Trans Eurasia travel

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Ashgabat zoo

Taking the street once named Azady Kochesi, now labouring under the name 2011 Kochesi, westwards from the city centre, you pass the Tekke Bazaar on your left, reaching Ashgabat Zoo after perhaps a further 15-minute walk. Entered through an archway decorated with a pleasing frieze of elephants, camels and flamingos, the zoo is a run-down place. Its star attractions include Misha, a bear given to Niyazov in 2002 by the then President of Georgia, Shevardnadze, and an ailing lion with a bad paw. Much of the rear of the zoo has been turned over to gardening, to provide food for the animals. The cages still occupied by wildlife are pretty decrepit, and the stench from the duck pond hangs over the whole place. The monkey cage is full of birds, and wolves and hyenas prowl disconsolately around the perimeters of their undersized cages. A sign on the partridge cage announces that these birds were a gift from the president. Late Niyazov had announced plans to build a new zoo, on a more spacious site on the edge of town. The zoo is open during the summer months 08.00-19.30, except Mondays. In winter it opens 09.00-17.30. Entry costs 2,000 manat, though children and soldiers get in half price.

Back on 2011 Kochesi, heading one block east, towards the city centre, take quiet 2048 Kochesi a few metres northwards, to reach an area of parkland cleared in 2005 after a Turkmen elder was said to have recalled in ,i dream that the site was linked to the family and childhood of President Niyazov. A marble plaque in the centre of the space reports that a monument is to be constructed here to mark Niyazov's birthplace'. Awizened mulberry tree nearby is linked in another plaque to Niyazov's youth.