Exiting the Underground Lake
--Sunday, 25 October 98--
Trip to the Underground Lake and Geok Tepe
I was waiting downstairs when Volutzha, the driver, walked up to me. He
had a car problem and needed to use the phone. When he was done, I called
Grant to tell him of the delay. Apparently Volutzha's car lost a bolt
in the suspension. We walked over to the car and Dima showed up and became
our driver for the day.
We drove the 100 km (60 miles) to the underground lake (more a pond),
that is at the toe of the mound at the foot of the hill at the knee of
the Kopet Dag mountains. We got there well enough but there was no electricity
and, even more shocking, no photo, statue, medallion, carving, casting
or bust of Turkmenbashy!
We waited hopefully for the electricity to come on while two wedding parties
roared in noisily and had photos take in front of the ticket kiosk. Each
bride wore a red coat over her head with the sleeves tied back and a 40
cm (15 inch) white fringe on the front concealing her face. Snap, snap
went the cameras as she posed with various members of the wedding party.
It was all videod, too. To see the wedding party and the jacket the bride
wears on her head, click here.
Above is the Goek Tepe Mosque
built on the site of the great Turkman defeat in 1881. The Madrassa
(school) is the low structure on the right.
n the way back we stopped at the mosque at Geok Tepe, the site of the
last great battle of the Turkmen against their Czarist conquerers. It
was a great fort with high mud walls set in a plain near the mountains.
The Russians beseiged the place and only succeeded when they had tunneled
under the wall and set off a huge charge of dynamite. After that, it was
all about killing. An estimated 15,000 men, women and children died there.
Fearing nationalist influences the Soviets ignored the history of the
place but the government of newly independent Turkmenistan saw it as a
historical site and commissioned a mosque to be built within the decaying
The mosque was built for the government by a French firm (apparently THE
French firm) and was exquisitely constructed of the finest materials from
Morrocco, Yugoslavia, Italy and elsewhere. It is also beautifully designed
with a 42 meter high dome and four slender minarets reaching 61 meters.
The front part of the structure is a Madrassa (Koranic School). We went
inside and got a tour but were not allowed to take pictures. The rugs
were gorgeous. It was interesting that the number of prayer rugs, possibly
indicative of the number of regular worshipers, was about fifty. Turkmenistan
is not an intensely religious society.
The big guy who guided us around the mosque asked if we would like to
see the museum so being busy as we were we said "Yes" immediately.
The museum was in what must have been a former workshop. The rooms were
small but cared for. We saw pieces of 250-year old rugs, maps of the fort,
Russian cannons, and other battle scene memorabilia.