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The shining seaside resort of Awaza graces the eastern shore of the Caspian Sea, the world's largest totally enclosed body of water, by a very long way. Awaza is a recent extension to the city of Turkmenbashi, itself known as Krasnovodsk during Soviet times. The touristic masterplan of the Turkmen state, the intention is for Awaza to ultimately become the "Dubai of the Caspian". There is still some way to go.

We only spent one night in Awaza, but it was time enough to enjoy the facilities of the Yelkin Yacht Club, built by a Turkish company in a very resort style, although its quality was only skin-deep. We spent the following day exploring the old city of Turkmenbashi, visiting the railway station and the port area, and even chanced upon dance rehearsals of a large group of teenagers who were very keen for us to join their photos.

Descent to the Caspian Sea

The highway descends from the Karakum desert plain down to the shores of the Caspian, nearly one hundred feet below sea level. As the largest lake or inland sea in the world, the Caspian is larger than Germany, but is only about one third as salty as the world's oceans.

We stayed at the Yelkin Yacht Club, one of several resort hotels in the Awaza area. It was not in the least bit busy, which was nice for us to enjoy the serentiy of the gardens, but is symptomatic of the underlying issue with Awaza itself. If you build it, they will come, but only if they can get in to the country!

Hotel lake

Yelkin villa

The hotel had several villas divided into rooms, much like resort hotels I've seen in Mauritius.

I had a view of the Caspian from the terrace of my room. While everything looked outwardly high quality, the wooden railings were very flimsy and the plumbing wasn't quite fully thought through.

Room terrace view

Yelkin villa hotel room

My hotel room in the evening sun. The niggling details of the hotel faded into insignificance, as it was by far the most luxurious of our accommodations in country.

The main hotel building looked out onto the biggest swimming pool I've ever borne witness to. But heated swimming pools are for western wimps it seems, as it was colder than the Caspian itself.

Yelkin Yacht Club hotel

Awaza Convention Centre

No resort city would be complete without a convention centre, and Awaza is no exception. The striking pyramid structure opened in 2015 and was visible from miles down the coast.

As cold as the outdoor pool was, it was a good thing the resort was so fancy that it had an indoor, and much warmer, pool too.

Indoor pool

Outdoor pool

Looking over the enormous outdoor pool towards the café on the pier.

Like many of the buildings in Turkmenistan, the hotel café would change colour every few moments.

Caspian café

Caspian beach

I strolled out onto the beach before breakfast, and was rewarded with the entire Caspian Sea to myself. Those are my footprints…

The Caspian seemed strangely inert, althuogh very clean there was no evidence of fish, seaweed or shells. And being only a third as salty as the ocean, there was no salty breeze or even aftertaste as I swam, making it one of the most unusual seas I have known.

Caspian Sea clear waters

Shore of the Caspian

It was a sublime experience to lounge in the cool waters of my own private sea.

In Turkmenbashi itself our first stop was the railway station. The station porter showed us around the vaulted basement, which included an inscription from during the second world war.

Turkmenbashi railway station

Ticket office

The ticket office was as formal and decorated as they often are in the former USSR, but quite devoid of passengers. Or indeed, tellers.

There is a regular ferry to Azerbaijan which leaves during the ice free months, but most of the vessels in Turkmenbashi harbour had seen better days.

Wrecked Caspian ships

Turkmenbashi war memorial

The war memorial in Turkmenbashi is just across the road from the station, and includes an eternal flame to the unknown soldier.

The Soviet Union, like the United States, joined the war in 1941 and thus notes that year as the start of the war.

Turkmenbashi war memorial

Turkmenbashi local neighbourhood

Turkmenbashi city is not nearly as polished as Awaza, but was all the more real for it. We wandered around for an hour or so, seeing the most regular people and neighbourhoods that we'd yet witnessed in Turkmenistan.

This caught me by surprise, actual grafitti in such an autocratic country could only indicate a severely disgruntled sentiment - or maybe it says something enlightening?

Grafitti in Turkmenistan

Turkmen dancers

As we wandered the town, we came across a group of teenagers practicing a dance routine for the forthcoming nationl celebrations. They were keen to talk to us and take pictures, and I even had a shot of one of their big wooly hats!

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Copyright © Ross Wattie 2017