Trans Eurasia travel

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A police checkpoint marks the entrance to Ruhabat District, reached just 3km or so beyond the outskirts of Ashgabat. The district capital of Ruhabat is another kilometre on. President Niyazov has announced that Ruhabat is to be a model of a Turkmen village in the Golden Age. The concept appears to be that differences between village and city should disappear, with villagers accorded access to all facilities available to urban dwellers. At Ruhabat, a small settlement once known simply for its railway goods yard, large marble-faced buildings have appeared which do indeed seem to have been transplanted from the urban plan of Ashgabat.

Turn right across the railway line, and then left into the village, to get a closer look. Three white-marble buildings face the main road. The first reached is a shopping centre, semi-populated with a lew state outlets, but usually lacking any customers. Next is a cultural centre named after Turkmenbashy the Great, with a columned facade. It is normally deserted. There is a little more life at the Hyakimlik, the office of the district governor, further on. This has a curved facade and palm trees out front. The road through the village then turns sharply to the right. A long two-storey marble-faced building just beyond is a school dedicated to the president's mother. A statue of Gurbansoltan Eje stands in front of it. She gestures hesitantly forward, her left arm protectively around her son, who holds up a copy of the book Ruhnama.