Saglyk ýoly – Path of health
Running, rather trail running is not very popular in Turkmenistan. That is my final statement. Even if there is such a great landscape and nearly endless mountains I saw no one running there. Google could not provide me any helpful information and without the ability to speak Turkmen or Russian I was kind of lost. Talking to the locals who were able to speak English, I got some information. As a tourist, you can not (legally) run in the mountains. The border to Iran is cutting the mountains and some areas are forbidden to enter. But never give up. Finally I was told of the Path of health, the „saglyk ýoly“ and I found some information about it: it is situated nearby the mountains and it has been built by the order of the president for the better health of the Turkmen People. It is not a round trip – there are (so far I know) 2 different paths. One is around 5 or 6k (officially – but it seems to me there is a longer range), the other one is around 12k one way. Some links in the internet say it’s 38k in total (…) but running 38k in unknown places without cards or gpx-tracks … and in hot (30°) and very stormy desert conditions … not funny.
Trail the world!
So how to get there? From the hotel to the path of health means more than 20k, so running was not an option. Taxi!
But how to get back? Yeah, taxi. … But wait … how to find a taxi in the desert? Problem is that English-speaking locals are hard to find. The girls at the information desk at our hotel lobby were very helpful. They translated my problem to the taxi driver and we decided that drop off is at 16:30. He was told to pick me up at 19:00. 2 1/2 hours are good enough in this rough conditions.
Dressed up like a trail runner with 1.5l of water I was dropped off at the „oasis“, a little park at the foot of the mountains. Local people chilling around. Families having picnic or hiking on the path. I easily found one entry to the path. Steps up to the hills. Not knowing which path it was I started running. Knowing that my Fenix will bring me back to the starting point. My plan was running up 1:40h and back 50min. Downhill is always faster than uphill. 5.5k up with 600m ascent and sun pushing me to the limits. So I ran up to the television station and decided to return. As the steps were all of different height and length, running uphill and especially downhill was an adventure.
Concentrating on every step I was hitting back on track to the starting point. Suddenly – maybe 2.5m in front of me I saw a snake crossing my way. I could not stop immediately, in 2m distance the cobra lifted her head and stared at me in the typical defensive posture. I was shocked and jumped very quickly to the side so that I stared at her, too, only 3m between us. The snake was approximately 1.2-1.5m, hard to say, but in that moment it was sooo huge. Back to the story. As I stopped it was quickly leaving its defensive posture and climbing up the fence for getting away. I was not fast enough to take a good pic (I got the tail), but I made a video showing the snake escaping through the grass and disappearing in a hole. I kept a respectful distance while filming this absurde situation. So dear trail runner, never stop checking the ground!
After the cobra has gone, I started running slowly. Even if my heartbeat calmed down the adrenalin pushed me to run faster. Wisely I decided to stay strictly on the stairs and the „boring“ prepared main-trail (when I moved up I thought that I can use the natural formed trail nearby the stairs to have a better and faster downhill). After 11k and 1:45h I was back at the starting point.
Having 45min left I started with the other trail I saw from the top. On the left side the backland of the mountains, on the right side the desert-like landscape and the white marble city Ashgabat. 30min up and 15 down. Good plan. So I made 2k up to the first top with 350m ascent … took a lot of great shots, and then went back.
Totally I made ~15k with 950m ascent. After some busy days with raw sleep and stomach problems, with hundreds of pics I made, hundreds of „selfies“ locals asked me for, ~30°C without any shadow, tough wind and a meet and greet with a cobra – I was glad to find my taxi waiting for me.
I am very thankful for this short but hard tour. Thankful for the beautiful landscape, thankful for meeting this beautiful cobra. Thankful for being remembered how valuable life is.