EXTREME TRAVEL GUIDE: Hermitage Green's Dan Murphy heads to Turkmenistan
Getting hammered drunk off wine distilled with dead snakes in North Korea, watching a man's legs melt at a fire on the banks of the Ganges river and random boxing matches in the Soviet Republic of Transnistria... these are no ordinary holidays.
By Dan Murphy
Dan Murphy is singer and guitarist with Irish band Hermitage Green. He has a few eccentricities and adventure travelling is one of them. In 2015, he started a tour company called Global Village Tours, who specialise in trips to some pretty bewildering places around the world.
Ahead of an impending trip to Turkmenistan, Dan explains what draws him to some of the most far-flung places on the planet and gives us a glimpse into what awaits him and his travelling companions in one of the least-visited countries in the world.
There has always been two types of travelling for me. Let's call them type A and B.
Type A is the holiday to a fairly-familiar-but-sunny location, where we spend a week or two eating and drinking whatever we want, doing karaoke and complaining about how 'annoying' English soccer fans are. We return home rested and probably a good bit fatter. Chances are you won't remember much of this trip in a few years' time, but we all need one of these now and again.
Type B is visiting places that shock, elate, terrify or simply baffle us. I think there's something profoundly important about wrenching yourself out of the environments that you're most familiar with every so often. It can give us a perspective check, or a kick up the arse, for want of a better term.
One such kick up the arse I got was when I travelled around India alone at the age of 22. Sitting by a large fire on the banks of the sacred Ganges river, I watched as the flesh on the back of a man's legs melted into the unbearable heat of the flames. If you apply enough heat to a human body part, it doesn't cook in the way you might imagine it would. It actually melts like candle wax. And in a matter of minutes, the fire quickly reclaims all that was left of the deceased. These are the sights, sounds and smells of a Hindu cremation.
You're probably wondering what is 'profound' about that, and not just a bit disturbing? But travelling to a place as unapologetically indiscreet as India served to wallop me across the face with the biggest dose of 'life and death' perspective that I've ever gotten. Anywhere. You tend to come away from the place thinking: “So I'm alive, and this is life – be sure to live it now. Because if there's one certainty, it's that we will all disintegrate into the air and the Earth not long after we die. Like that man there in the fire.”
It was adventures like this one that probably inspired me to start my travel company Global Village Tours with my mate and business partner Dave McCarthy. We specialise in offering group tour packages to places that most people just don't know how to get to, namely North Korea, Iran, Iraq, Chernobyl, Papua New Guinea and a host of other countries across Asia and Africa that you might never have heard of. Seeing as travelling to these places can be challenging, we take the donkey work out of it by planning routes and itineraries that are tried and tested, very safe, and very affordable.
We've been running tours since 2015, and if there's one thing I've learned from going to these places, it's that they leave a lasting impression on you. I have nothing but weird and wonderful memories that I will take to my grave with me (or Hindu cremation maybe...).
I've gotten hammered drunk off of wine distilled with dead snakes in North Korea. I've had to leg it out of an abandoned cinema in Chernobyl because our radiation levels were a bit “toasty”. I got challenged to a boxing match and a shot of vodka (in that order) in the Soviet Republic of Transnistria last year.
My next big trip and batch of memories is just ahead of me, as I'm about to take a group to Turkmenistan to celebrate the Turkmen Independence Day.
Turkmenistan is one of the least visited countries in the world, mainly because their government only issue a few thousand tourist visas each year. The visa process is notoriously difficult and we've managed to get a full group in there this year without any refusals. It is safe and very clean, but utterly closed off to the world.
The country is ruled by the “eternal leader” known as Turkmenbashy, who, sadly, has been dead for the last 12 years. The great Turkmenbashy was an eccentric leader to say the least. He named cities after himself, and cigarettes, and certain months of the year. The word for 'bread', for example, was changed to his mother's name.
Other than learning about the life of a man that Wikipedia described as 'one of the most totalitarian and repressive dictators in history', our itinerary features some other interesting gems; we will take a trek out to the desert to spend a night camping at the Gates of Hell – a 270 foot flaming gas crater that has been burning since the 1970s. Also featured is one of the world's largest canyons and a trip to an abandoned five-star ghost-town resort.
Life in Turkmenistan is different, and I believe there's a lot to be gained from bearing witness to strange and intriguing societies that don't necessarily mirror our own. JOE have kindly allowed me to waffle about my findings in a 'before and after' of sorts. So I will report back here in a couple of weeks to let you know all there is to know about the mysterious Turkmenistan.
Anyone keen to know more about this trip and any others, check out www.globalvillagetours.ie. I’ve also just launched my own podcast, The Chat with Dan Murphy, featuring all things travelling, music, and everything in between!
Check it out on iTunes right here.