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Discovering Turkmenistan: Culture and Carpets

Women selling traditional carpets in Turkmenistan
A women selling carpets in the Talkouchka Market, just outside of Ashgahbat, Turkmenistan

For a visitor to Central Asia, learning about the Turkmen traditional art is one of the best ways to immerse yourself in the local culture. The Silk Road was a major trading route connecting the west to the east for hundreds of years. In fact Marco Polo was the first to mention Turkmen carpets, in the 13th century. While many regions along the Silk Road produce unique carpets, Turkmen rugs have become well known in the West, because of 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 unique patterns and symbols which represent aspects of life which hold great importance.

Gurban Yurtakov 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 videotape of a recent family wedding. The new bride sat beside us, holding her newborn child. She held a piece of cloth from her headdress in her mouth, unable to speak in the presence of her mother-in-law—a Muslim tradition. We exchanged smiles and without words she expressed pride in her wedding, her child, and her family.

After lunch our carpet education began. My husband and I walked from carpet to carpet as Gurban helped to explain the significance and origin of each rug. Three hours later, our bellies full from our host’s generosity, we walked away with an armful of rugs and an amazing Turkmen experience.

For More Information

The Textile Museum, located in Washington, D.C., is dedicated to furthering understanding of man’s achievements through textiles. It has an excellent education program (including travel) as well as an informative website.

The Carpet Museum and Store, located in the center of Ashgabat, is a great place to start in your textile and historical education. The main carpet factory in Ashgabat located on Kuragli Street employs 200 people who produce the traditional “Bukhara” rugs by hand on looms.

The Tolkuchka Bazaar, open on Sundays and located just outside of Ashgabat has the best prices on carpets; here you can easily spend an entire day wandering through the market, taking in the colors, smells, and local flavor.

Important Details: Business and other export tax information is offered on the U.S. Embassy in Turkmenistan website.

JESSICA P. HAYDEN is a freelance writer who lived in Almaty, Kazakhstan.

Related Topics
Independent Travel
Work Abroad with USAID

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