the sacked city. All that we had collected, we added to a small pile of similar finds by other visitors at the entrance, before walking back to what would be our home for the night.

Picture of Dekhistan (Turkmenistan): Dekhistan seen from the surrounding moat

It was almost dark when we came back to the house and the motorbike parked right next to it, and had to face the playful dog of the owners of this place. A beautiful young girl was sitting on a wooden platform just outside the house, and we decided to join her. Before long, the old lady of the house appeared with the inevitable pot of green tea. Soon, we found out that she was the mother of the girl, who was the youngest of her children. All the others had already married and were gone, leaving the youngest one alone with her parents. We quickly understood that this woman was the real boss of the household, and that she was much younger than she looked. As we were sitting there, the wind picked up, and the clattering of doors, of metal lines against each other, and the swinging of the only lightbulb hanging over the street gave the scene a surrealistic feel. We had wanted to stay a little longer, but the fact that dinner was ready and that we felt like having a hearty meal, made us go inside. The driver had cooked up what would be the best meal of our visit, a richly filled vegetable soup which we all enjoyed very much. Right after dinner, as if to underline her role as the matriarch of the family, the old woman pulled out a prayer carpet, unrolled it in a corner supposedly facing Mecca, and started to pray while all the others watched. When a large insect entered the house - the wind was blowing full force now - she simply stopped praying, took the noisy creature by hand and threw it out before locking the door and windows. After that, she just continued praying. Once the floor on which we had been eating had been cleared, we rolled out our sleeping gear and soon we were all sleeping, one next to the other. The next morning, the old woman had woken up even before me, and I found her spinning wool in a room that was empty, bar an enlarged picture of president Berdimuhamedov. The light over Dekhistan was superb and I could not resist a fast walk to the ruins in order to enjoy this view from a distance before having breakfast and leaving.

Picture of Dekhistan (Turkmenistan): Shir Kebir mosque seen from inside
Picture of Dekhistan (Turkmenistan): Mihrab of the oldest mosque of Turkmenistan, Shir-Kebir
Picture of Dekhistan (Turkmenistan): Minaret of Dekhistan
Picture of Dekhistan (Turkmenistan): Lone minaret survived the destruction by the forces of Genghiz Khan
Picture of Dekhistan (Turkmenistan): Close-up of the portal of the caravanserai of Dekhistan
Picture of Dekhistan (Turkmenistan): View from the top of Shir-Kebir mosque
Picture of Dekhistan (Turkmenistan): Ruined arch of the caravanserai of Dekhistan
Picture of Dekhistan (Turkmenistan): Enormous space of the ruins of Dekhistan at dusk
Picture of Dekhistan (Turkmenistan): Ruins of Dekhistan
Picture of Dekhistan (Turkmenistan): View from Shir-Kebir mosque, north of Dekhistan
Picture of Dekhistan (Turkmenistan): Side view of Shir-Kebir mosque, north of Dekhistan

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