We left Turkmenbashy quite late that day, and were in for a long drive. The first part was easy, as we drove on the highway to Ashgabat, but after the turnoff, the road quickly deteriorated and our speed decreased. We saw camels, a holiday complex for the president, and well, yes, a settlement seemingly in the middle of a sea of dry, low shrubberies. One small shop, a gas station, and a few houses - nothing else. After more driving, through a rocky, mountainous part, a plain opened up to us - until the horizon. An almost perfectly straight road cutting right through it, and that was the road we would follow. Still more driving, a turnoff to Gozli Ata, and the first formations of the canyon became visible.
It was not a canyon as you might expect. No high cliffs rising from a narrow valley; this canyon was actually shaped by the sea that used to be here millions of years ago. Erosion, wind, weather, and tectonic shifts have all contributed to the development of the current curious landscape that was unfolding in front of our eyes. We saw long stretches of red-white-brown layered rock formations like table mountains in the otherwise flat plains. When we reached a small pass, a spectacular landscape suddenly opened up before us: up to 100 metre high cliffs of intensely red, white and brown rock formations were visible in various parts. Out of sheer joy, we ran up the hill to get even better views. Several roads criss-crossed the landscape, and after having soaked in the views, we continued driving on one of them to Gozli Ata, a Muslim shrine and, also thanks to its isolated location, pilgrimage location.
Gozli Ata was a Sufi who lived here in the 14th century, and who is buried in a mausoleum in this desolate location. We walked among the old tombstones, saw our first fertility site where women wanting to get pregnant tie up pieces of cloth or leave small dolls in makeshift cradles, saw the mausoleum of Gozli Ata, and enjoyed the view of the typically coloured mountains. We still had a lot of driving to do, and continued driving the canyon. The road seemed to be getting always more beautiful and offering spectacular views ahead of us - until the sun was almost down and we stopped at a nice, protected place where we put up our tents. We walked along the rock formations that were now towering above us, with intense colours and shadows stressing the amazing shapes of the rocky wall, and were in awe at their beauty. Early next morning, the light was totally different, offering a different perspective on the mountains and the canyon, before we returned to the south - to Balkanabat. We would see more impressive landscapes in Turkmenistan, but Yangykala canyon was certainly a very special sight.
Around the World in 80 Clicks
Personal travel impressions both in words and images from Yangykala Canyon & Gozli Ata (Turkmenistan). Clicking on the pictures enlarges them and enables you to send the picture as a free e-card or download it for personal use, for instance, on your weblog. Or click on the map above to visit more places close to Yangykala Canyon & Gozli Ata. Read more about this site.