My friend and I both knew many things about Turkmenistan—its imposing ruins from great civilisations of the past, its breathtaking natural sights, its unique culture and, obviously, that huge crater on fire in the middle of the desert.
We had been planning this trip for months and, in October 2019, we visited the Embassy of Turkmenistan in London to get our entry visas. Obviously I had to include a post-it note in my passport, which roughly said, “Could you please put the visa sticker on page 12?” I had tried that before with the Chinese consulate, and it worked perfectly!
A week later, I got mail! Well, it was my own envelope, which I handed to the Embassy the week before. I knew that my passport was inside… but was the visa sticker on the right page? (Spoiler: yes.)
(1) The Eight-Pointed Star: This star is the symbol of Turkmenistan. On this visa sticker alone it is featured many, many times—look at that background! So I’ll let you imagine how many times I saw this symbol when travelling around Turkmenistan. Look at the picture below (4) to see how shiny this thing actually is—this scan doesn’t do it justice.
(2) 16.12.2019–21.12.2019: As you can see, time is a super important factor when it comes to travelling into Turkmenistan. The visa gives you a very narrow time window, which usually corresponds to the duration of your stay there, with no wiggle room at all. A Turkmen adventure requires a lot of organisation!
(3) Kaka, Dashoguz, Koneurgenc: These are three Turkmen cities. I don’t actually know why my visa features them—we didn’t even go to Kaka. I tried to ask, but the reply I got was “The comments are for internal purposes only”. The spelling is also very interesting: Dashoguz is a transliteration (cf. Turkmen Daşoguz), whereas Konye-Urgench is spelt according to the Turkmen orthography, minus the diacritics (cf. Köneürgenç).
(4) The Embassy Stamp: This stamp features the Emblem of Turkmenistan accompanied by an inscription that says “Embassy of Turkmenistan in the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland”. The emblem, unsurprisingly, is one huge eight-pointed star, which contains Turkmenistan’s famous rug patterns, an Akhal-Tepe horse (the world’s most beautiful horse breed) and the typical Islamic crescent moon.
In December, my friend and I got stamped into Turkmenistan and marvelled at one of the cleanest and most unique airports we’d ever seen. The Ashgabat International Airport, shaped like a Turkmen bird, was completely white, gold (and green), and it was full of eight-pointed stars. Unfortunately I don’t remember a great deal about my exchanges with the border officer: I was too tired after spending the entire day on an exhausting and never-ending journey from London…
The guys of the tour agency kept our passports while we were resting and, when we got them back in the evening, I found out that there was an additional blue stamp! I was overjoyed: this little gift was completely unexpected and it looked so straight and perfect! (Not that unstraight things aren’t beautiful… Although the unstraight Turkish stamps were ugly as hell.) I will explain the purpose and the meaning of this stamp a bit further down.
(1) Another Eight-Pointed Star: They really want to put this thing everywhere… It is truly an omnipresent visual item and it is, without a doubt, a beacon of Turkmenness. After (3), you’ll see a picture I took of the airport… Your task is to count all the eight-pointed stars you can find!
(2) Arrow Pointing Left: It means “Entry”. In my view, this isn’t the best way to signal it, as it can be quite ambiguous. It does however, point inwards, which could be taken as to mean “Entry”.
(3) Aşgabat: “Ashgabat”, the “City of Love”, suffered an earthquake in 1948, which killed two-thirds of its inhabitants. After the dissolution of the USSR, the capital of the new Turkmen Republic started developing in a more than unique way, quickly becoming the city with the highest concentration of white marble buildings. Driving down the wide boulevard of the city, I couldn’t help but notice that even all the cars were white!
(1) Airplane Icon: Look at it carefully: it’s oriented according to the direction of the “Exit” arrow! That’s a cool detail—there seems to be a directionality to everything. (And our life ought to have a direction as well—it needs to be oriented towards what’s good, not just what feels good… Just kidding, I’m not your life guru.)
(2) 21.12.2019: Look at how tight schedule was: we got into Turkmenistan on December 16th and left December 21st. Our trip fit the time limit allowed by our visas like a glove, which means that we had harnessed 100% of their potential, without wasting anything. (The opposite thing happened with my Chinese visa…)
(1) Türkmenistaniň Medeniýet Ministrligi: It means “Ministry of Culture of Turkmenistan”—the purpose of this governmental body is kinda self-explanatory given its name. There is no Ministry of Tourism, since the country isn’t really jammed with tourists as of today, so it’s safe to assume that tourism is managed by the Ministry of Culture instead.
(2) Syýahatçylyk Müdirligi: “Department of Tourism”. Turkmen is a Turkic language, although it’s written with a non-Turkish-based orthography, which makes it looks so mysterious and exotic. (It is also a pain in the bumhole to translate. Turkmen, for instance, isn’t available on Google Translate…)
(3) «16» 12.19–21.12.2019ý: This is probably the weirdest date format I’ve ever seen, with those fancy guillemets and that accented “y” at the end. The space on the stamp was probably designed to host one date only, and not a from/to layout. That handwriting is super recognisable—I see it as strikingly Soviet/Russian: there is an intrinsic Russianness to those elegant pen-strokes…
(4) Signatures: The person signing this is also the başlik, which means “chief”, “head”. So I guess that an authority figure from the Department of Tourism stamped and signed my passport.
So, if you were wondering what this was, let me enlighten you. This stamp acts as a travel pass: after getting into the country, I probably still needed the approval of the Syýahatçylyk Müdirligi in order to be able to get around. I love how it’s in my passport, and not on some freely-hanging piece of paper. So yeah, that’s how something that’s neither from a border-crossing point, nor from a diplomatic mission, found its way into my passport. And, since it’s such an official piece of ink, I love it to bits.