The mausoleum at Murche is the best-known of several across Turkmenistan dedicated to Zengi Baba, the patron of cattle breeders. The Turkmen traditions surrounding Zengi Baba combine Islamic beliefs with some decidedly pre-Islamic strands, including the Zoroastrian reverence for cattle. Many popular Turkmen tales depict the rivalry between Zengi Baba and Duldul Ata, the patron of horse breeders. One example is a hare-and-tortoise-style race, pitting horses against cows in a bid to get back to the village first. The canny Zengi Baba prayed for rain, which turned the ground to thick mud, impeding the horses but not the cows. And he summoned great clouds of mosquitoes, which troubled the horses dreadfully but failed to deflect his cows from their steady progress to the village. The cows were, accordingly, the unlikely winners of the race. The abandoned village of Murche is an atmospheric place. Its crumbling mud walls and doorways, and the overpowering silence of the place give an impression of great antiquity. But the village was abandoned only in the early 1960s when the construction of the Kara Kum Canal a few kilometers to the north prompted its relocation closer to the canal. University students working at the site have rebuilt a mud-brick round tower in the traditional style. Another reconstructed building features a fireplace crowned with an elaborate, stepped, mantelpiece. If you have time, it is worth stopping briefly at the small village of Sunche, 12km west of Murche, where an ancient water-mill continues to grind flour as it has done for centuries.

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Dashoguz – Kone Urgench – Darvaza - Ashgabat – Mary – Turkmenabad – Farap.



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