Home Lifestyle Inside one of the world’s most secretive countries and its bizarre record

Inside one of the world’s most secretive countries and its bizarre record

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Turkmenistan is shrouded in mystery (Picture: Getty Images)

Imagine living in a country where Whatsapp is banned, the internet and Wi-Fi are virtually non-existent, and you can drive any car you want – as long as it’s white. Sounds like a place that should exist only in someone’s imagination, right? Well, no.

Because that’s exactly how life is for the citizens of Turkmenistan, one of the most secretive – and least-visited – countries in the world.

Turkmenistan is bordered by Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Afghanistan and Iran. Once part of the Soviet Union, becoming independent after its dissolution in 1991, the country has a population of 6.5 million, making it the 35th most populated nation in Asia – and one of the most sparsely populated nations on that continent.

It’s also steeped in history, with the city of Merv being one of the great cities of the Islamic world – and an important stop on the Silk Road, a caravan route which was used for trade with China until the mid-15th Century.

But while little is known about the place, visitors to Turkmenistan have opened up about some of their more unusual laws and rules, which may sound bizarre to those in the wider world.

Cars of all colours other than white or silver were banned in 2018 – with black cars and those of other colours needing to be repainted (Picture: Getty Images)

Those who have been to Turkmenistan’s capital Ashgabat haven’t taken long to notice that all the cars on the streets are either white or silver – and it’s completely deliberate.

The car rule has come to the country courtesy of Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedow, Chairman Of The People’s Council of Turkmenistan.

It’s reported Mr Berdimuhamedow – who was president of the country until 2022 when he entered into a power-sharing arrangement with his son Serdar – made the rule after ordering the impounding of all black cars in the capital in 2018.

Police were said to have subsequently seized black cars and told the owners they had to pay to have them repainted white or silver. The ban was later extended to vehicles of all other colours.

Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedow is the man behind the white car ruling (Picture: Getty Images)

No official reason was given for the directive, although it’s known that Mr Berdimuhamedow is a fan of the colour white, believing it to be lucky.

Not only do cars have to conform to the colour rules, but they also have to be sparkling clean. In fact, visitors report that driving with a dirty car can land you in trouble with the police, who strictly enforce the rules.

And the theme doesn’t stop at cars either. Ashgabat holds the oddly-specific Guinness World Record for the place with the ‘highest density of white marble-clad buildings’.

Mr Berdimuhamedow lives in a white palace and travels around town in a white limousine. It’s no surprise then that the capital is known as the ‘City of White Marble’.

Capital city Ashgabat is also decked in white (Picture: Getty Images/iStockphoto)

But the bizarre rules in Turkmenistan don’t end there.

For example, don’t expect to be able to freely use the internet if you visit as you can in other parts of the world.

Access to the Internet is heavily regulated there and only a small fraction of the population can access it, with most websites banned other than local ones accessible via the Turkmenet, a censored version of the web available only in Turkmen.

And you won’t be able to drop your friends back a home a message telling them about the visually breathtaking sights of the capital.

Most social media apps, including Facebook, Twitter and Instagram are blocked in Turkmenistan, along with WhatsApp, Telegram and YouTube. While many get round the ban by using VPNs, these are frequently shut down by the authorities.

One person who has experienced Turkmenistan for himself is a content creator named Chris, who is on a mission to visit every country in the world for his YouTube channel Authentic Traveling. Speaking about his time there he confirmed how little communication there is with the rest of the world.

‘Almost every single website is banned including major airline sites to book tickets out of the country! Imagine the anxiety I felt if I missed my flight,’ he said, before adding that despite the banning of certain social media it was still used, with places advertising Instagram accounts.

‘Officially Instagram is banned in the country but then at times they seem to look the other way…it never really made sense to me,’ he said.

Visitors say they were assigned a guide for the duration of their stay – and could not go anywhere without them.

Can you visit Turkmenistan?

Although it is possible to visit Turkmenistan, it’s not the easiest country in the world to pop to on holiday.

Turkmenistan is not the easiest place in the world to visit – but it is possible (Picture: Getty Images)

Travellers from the UK will need a visa and if you’re travelling for leisure you’ll need a letter of invitation to support your application, or a letter from relevant companies or ministries if you’re going there on business.

The decision on visas is taken in Ashgabat and this can take up to a month, unless you’re prepared to pay around $150 (£118) for the application to be processed faster.

Flights can be hard to come by too, with many airlines having not resumed their routes to the country since the pandemic.

However many of the sights, such as the Darvaza gas crater, are stunning (Picture: Getty Images/iStockphoto)

But for all the laws and rules there are some stunning sights to see in Turkmenistan – including the Darvaza gas crater, which has been burning continuously since 1968.

Chris said: ‘It is amazing, it is so hot. You can feel these waves of massive heat coming. Sometimes the wind blows it away, it gets your face so incredibly hot. It’s absolutely amazing to come here to see this really, really cool wonder.’


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