As we drove down the tree lined streets, we passed rows of tiny, one-floor houses that sat just yards away from the road side. I watched through the window as children scurried from one side of the road to the other, playing what appeared to be a game of tag. Women, dressed in brightly colored textiles, were gathered at the corner of one street, watching their children, gossiping.
We were headed to meet Gurban, a local carpet dealer, at his house in Ashgabat. My husband and I had flown to Turkmenistan for a long weekend.
While many regions along the Silk Road produce unique carpets, Turkmen rugs have become well known in the West, due to their high quality and beauty. The art of carpet weaving has been handed down from generation to generation and is central to the Turkmen culture. Each tribe has its own specific patterns and symbols which represent aspects of life which hold great importance.Since moving to Central Asia, our friends had repeatedly advised us, “You must visit Ashgabat if you have the chance – it is like nothing you’ve ever experienced or are likely to experience again.” Part of this fascination with Turkmenistan comes from the unique political system and president who posts his portrait on every available wall space in the city. But the bigger allure for us was the chance to explore a land with ancient cultures and traditions that was once part of the Silk Road.
The Silk Road runs through Central Asia and was a major trading route connecting the West to the East for hundreds of years. In fact, it was the famed traveler, Marco Polo who was the first to mention Turkmen carpets in the 13th century.
Gurban and his family have been selling Turkmen carpets for years from their house and in the Tolkuchka bazaar (the Sunday market). As we entered a Spartan yet beautiful courtyard, a sea of carpets covered the concrete floor. The deep red and orange rugs gave such an aura of warmth it was hard to not feel immediately welcomed into their home.
Gurban invited us into his house for lunch and offered us a feast of chicken, plov (traditional Central Asian rice dish) fruit, fresh juices and tea. We sat on the floor, chatting with our new friends. The smaller children played hide and seek with us, peeking their heads in the door, smiling and flirting. In the corner of the room a black and white television played a video-tape of a recent family wedding. The new bride now sat beside us, holding her new born child and pregnant with her second.