The Karakum desert (black sands in Turkmen) occupies around 3 quarters of the territory of Turkmenistan. Within this large expanse of harsh nature you can find nomad camps and desert outposts, ruined oasis towns, the famous Derweze gas crater and a surprising array of nature’s survivors.
The Erbent oasis, located in the heart of Turkmenistan about 3 hours drive north from Ashgabat, is the place for those interested in the traditions of Turkmen nomads. Feltwork and carpets, camel milk, yurt life, hunting dogs, superstitions and magical beliefs make up the pastoral life in Erbent. The word oasis is becoming less and less fitting as sands of the Karakum desert take over the town. Before long, it will be swallowed whole.
Darvaza gas crater
The Darvaza gas crater (aka the gates of hell) is one of those places that everyone has seen in top-10 lists on the internet, but very few people actually visit. It’s quite spectacular, and camping out at night hearing the fire roar is a particular delight. You have to be quick though, as the one-man government of Turkmenistan has ordered to close the hole to develop other gas drilling operations in the area.
Other sites of interest
There are some even more remote villages out in the desert. They go by names such as Damla, Akmolla, Kyzyl Takhir and Kurkutli and offer an unparallelled insight into the nomadic life of Turkmen tribes. To go with a tour operator will be costly, but if the price can be shared by several people, this is an undertaking well worth considering.
The Tugay forests near Mary and Merv hold endangered Bukharan deer, wild boar and other cool stuff.