After a night-sea voyage from Baku, Gustaf Mannerheim arrived in Krasnovodsk (now Turkmenbashi) on July 16, 1906. It was a sleepy provincial backwater in the hinterlands of Russian Turkestan. However, the small town was an important strategic bridgehead. From here, the Russians built the Trans-Caspian Railway into the heart of Inner Asia which stitched the Muslim khanates into Russia’s imperial tapestry. Mannerheim took the railway from Krasnovodsk to Ashgabat and then continued on to Bukhara.
I had been told that the railway conditions had not improved since Mannerheim’s day, and so I hired a car and driver (and a government minder) to take me to Ashgabat, the capital of Turkmenistan. Here, I had a bizarre run-in with the Turkmen secret police, known as the KNB, and was forced to make a wild detour (see blue route on map below) into the heart of the Karakum Desert. Ruled by a crazed despot at the time, Turkmenistan ranked with North Korea in terms of its dreadful human rights and whimsical tyranny.
Click on features to view details of the route. The blue route line is my detour into the heart of the Karakum Desert.