Effectively a giant desert ringed by oases along the country’s border, Turkmenistan is home to far more varied landscapes than you might expect. To the east are the canyons and lush mountains of the Kugitang Nature Reserve, while to the south the Kopet Dag range rises up in a line towards the Caspian Sea. The territory along the Caspian is particularly unusual – vast mud flats, coloured canyons and the enormous bulk of the Big Balkan massif make this one of the more bleakly beautiful places in the country.
Environmental Issues - Turkmenistan has paid a heavy price for the irrigation of its southern belt, using source water bound for the Aral Sea. While the Aral Sea is in Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan, its disappearance has led to desperate environmental problems in northern Turkmenistan, with the salination of the land taking its toll on the health of local people. Overfishing is another concern, as caviar-bearing sturgeon become rarer in the Caspian Sea. There is very little environmental consciousness in Turkmenistan, where no one bothers to save gas, electricity or water because all are subsidised by the government. The result in Ashgabat is a thin layer of semipermanent smog.