The Ashgabad Gazette Issue 19


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 fort walls.

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.

A Virtual Tour of Turkmenistan
© 1998-99 Joe Kelley