ABOUT Turkmenistan is situated in the very heart of Central Asia, between the Caspian Sea in the west and the great Amu Darya River in the east, and from the Aral Sea littoral steppes in the north to the Kopet Dag mountain range to the south. Turkmenistan is an independent state; founded in 1991 after the disintegration of the USSR, five years later it attained a unique political status which was recognized by the United Nations Organization. Turkmenistan is the home of some of the World's oldest civilizations, having made a significant contribution to the development of World culture. Modern Turkmenistan's borders first appeared in the world around the same time as India and the Middle East. Historical sources prove that in the 3rd-2nd millennia BC two large states, which were consolidated nations living far from each other in the desert and river valleys, were established on the territory of present-day Turkmenistan. In an effort to attract foreign investment and tourism to Turkmenistan, the government has focused on infrastructure, construction of quality accommodation, including several 4-star hotels, and development of conference and business facilities. Turkmenistan now hosts the largest and most modern airport in Central Asia. Flights arrive daily from Birmingham, England, Germany, India, Iran, Istanbul, Pakistan, Russia, Ukraine and the United Arab Emirates. After the collapse of the Soviet Union, Turkmenistan largely disappeared from world view under the eccentric personality cult of its leader Saparmurat Niyazov. All foreigners entering Turkmenistan have to pay a registration fee and will receive a green entry and departure card. Take particular care of the departure card, as it must be presented when leaving the country. Travelers staying for more than 3 days in Turkmenistan must register with IVOR in Ashgabat. You are responsible for registration, even when staying in a hotel. The hotel will give you a confirmation of the accommodation only. This confirmation and the receipt for the registration fee paid when entering the country have to be presented to IVOR. Two photos are required. Registration will be stamped into your passport. You have to give notice to the IVOR in order to be permitted to leave the country. This notice will be stamped into the passport as well. Border controls will check if you have registration and notice to leave stamped into your passport. In Central Asia, Islam has always managed to coexist with paganism and ancient tradition. Just outside the Turkmen capital Ashgabat lie the ruins of an ancient mosque. Hundreds of people come here every Friday, not only to pray but also to visit the grave of Jamal al-Din, a sheikh who built the mosque in the 15th Century. His tomb is said to have special powers. Investigations of the tomb have uncovered rare artefacts. The mosque was destroyed in 1948 when a massive earthquake hit Ashgabat. There is more to be found in the Annau hills nearby, where research has already revealed the existence of ancient settlements that date back more than 4,000 years. The relics are gradually being opened to foreign tourists. Set along the ancient Silk Road, Turkmenistan is home to dozens of unique archaeological sites, including the ancient cities of Merv, Margoush and Nisa, which was the capital of the ancient Parthian Empire.

CLIMATE Turkmenistan has an arid desert climate with extreme summer heat and sub-freezing winter temperatures. Turkmenistan enjoys a dry, continental climate, with very hot summers rarely below 35°C and occasionally up to 50°C in the southeastern regions of the Karakum Desert. Turkmenistan enjoys an average of 250 sunny days annually. In the south of Turkmenistan the climate is also slightly more continental than in the north and temperatures seldom drop below 5°C. Northern areas, near the Uzbek border and Khorezm (Dashoguz), can become very cold in winter with temperatures dropping below -20°C. The best months for moderate temperatures are April and May for the beautiful blossoming deserts and mountains. September and October are great for an abundance of fresh fruit and vegetables, in the autumn harvest season. There is snow in the north, as well as above 1,000m in the mountains in January and February.

BEWARE There is a low threat from terrorism, but you should be aware of the global risk of indiscriminate terrorist attacks, which could be in public places, including those frequented by expatriates and foreign travellers. There are occasional incidents of mugging, theft and pick pocketing, especially at local markets. Take sensible precautions and keep valuables out of sight. Women should avoid going out alone late at night. Certain areas of the country, particularly border areas, are designated restricted zones and require special permission to enter. The borders with Afghanistan and Iran are particularly sensitive. Ashgabat, the Caspian port of Turkmenbashi, and the ancient Silk Road city of Merv/Mary are not in restricted areas. Check with your local tour guide before travelling outside the capital.