Trans Eurasia travel

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From Turkmenbashi there is a good road to Karabogas (formerly Bekdash), with spectacular views of the Caspian Sea and the Karabogas Basin. En route you cross a bridge that spans the 5km-long channel which connects the Caspian Sea and the inland gulf. The distance between the bridge and Karabogas town is around 60km.

Karabogas is a nearly-abandoned Soviet industrial city, probably the bleakest settlement in Turkmenistan, filled with vacant apartment blocks gutted for anything usable. The city is surrounded by surreal-looking salt lakes; the remnants of a once profitable sodium sulphate business gone belly up. The livelihood of the town is still based around sodium sulphate. This is a long-standing industry, developed in the late 1920s, which depends on the concentration of salts in Garabogazgol. Waters from this are then led into a series of natural depressions around the town, relying on the power of the Turkmen sun progressively to increase further the salt concentration. The outcome of the process is sodium sulphate and other salts which can be shovelled up into 500kg sacks. The workers who carried out this tough labour under the burning sun were praised as heroes in the Soviet period; a sign at the entrance to the town features one masked sulphate collector proudly bearing his spade like a rifle. But the industry is facing difficult times. Sacks of sodium sulphate fill warehouses and railway wagons around the town for want of markets, the workforce has reduced, and many of the apartment blocks of the town stand half-empty.

From here is a 40-minute drive to the Kazakhstan border on a rough dirt track.

Waters of the Caspian flow into the gulf of Garabogazgol. The gulf is a remarkable natural feature: save for this one narrow channel it is almost completely enclosed. A narrow causeway, along which the road now takes you, separates it from the Caspian. Since the gulf is large, shallow, and supplied only through one small channel, the outcome is a particularly salty body of water. Away from the channel, the shores of Garabogazgol are an eerily lifeless landscape. Calcified plants and sea creatures lie amongst the rocks. There are dead fish. Dead mice. What appears to be a brown stain along the shoreline proves to be comprised of thousands of dead insects. The whole place suggests death.