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My Silk Road The Piglet stumbles across the continent

47 - From Ashgabat to Merv (from new to old) or so I thought...

TURKMENISTAN | Thursday, 8 November 2012 | Views [674]

Mary - fried fish snack for US$3

Mary - fried fish snack for US$3

From Ashgabat, there is a 6 hour odd drive to Mary, the nearest city to the ancient ruins of Merv, my next destination.  Merv is my main reason for visiting Turkmenistan.   Merv was an important crossroads between China and the West on the Silk Road, and was also a well-known centre for Islamic studies attracting many pilgrims and holy men in the past. 

The hotel at Ashgabat was much more comfortable and convenient than I had expected (including a fast and inexpensive WiFi connection), though rather expensive – around US$30 for a simple dinner of lentil soup, “cutlets” (Turkmen for meat patties) and “vegetable ragout” (aka sautéed peppers and pumpkin).  Most of the hotel guests seemed to be from the former CIS states or United Nations staff on expense accounts (the self-professed chatty UN staff sitting next to me at dinner enjoyed 3 courses and drinks).   When I checked out of the hotel, I left two Russian (?) girls sitting in the lobby, one peering into her iPhone 5 and the other reading Fifty Shades of Grey (I guess some trends are universal…)  

Enroute to Merv are several eroded watch towers built during the Silk Road days to warn incoming travelers of bandits enroute.  I am on the right track!   We also stop by Anau, remains from the Bronze Age, and Abiverd, an important Silk Road city which was destroyed by the Mongols.  And what was not destroyed by the Mongols had been devastated during the 1948 quake.

About an hour away from Mary, my guide suggested we stop by a fish restaurant that was popular with travelers and truckers.  The restaurant is strategically located near a fresh water lake and its specialty is fried fish (a fresh water fish like carp or 魭鱼).  The simple but delicious meal consisted of 4 pieces of crispy fresh fried fish, bread and some gazpacho-type sauce for US$3.  

We arrive at Mary just before sunset.  My hotel is located next to a school and we arrive just in time to see the children and teenagers stream out of school, some waiting to be picked up and playing skip rope while waiting.  It reminded me of my own schooldays when I would eagerly look forward to my mother picking me up after school, sometime so eager that I would leave my lunchbox behind.

Mary is less overwhelming (architecturally) than Ashgabat but also very clean and new. It also seemed to me that more of its inhabitants were of Russian origin (blonde and caucasian) like the waitresses who served me at the fish restaurant.  They worked in rotating shifts: one week at the restaurant and then one week off in Mary.


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