Turkmenistan is Central Asia’s most costly nation. A simple double room will cost you USD30. Around USD60 is a more comfortable choice. A street snack costs between $1 and $3. A decent dinner at an Ashgabat restaurant costs about USD20.
Turkmenistan’s national currency is the new manat (TMT) = 100 tenge. In October 2014, €1 equaled TMT3.57, GBP1 equaled TMT4.55, and USD1 equaled TMT2.85. The US dollar is commonly recognized, but rules state that it should only be accepted in foreign hotels or at the airport. At the larger cities, credit cards are only accepted in large international hotels and banks. Only Visa credit cards are presently accepted (MasterCard will be added soon, although it is currently only valid at one bank in Ashgabat).
The bazaars are the beating heart of every Turkmen town. Bazaars are typically open everyday from 08:00 to 20:00, including Sundays. Large marketplaces, such as the Tolkuchka Bazaar on Ashgabat’s outskirts, are only open two or three mornings each week. During the cotton harvest season in fall, bazaars outside of Ashgabat will be closed during daytime hours. Sundays and lunchtime are off limits to the public.
Why not add Turkmenbashi’s self-penned Ruhnama book, which explores his ideas on what it is to be a Turkmen, to your own dictatorial library? Surprisingly, this is a logical read.
Turkoman carpets are well-known for their deep reds and geometric designs. Some traditional designs are unique to each tribe, and an expert can usually identify the tribe based on the form of the medallion-like pattern components known as guls. However, a combination is quite frequent; when a weaver from one tribe marries into another, she may incorporate aspects from both in her works.
Turkoman carpets are often referred to as “Bokhara” rugs since Bukhara, in neighboring Uzbekistan, was a center for their commerce. Turkmenistan is not the sole source of Turkoman carpets; Uzbekistan, as well as northern Iran and Afghanistan, have Turkoman populations. Other Afghan carpets are strongly inspired by Turkoman design, and Turkoman patterns are often imitated in India and Pakistan; sellers may also refer to these rugs as “Bokhara,” although while some of them are excellent rugs, they are neither as high quality nor as expensive as genuine Turkoman rugs.
Wool is often colored using synthetic dyes rather than natural dyes nowadays; this was an issue in the 19th and early 20th centuries since early synthetic dyes were of poor quality. Although it is no longer a problem, some collectors still prefer natural dyes, mostly because they produce superior arbrash, or subtle color variation throughout a rug.
Carpets bought at a bazaar or private store need an export permit. The Expert Commission in Ashgabat (phone 398879 and 398887, working hours Mon to Fri 14:30 to 17:30, Sat 10:00 to 12:00) must declare that the carpet is not more than 50 years old and may be exported. This costs TMT115 per square metre and may take many days to complete. Furthermore, carpets larger than 1.5 square metres are subject to an export tax of TMT400 per square metre. payable in USD at the official rate of currency at the time of departure at customs
Turkmenhaly, a state-owned enterprise, operates several carpet manufacturers. If you purchase a carpet from a government store, the export costs are usually included in the price, but customs will levy a commission fee of 0.2 percent of the carpet’s price.
Look for publications by Dr. Murray Eiland, a California collector, for an approachable (and reasonably priced) guide to these carpets. If you plan to spend a significant amount of money on these carpets, particularly if you are interested in older carpets, it may be worthwhile to investigate further. Tappiseries de l’Asie Centrale by AA Bogolyubov, the Tsarist administrator of Turkmenistan, was published in Russian and French in St. Petersburg in 1905. It was a limited edition with hand-painted drawings that is now very rare and costly (several thousand dollars). Carpets of Central Asia, edited by J.M.A. Thompson, was published in the United Kingdom in the 1960s; book is no longer in print but may be obtained in libraries. It is considerably simpler to locate and much less costly than the original on the secondhand market.