I’ve dreamt of going to the Silk Road for longer than I can remember. Something about that phrase is more evocative than any other, for me at least, of far flung places, exotic spices, dusky maidens…..adventure.
So when we rocked up in Turkmenistan, we were ready to get our Silk Road ON.
First stop Tolkuchka Bazaar, on the outskirts of Ashgabat, and for decades perhaps the most famous of all the Silk Road bazaars for its sheer volume of STUFF. Want a live camel or two? A bushel of pomegranates? Stripy skullcap for the gentleman, silken headscarf for the lady? Prayer mats? Or more prosaically, some drain cleaner? A new kitchen sink? It’s all right here, you’ve just got to haggle (hard) for it. Strangely, however, we came away without buying anything other than several pounds of pomegranates (small translation issue), some nougat and a small mountain of dried fruit and nuts (so good here). Not for fear of haggling, mind (although we did both nearly fall over when the nice kindly old man quoted us $300 for the nice fluffy hats we’d been looking at. Real mink, apparently, rather than the more traditional sheepskin. Or fun fur). More a completely overwhelming surplus of choice. Tolkuchka has been moved in recent years to a smart, glossy new location that is shaped like a carpet (kid you not) and absolutely MASSIVE. Too big. We had an awesome time wandering round and looking at the transparent evidence of a genealogical melting pot in the faces of the people all around us but nearly gave up on our quest for the livestock market. We found it eventually though and were rewarded not only by the sight of camels being manhandled into pickup trucks (apparently quite easy – tie up their front leg, hoick it up onto the flatbed, camel will follow) but also the famous Silk Road fat bottomed sheep. And yes, they do indeed.
We did also see some magnificent carpets at the Bazaar, which, in retrospect, were probably some of the finest we have seen. However, Turkmenistan has some fairly byzantine carpet export legislation, so we didn’t look too closely, saving that treat instead for the shops which sell the goods complete with licence. Here, however, the selection was underwhelming, until, in the half hour before we were finally due to leave Ashgabat for good, I looked into the hotel shop – only to find a veritable Aladdin’s cave of beautiful, fairly priced carpets, but alas without the time to be able to indulge. We’ve been left, both of us, with a relentless thirst for a truly beautiful carpet which has followed us through the Silk Road, thus far unslaked.
What’s a girl to do in the face of such adversity? Well, ordinarily, drown the sorrow, but what with the multiple attractively dressed and strangely unaccompanied young ladies in the bar, I fell to the last resort.
Mutton kebab. First of many. Uuuuuummmm, greasy.
Welcome to the Silk Road.