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Beautiful capital city home to more than one million people with completely empty streets

On the very western edge of Central Asia lies Turkmenistan, a place largely covered by the desert and unknown to outsiders.

It is a sparsely populated state, one of the most sparsely populated nations on the Asian continent, though its capital city, Ashgabat, is massive.

Home to a million people and a considerable amount of land, grand monuments and memorials line its streets with everything clean and pristine.

Yet, you’d not think so many people lived there, for visitors who travel to Ashgabat report seeing wide avenues empty of people.

But why? And what is the capital like? Express.co.uk takes a look at one of the most mysterious metropolises in the world.

Ashgabat was founded in 1881 as a tribal village. Fast-forward to 1924 in the Soviet Union’s early days and the region was soon swept under the control of Russia. Ashgabat was made the capital of the Turkmen Soviet Socialist Republic.

The city was built from the ground up but was almost entirely destroyed in the catastrophic 1948 Ashgabat earthquake.

Though a tragedy on the surface, it provided the authorities a chance to rebuild the city in the socialist modernist style, present in many of the city’s present-day prefabricated tower blocks.

Leader Saparmurat Niyazov later rolled out what is known as his “White City” urban renewal project which can today be seen in the behemoth structures covered entirely in expensive white marble, giving the city its clean and bright appearance.

It’s not exactly clear why no one walks the streets. There are other strange unposed rules, too, like the fact that every car must be white.

Some have said the lack of people might be explained by the extreme weather systems, especially in the summer, when temperatures can exceed 40C. The people would rather be inside where the A/C is, they reason.

Even if the streets were filled with people they’d still look odd considering the size of some of the city’s buildings.

Take the Monument Arch of Neutrality. Built in 1998 on the orders of Niyazov, it cost £9.5million and towers 246 feet into the sky.

Then there’s the Turkmenistan Independence Monument, which boasts a total area of 910,000 sq ft and is surrounded by green landscaping that encompasses a cascaded pool and 27 heroic statues of Turkmen leaders, centred on a golden statue of Niyazov.

Videos of the city posted online do show Turkmen people out and about in the streets and visiting the various national monuments, but they are few and far between.

If you do end up visiting Turkmenistan and Ashgabat, you’re unlikely to see any other tourists during your stay.

It is famously hard to get a visa for the country. In most cases, travel is possible only by joining a guided tour and spending the duration of your time with the group.

There are two options, a transit visa — for when you might need to stop off in the country during a trip elsewhere – and a tourist visa, for which a Letter of Invitation from the embassy must be secured.

A visa will cost you between £40 ($50) to £118 ($150) and must be paid with dollars.

Very few places fly directly to Turkmenistan, so most visitors must catch a connecting flight in Istanbul.


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