Some 18km west of the turning to Kow Ata, the district capital, Baharly, is known for the fine quality of carpets made there, but contains little to detain the visitor. The town was named Baharden until a visit by Niyazov in October 2003, when the president determined that it should be renamed in order to restore a description deriving from the time of Oguz Han. Baharly, 'With Spring', reflected the spring seasons spent in the area by the ancestor of the Turkmen people.
Five kilometres west of Baharly, a track to the south is marked by a small, easily missable green sign pointing the way to the Mausoleum of Zengi Baba. The latter is visible trom the road, surrounded by the crumbling earth walls of the abandoned village of Murche.
The Mausoleum of Zengi Baba is a heavily restored square-based building, topped with a dome. The transition between walls and dome is marked with four squinches, separated by niches. Researchers believe that the mausoleum dates either from the 13th or 14th centuries, when it was constructed using bricks taken from earlier buildings, or was built in the 10th or 11th centuries and then reconstructed two or three centuries later. The cenotaph is decorated with geometrically patterned tiles. Outside the mausoleum is a pile of what are popularly said to be the petrified eggs of dinosaurs. Or possibly cannonballs. Also collected here are ammonites and other stones whose unusual appearance has resulted in the ascription of sacred properties.
The mausoleum at Murche is the best-known of several across Turkmenistan dedicated to Zengi Baba, the patron of cattle breeders. The Turkmen traditions surrounding Zengi Baba combine Islamic beliefs with some decidedly pre-Islamic strands, including the Zoroastrian reverence for cattle. Many popular Turkmen tales depict the rivalry between Zengi Baba and Duldul Ata, the patron of horse breeders. One example is a hare-and-tortoise-style race, pitting horses against cows in a bid to get back to the village first. The canny Zengi Baba prayed for rain, which turned the ground to thick mud, impeding the horses but not the cows. And he summoned great clouds of mosquitoes, which troubled the horses dreadfully, but failed to deflect his cows from their steady progress to the village. The cows were, accordingly, the unlikely winners of the race.
The abandoned village of Murche is an atmospheric place. Its crumbling mud walls and doorways, and the overpowering silence of the place, give an impression of great antiquity. But the village was abandoned only in the early 1960s, when the construction of the Kara Kum Canal a few kilometres to the north prompted its relocation closer to the canal. University students working at the site have rebuilt a mud-brick round tower in the traditional style. Another reconstructed building features a fireplace crowned with an elaborate, stepped, mantelpiece.
If you have time, it is worth stopping briefly at the small village of Sunche, 12km west of Murche, where an ancient water-mill continues to grind flour as it has done for centuries.