Trans Eurasia travel

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When to visit

Lying in the heart of the Central Asian land-mass, Turkmenistan climate's is extreme continental. Summers are hot, winters cold, there is little rainfall and low humidity.

The summer months, from June to early September, are probably the worst time to visit Turkmenistan. Temperatures frequently climb above 40 °C in the shade, and make a stroll around an archaeological site a tough proposition. Applications tor visits to nature reserves during this period are often refused, because of the risks of fire. The deep blue skies of the Turkmen summer offer some compensation for the burdens of the heat, though, and a summer holiday can be pleasant here with the right preparations. Ensure that all accommodation booked has air conditioning (the summer is not a time to cut costs by staying in the cheapest hotels, where you will swelter in airless rooms), avoid trying to do too much, and stay close to your water bottle.

Winter, which lasts roughly from the end of November until February, is nothing like as severe as the snowbound months faced in more northerly parts of the former Soviet Union. Temperatures rarely fall far below freezing, except in the Kopet Dag Mountains, and any snowfall lingers for days or weeks, not months. Winter is a perfectly possible time to visit, and you may be lucky and experience only clear, crisp days. But this period can show Turkmenistan at its dreariest, with pallid skies and frequent cloud cover. Turkmen women cover their bright velvet dresses with dark leather jackets, almost as a metaphor for the wintry gloom. This time of year also sees the highest risks of flight delays (the Turkmenistan Airlines flights to the UK seem particularly prone to delays resulting from fog at the point of departure in India).

Most Turkmens will advise foreign visitors to come in springtime. The country is at its most beautiful in April and May, with the Kopet Dag Mountains covered in red poppies and tulips, and even the desert in bloom. Temperatures are pleasantly warm, though the Turkmen spring can be unpredictable, with rainy spells sometimes lingering.

Autumn too is a good time to visit. The landscape, scorched by the heat of summer, is much browner than in springtime, but warm temperatures and frequent blue skies make the period from mid-September until early-November ideal for tourism. Autumn is, however, also the time of the cotton harvest, when many Turkmens are bussed to the cotton fields to pick Turkmenistan's 'white gold'. Most museums outside Ashgabat are closed during this period, and bazaars in cotton-growing areas are kept shut by the local authorities during the daytime, to encourage people to stay in the cotton fields. They open for a few hours in the evenings.

- Approval to visit Turkmenistan is particularly difficult to get in the run-up to the Independence Day holiday on October 27, when the government focuses its attention on the official delegations visiting Turkmenistan. Difficulties in securing the necessary visit approval from the Turkmen government are also frequently reported in the run-up to two other holidays: Flag Day on February 19 and Neutrality Day on December 12. All three dates are therefore best avoided, unless you are part of an official delegation.