High in the Kopet Dag Mountains, the village of Nohur and the neighbouring settlements occupying the terraced sides of the upland valleys are quite unlike other parts of Turkmenistan.
The local Nohurli tribe retains conservative traditions protected by the remoteness of its settlements, and has a reputation for religious piety, hard work, and in-breeding. Claiming descent from the army of Alexander the Great, Nohurlis will show you a stone in the village said to bear a footprint of Alexander’s horse. The porches of Nohur houses are indeed supported by wooden columns which recall the Ionic style. But the inspiration here perhaps draws less from Hellenism than from the horns of the local sheep. Combining fascinating villages, beautiful scenery, and excellent opportunities for guided trekking, Nohur repays a visit of several days.
The graveyard at the eastern edge of Nohur village is striking, its carved wooden tombs decorated with the horns of rams. Visitors are asked not to enter the graveyard. Just beyond is the pilgrimage site of Kyz Bibi. A fat-trunked plane tree, surrounded by a small metal fence, is covered with small scraps of cloth representing wishes. From here, a flight of concrete steps leads up to a tiny cave, just a few centimetres across, in the side of the hill. The cave is surrounded by more pieces of material, some of which have been fashioned into tiny cribs, suggesting the nature of the wishes made here. The site is one of several in Turkmenistan dedicated to Kyz Bibi: the legends surrounding this female figure of great purity usually involve her being swallowed up by the mountainside to protect her from either heathen invaders or an unwanted marriage. Beyond Nohur, the villages of Garawul and Konyegummez stand in fine upland settings.
Unlike settlements of lowland Turkmenistan, whose houses focus inwards around family courtyards, the buildings here look out, with large glass- panelled verandas facing south, to capture the warming sunlight in this frequently chilly environment. Among the natural attractions around which to base walks is the Khur-Khuri Waterfall, 5km from the Chandybil Tourist Centre, below which lies an attractive tree-filled gorge. The Ai Dere Canyon, 7km from Chandybil, is punctuated with small waterfalls, some of which offer fine bathing opportunities in their plunge pools. The stream at the base of this canyon is a tributary of the Sumbar River, its waters making a long westward journey to the Caspian. Abandoned water-mills in the Ai Dere Canyon are evidence that this valley once supported a thriving rural population.