No this isn’t the name of a US sitcom or Australian talk show hosts, but modern & ancient cities a few kilometres apart in Turkmenistan.
We arrived in Mary, one of the largest cities in the Central Asian country, by slow train from capital Ashgabat at around 1 in the morning and made straight for the unimaginatively named Hotel Mary, where we would be spending 2 nights.
After breakfast we were off to Mary’s far older cousin Merv, once a stronghold for Alexander the Great and his Greek legions.
We were soon in amongst the ruins. First up a large mud castle with semi-circular walls and it’s smaller brother some 100 metres away. The complex is known as the Shahriyar Ark.
Legend has it that fair maidens occupied the grander site, whilst young stallions gawped longingly from their outbuilding. The tale further stated than in order for a chap to win his bride, he had to throw an apple from one building to the next and have it caught by his intended.
Our guide did not know the outcome if an unintended girl bagged the catch!
Next up an ancient ice-house, a conical mud construction that would be packed with snow and ice to preserve meat, fruit & vegetables throughout the year.
We then visited our first mausoleums of the day, the Mausoleums of Two Askhab. These are actually one of the most important pilgrimage sites in Turkmenistan which were built for two Islamic askhab (companions of the Prophet), Al-Hakim ibn Amr al-Jafari and Buraida ibn al-Huseib al-Islami.
It was then time to stride up a large dry mud mound to centuries old fortifications once inhabited by Greek armies, from which you could see for miles around and make out the old earthen walls that had sheltered the desert town over 20 millennia before.
Our final stops were the Mausoleum of Sultan Sanjar………..
and the Mosque of Yusuf Hamadani……
That’s if you don’t count me insisting we stop to capture the amazing camel procession shown below seen traversing a path front of some of the sites we had viewed earlier.
In the mosque complex there was a tomb of an unknown 12th Century dervish. As we had witnessed elsewhere on the trip, this tomb was a place the ladies made a pilgrimage to. The ritual is that the ladies walk round and round the epitaph asking for good luck for perhaps a sick loved one or to be blessed with children.
The picture below is of such a group looking resplendent in their brightly coloured outfits.
Ancient Merv does take quite a lot of imagination if I am honest, but we thoroughly enjoyed our few hours in the desert.
Back in Mary we took in the mosque and main bazaar, got lambasted by officialdom for taking photos inside Mary Train Station and shot a few pictures of some of the grander buildings.
The mosque was as ever exquisite inside with a beautifully decorated dome.
A tiring day put us in bed by 9. Next day we would be headed for neighbouring Uzbekistan.