Trans Eurasia travel

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Named Cheleken until 2000, Hazar is an oil town at the end of a peninsula running along the southern side of Turkmenbashy Gulf. It lies in a restricted border zone (the checkpoint is just to the east of town), slightly over 100km from Jebel. The road to the town passes through bleak but strangely compelling landscapes of blown sands punctuated by the rusting detritus of the oil industry.

The population of the town has declined rapidly since independence, mainly through emigration of the town's non-Turkmen communities. Many of the apartments in its three- and four-storey blocks now stand empty. A large open central square is overlooked by a cloaked statue of President Niyazov standing atop a podium. The Bar Jeyhun, to the side of the square (disco on the ground floor; bar above), is about it as regards evening entertainment in Hazar. Behind the statue of the president is a battered Oil Workers' Cultural Palace. To the side of this is a rusty monument depicting rockets heading off into the cosmos. The combined post and telephone office is next to this. Behind the cultural palace, the sea has reclaimed what was once part of the town.

Two tree-lined streets head off at 45° angles from the central square. The street to the east ends with a silver statue of a poor, barefoot man triumphantly holding aloft a bowl of oil. This monument, built to commemorate the first oil extracted in Cheleken, demonstrates the ease with which the early oil, simply seeping up out of the ground, could be collected. The street to the west ends at a war memorial. The inscription on a stone opposite this memorial promises, apparently forlornly, that a monument will be built in honour of Turkmens drowned by the White Forces in the Civil War in 1919.

The town's small airport was closed to passenger traffic in 2004, as the runway cannot accommodate a Boeing 717. But as you begin the journey back by road towards Jebel, a sign in English on the town's gate does at least urge you to 'hove a nice trip'.