Lying on the banks of the mighty Amu-Darya, between the Karakum desert and the fertile plains of Uzbekistan, sprawling Turkmenabat sits at a crossroads of cultures. The town itself feels as if it’s in the geographic centre of nowhere, yet after the mind-numbing drive through the desert, it’s something of a surprise to find such a large city appear out of the sand.
The Silk Road city of Amul prospered here until its destruction by the Mongols in 1221, and was reborn under the Russian empire as Charjou, a name you’ll still hear used by the remaining Russian-speaking locals. In 2009 a gas pipeline opened here taking Turkmen gas to China, thus ensuring the city’s economic prosperity. Despite being the second-largest city in the country, there’s nothing much to see or do here, though it’s an obvious stopover between Mary and Uzbekistan.