Trans Eurasia travel

The Bayramaly Sanatorium

The Bayramaly Sanatorium, now named after Saparmurat Turkmenbashy, sits immediately to the south of the town centre, occupying large shady grounds which were once the heart of the Murgab Imperial Estate. Established in the 1930s, the sanatorium became well known across the Soviet Union for the summer treatment of kidney complaints, coupling the hot, dry climate with a diet focused on the consumption of watermelons. The place has a run-down air. A besuited gold statue of the president stands in front of the forbidding-looking treatment block. The 1970s accommodation blocks nearby look equally uninviting. A derelict concrete open-air cinema building in the grounds echoes with the laughing ghosts of Soviet holidaymakers.

The real treasure of the sanatorium lies in the northern part of the complex. The tsarist royal lodge, now used as part of the sanatorium administration, is a graceful single-storey brick building. The arched main entrance on the east side of the building is flanked by two small octagonal towers, like mock minarets. An arched portico runs along the exterior of the building, the bases of the arches extending outwards as gentle buttresses. Decorated brickwork running along the tops of the walls is augmented by ornamental crenellations. Altogether a pleasing building, which, however, never accommodated a tsar.

Immediately to the north of the lodge, the original grandeur of the Murgab Imperial Estate is suggested by the conifer-fringed driveway running from the (usually locked) northern entrance of the sanatorium complex. This is an elegant former entrance, which now terminates in a large placard to President Niyazov's book Ruhnama. There is a nearby symbol from the intervening age too: a Soviet-era silver-painted statue of a healthy mother and beaming daughter.