The road from Sarakhs to Mary.

The road from Sarakhs to Mary.

Whilst looking for tips on cycling across Turkmenistan within the 5 day transit visa I
only really found blogs detailing experiences and not the logistics. A few sections of this trip throw up concerns of how much water to carry, as well as strong headwinds, so I decided I’d record some detailed info during my crossing to help anyone anxious due to the pressure to cross in 5 days like I was.

If you are looking for one of my regular blogs about what the cycling was actually like this will follow shortly.

I also struggled to find a definitive figure for how many kilometres the route is, I’ve seen blogs throwing around figures from 420 km up to 550km which is a ridiculous variation of what is a very important figure when considering the 5 day limit. In the end I recorded 468.37km.

Firstly what route did I take. I crossed from Sarakhs in Iran and rode south to the Turkmen town of Saraghs and took the desert road (Sarghs-Amol road) north to a reservoir where I rejoined the main route through the country. From there I followed this road all the way to the Uzbek border at Farap via Mary and Turkmenabat. Some people choose to take the main road via Tejen from Saraghs to Mary rather than the desert road, exchanging more distance for a better road, and I believe this is the source of the 550km estimates.

Here is a map of the route I took. It needs improving but is close enough to all the junctions to figure out what route I took.

Map Here

Also whilst exiting Byramaly I was ushered by nearly every passing car to drag my bike across the train tracks and take a small trunk road off to the bypass running south of the city. I have no idea what the problem with the direct road is but did not actually notice this road later rejoining the bypass I took when my GPS showed that it should be rejoining. My two riding partners who were an hour behind me (I ride slower so departed earlier) received the same treatment and were practically forced onto this route as well.

As a note, this information is from a crossing from 03/05/2014 – 07/05/2014. If you are reading this a long time in the future maybe this information may have become inaccurate. Alternatively if you have any up to date info. on this route either comment with a link to your blog and I will add it to this post or I can include your info. within this post if you are happy with that.

The total distance I recorded on my cycle computer, corroborated almost exactly by my riding partners GPS, from exiting one border complex to entering the next was 468.37km.

A quick daily breakdown of distances;

  • Day 1 – 71.48km. Camped by side of desert road.
  • Day 2 – 109.62km. Stayed in Hotel Sanjan in Mary.
  • Day 3 – 97.78km. Camped behind a roadside cafe. Also had time this day for sidetrip to Merv which totalled a 15.6km detour and has been excluded from all figures.
  • Day 4 – 113.38km. Camped behind a very nice air conditioned roadside cafe.
  • Day 5 – 76.11km. Reached Turkmen customs around 2pm.

Here follows a breakdown by distance from border to border of various water and food points. The only gap big enough to cause real problems is the 80km from Sarakhs on the desert road to the main border. When I crossed this 80km there was very hot headwinds full of sand. I left Saraghs with 9 litres of water and this turned out to be too little when factoring in camping. There is an irrigation canal next to the road which is filthy but can be drunk if you have a filter as I did. I’m not an expert but even with iodine or sterilisation pills I think the dirt and algae in the water may still cause illness. This road was also reasonably trafficked, at least 1 vehicle every hour or so you can hitchhike out if you are in trouble. The main road from Mary to Turkmenabat has traffic every few minutes.

  • -03.41km – Hotel Dootsky, Sarakhs, Iran
  • -02.00km – Start of Iranian border complex
  • 000.00km – End of Turkmen border complex
  • 015.00km – Approx – end of Saraghs, no supplies for 80km of bad road in desert.
  • 096.00km – Approx – End of bad road
  • 096.50km – Approx – Shop and Cafe on left side of road just after bridge
  • 128.11km – Cafe/shop on right of road nestled in trees, nothing for 40km.
  • 165.00km – Approx – Small shop on right, hard to spot looks like house in village.
  • 181.10km – Hotel Sarjan in Mary
  • 278.88km – Truck stop cafe, camped behind. Good spot as roughly 100km from Mary.
  • 309.00km – Approx – Small hut selling pricey food and water by Lebap province arch. Very expensive.
  • 356.31km – Small cafe on right.
  • 358.00km – Approx – Truck stop cafe on right
  • 392.26km – Really nice air conditioned cafe on left with many trucks. Good camp spot, 113.38km from previous camp spot behind cafe.
  • 417.00km – Enter Turkmenabat, many shops in town
  • 435.00km – Exit Turkmenabat, many shops all the way to border
  • 468.37km – Enter Turkmen border post

Many people try to cycle and find the desert road from Sarakhs exhausting reaching Mary behind schedule. They then catch a train or bus to Turkmenabat to make sure they get out in time. This goes hand in hand with the idea of giving it a go and having a backup plan if it all goes wrong, however, I would personally recommend, if you anticipate you will struggle in Turkmenistan, to take transport from Sarakhs to Mary and then cycle from Mary to Uzbekistan. The rough desert road from Sarakhs, for me at least, was gruelling and unpleasant where as the larger desert road from Mary to Turkmenabat was a much more pleasant experience with views of sand dunes and camels plodding across the road, the real desert experience. This advice would also suit those cyclists who do not have the childish “cycle every inch” mentality that I have ingrained into myself.

One more potentially handy bit of info. is what happens if things go wrong. I met a group of Russian motorcycle tourists in the Farap border facility who were in the process of exiting after overstaying their Transit visa by 1 day due a delay on their boat arriving from Azerbaijan. I later met them again in Bukhara and they explained they were given the choice of a $430 fine each or to be deported and barred from re-rentering Turkmenistan for 3 years. They took the second option and they said the whole deportation process took around a day. I would also consider that a Western passport may incur a more significant penalty than a Russian one but who knows.

Ultimately weather will define your Turkmenistan experience. Many blogs report a wonderful time with a tailwind across the country, some report pure hell. I received pure hell for my first day but good weather from then on but struggled due to not having a chance to recover from the first days effort into the wind. I’ve written a blog detailing my experience here.

If you’ve read this far, good luck on your crossing and I hope my efforts have helped you!