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
times. The touristic masterplan of the Turkmen
state, the intention is for Awaza to ultimately become the
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
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.
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!
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.
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.
No resort city would be complete without a convention centre, and Awaza is no exception. The striking
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.
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.
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.
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.
The ticket office was as formal and decorated as they often are in the former
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.
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
joined the war in 1941 and thus notes that year as the start of the war.
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
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?
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!