From the turn-off on the Ashgabat-Turkmenbashi road, it’s a small hour’s drive on a dusty winding road heading into the Kopet Dag mountains that separate Turkmenistan from Iran before you come to the village of Nokhur.
You’ve heard it’s remote and full of ancient beliefs, and so you are a little shocked to see shiny new cars bumping along in front of you.
Nokhurli are different from other Turkmens. They claim to descend from Alexander the Great’s Greeks (like others across Central Asia) and they speak a dialect unrecognizable to other Turkmen speakers. They are famous for their work ethic in Turkmenistan. They stick together and help each other out, and this has made them rich, a force to be reckoned with in Ashgabat’s economy. They are also famous for something else.
Timeless people, off-beat customs
Nokhur’s setting gives off a timeless sentiment. Tucked deep into the mountains, its dusty roads and the clay walls of its houses covered in grapevines remind of Afghanistan’s shades of brown, rather than the harsh desert of Turkmenistan.
The cemetery of Nokhur is the obvious sight in this mountain village. Its graves, marked by the horns of mountain goats, point to burial rites steeped in animism, sprinkled with Zoroastrianism. The goat horns are there to fight off evil spirits, while the stones are marked with steps, to help the deceased ascend to heaven.
Other interesting spiritual sights lie just beyond, like the cave of Kyz Bibi, which once swallowed a pious woman afraid of being violated by attackers. Good if you want to get pregnant.
Nokhur is made up of several villages, and the area is one of the only spots in Turkmenistan suitable to walking. You can connect the different villages through shepherd’s trails that pass by waterfalls and swimming holes.
It’s a good excuse to hang out with the locals and learn more about the place. So many interesting customs lay just below the surface. Why do the women of Nokhur wear their headscarves in their mouth, for instance? “Because otherwise they say silly things.” Amateur-anthropologists will have a field day.
Another plus: there are no policemen watching your back like in the cities. Besides mountain goats, you might see a jackal or a wild mountain sheep. Horn-shaped fossilized ammonites are strewn about everywhere in the Kopet Dag.
Sleep on carpets or under the stars
At the moment, 1 homestay is available in Nokhur, and it would be difficult to find a better place to stay than this. Huge plates of food, homely feeling and real Turkmen hospitality. No beds are available, just a huge carpeted space to stretch out on. A special treat is to sleep outside on the patio and watch the stars turn.
Located at more than 1000m height, you will welcome the chill after the desert heat, but it could get cold later in the year.
It pays to saunter around the village. Nokhur silk and felt is considered unique and top quality in Turkmenistan. The houses have wooden columns carved in distinct patterns (some say Ionic, I say ammonite) and rams horns abound.
Oh yes, forgot to say more about the polygamy. Wasn’t that illegal in Soviet times?
I guess you will need to figure that one out for yourself once you get there.