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Saturday, April 30, 2005



The Turkmen have incredibly harsh restrictions about taking their carpets out of the country. If you're an ordinary mortal (not a diplomat), you can't take anything older than 30 years out. Indeed, you have to take every textile you buy to the museum and get a certificate verifying that it isn't old.

Don't even think of trying to be a carpetbandit. They check everything at the border.

It's really a shame, too. I saw some outstanding old stuff at the Tolkuchka Bazaar in Ashgabat -- the largest carpet market I've ever seen. So painfully, temptingly cheap, but there's no point in buying a gorgeous antique that you have to leave at the border. Unfortunately, I didn't see a lot of good-quality newer stuff. Most are factory made (by hand, still). They don't have a lot of character.

That doesn't mean you can't buy one. Two max, if one is small.

There are strict limits on how many you can take out: two square meters for one person, four square meters for a married couple. We had 3.98 square meters worth, but Turkmen are nothing if not sticklers for paperwork. "You have different last names. Show me your marriage certificate," demanded the examiner at the museum. When we told her we don't frequently carry such documentation with us, she told us we'd have trouble at customs. We held our breath at the port, but they didn't hassle us.

Our post-bazaar hotel room.

So, I ended up with a very traditional Tekke carpet (on the floor). Those are a dime a dozen in the country, but very expensive outside. It's of medium quality and lacking in a bit of character, but it's alright. I also got an interesting Yomut camel-hair prayer rug of much, much better quality, but it's got cotton weft, against which I have an unjustified bias. It's on the bed.

I also got a traditional felt pad called a Keche, but there's a good story behind it, so I'll post separately about it. It's on the bed by the Producer's legs.

Here's a nice link about Turkmen carpets.

Sounds like we have similar interests - travel, photography, carpets... I'm currently making trips to Iran when I can to buy carpets to sell back in Kuwait. I lived in Uzbekistan 1995-96 and visited Turkmenistan, hoping to find some nice carpets to buy in Ashgabat friday market. Ended up buying 4 afghan carpets instead and then smuggled them back to Tashkent on the train... lot's of hassles with Customs, but managed to avoid them sighting my luggage!
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