Bandar Turkman (Turkman Port) is located in Golestan Province north of Iran. 50 percent of the Iranian caviar is extracted near this port and the Iranian Ashouradeh Island at a near distance from the port is the only island in the Caspian Sea which attracts tourists. Bandar Turkman has still preserved its traditional life and thus prompts every body to travel there at least once.
If you are traveling the Tehran-Mashhad Highway and have entered Golestan Province and the small Kordkuy city, you should take a look at the road that leads directly to the north. Here you would do even better to drive the coastline road which will carry you to Bandar Turkman which lies peacefully beside the blue waters of the Caspian Sea.
In the past this city was equipped with three big jetties and was used by the Allied Forces during the World War II for transportation of equipment. However two jetties have sunk in the water and presently due to poor equipment and gradual decline of water, Bandar Turkman which possesses only one jetty, is not bustling and is mostly used to communicate with Ashouradeh Island.
You must remember that during Norooz (New Year) holidays and summers this jetty is full of seasonal merchants who bring beautiful Turkman fabricated objects to the city for sale and at that season you can see art and beauty shining in the port.
If you arrive in Bandar Turkman you must not forget to visit the beautiful Ashouradeh Island which is a tourist attraction in the region. This island is the only peopled island at Miankaleh Peninsula and the only Iranian island in the Caspian Sea. It is covered by lush foliage and welcomes those who like to sit beside its tranquil waves and watch the sea birds, inspect local handicraft and animals. This island market displays the traditional life in Bandar Turkman. If you visit the Monday market in Ashouradeh Island you can surely buy prayer cloth, felt carpet, handwoven carpet and exquisite cushions and carry them back to your city as a souvenir.
WARM-BLOODED, FRIENDLY AND HOSPITABLE
During the winter or cold months Gomishan swamp in Bandar Turkman which enjoys special natural and geographical features hosts many thousands of migrating birds who resort to the moderate region from frozen Siberia. Here you can see a beautiful scenery of crane, duck, stork and goose.
It is not an exaggeration to say that the majority of the 150,000 inhabitants in Bandar Turkman are warm-blooded, friendly and hospital Turkmans who enjoy their own specific culture, art and traditions. The major occupation of the residents in Turkman is farming, fishery, handicraft industries and animal husbandry.
You may not believe it but the other name of Bandar Turkman is Cotton Island. Cotton is grown abundantly in the harbor and from that point of view Bandar Turkman is a strategic cotton-cultivator in the country. In fact you must know that fishing is one of the main incomes of the people in the harbor. If you have not yet tried caviar, you must have heard its name before. Then you must know that Bandar Turkman’s international reputation rests with its caviar. In fact the city is equipped with four sturgeon fishing stations in one of which called Turkman Query, 50 percent of the country’s caviar is extracted. The caviar fished by the tireless citizens in Bandar Turkman, is a source of income in the country.
CARPET WEAVING AND PATTERNS
When you arrive at Bandar Turkman you must not forget to visit the unfrequented streets in the town and if you happen to hear a sort of tapping noise, you most not be surprised. Because this is the pleasing sound of beating comb on the hung which is hung on the loom. Here carpet weaving is not a recreational task but a main occupation to fetch income for inhabitants. Cushions, carpets, felt mats, prayers clothes and beautiful Turkman rugs woven in this region are sent to other cities and the world. The Turkman cushions and carpets are famous for their ancient patterns because after the lapse of many centuries the weavers continue to use symbolic and traditional patterns with tenderness and art. Felt mat, Jajim (coarse mat) and Palas (coarse woolen clothe), woven by the artful Turkmans, are other objects in the region which reflect their tradition and craft.
If you are traveling to Bandar Turkman during the Ramazan mourning season remember that every month in Ramazan the residents rejoice and feast and spray rose water and perfume in the mosques. On the first day of Ramazan they cook special oily bread and distribute them in the mosques and between neighbors. Also if you want to go to a mosque for evening prayer in Ramazan remember that after the evening prayer in the mosque the people perform the special `Taravih’ prayer. Also on the night of Ghadr (The Blessed Night, The Night of Destiny – the night which is better than one thousand months and in which the Holy Qur’an has descended) the young ones receive presents from their elders, mostly in the form of cash. Then they go to the market and buy sweetmeats and candy and hold a feast in their homes.
LALEH KHANI CEREMONY
In Bandar Turkman they hold a beautiful ceremony known as `Laleh’ singing which is interesting to watch. In this ceremony which has been performed in the city for many centuries, women assemble and sing `Laleh’ which is a melancholy song. Its composer is not exactly known but the song laments the hard life of brides in ancient times among Turkmans, historical events, love of life, and the pain of separation from the tribe and homeland. In old times the brides were separated from their natives tribes and were taken to distant regions by their husbands and often never again met their parents. Thus in their loneliness it was the following charming and melancholy song which gave them comfort:
Tell me if the mountain beside our village still stands? Are the jungles there still full of fruit? O white birds which are flying, tell me if my clan and friends are safe and sound.
If you visit Bandar Turkman during the Fitr or Qorban (sacrifice) holidays and you see that the gates of all the houses are open, don’t get surprised. Five days during Fitr or Qorban (sacrifice) holidays the Turkman rejoice and feast. They open their house gates to permit any stranger who is passing the town to step into the house and join their feast.
When a child is being born they repeat the old proverb which says: “If the newborn is a son he will become a farmer and if a girl she will become carpet weaver.” This shows the importance they attach to farming and carpet weaving. You should visit a mother who has given birth to a child. If the infant is a boy, say that he is welcome and if a girl wish her happiness.
In the past when Turkman tribesmen moved from one place to another they did not carry part of their heavy belongings and buried them into graves so that because of sanctity of graveyards nobody would dare to steal them.
TRADITIONAL FEASTS AND CEREMONIES
Maybe you are coming to Bandar Turkman to court a bride. Then you must not forget to prepare Qatlama, which is a special sweetmeat, because during courting the bride-groom’s relatives carry the Qatlama into the bride’s house. If the bride’s family accepts the Qatlama it means that they agree to the wedding. Meanwhile you must know that the family of the bride-groom adorns a camel with ornamented clothes and lays a litter on it to mount the bride over the animal and carry her to their house. The camel is driven by a respectable elder among the tribe and at times by the groom himself.
Of course with the invention of cars this tradition has been abolished in the majority of cities but still in remote mountainous regions such as Gelidagh, Maraveh tappeh, Dashli boroon and Kalaleh, the bride is carried away with such ancient traditions. Nowadays in cities such as Bandar Turkman the bride is driven by a car ornamented with various colored clothes in which case the car is called the litter of the camel. When the bride is being mounted on the car, one of the children from the bride’s family prevents her to be mounted and compels the bride-groom to pay him some money as gift.
When you took a bride from the Turkman tribe you mount her on the camel to drive her to the bride groom’s house. You must not be surprised if the bride’s mother stops the camel before reaching the groom’s house, because she wants to rub flour on the litter as a token of happiness.
Also remember that in the first evening after the wedding, in order to let the bride be acquainted with the bride groom’s friends, all the grooms’ friends gather in the house and the bride serves them green tea and sweetmeats. This ceremony is called Gookchay. This is a ceremony which helps the bridge-groom to become familiar with the cooking of the bride. Speaking of cookery, you must know that the Turkmans have varied dishes so that in each special place a specific dish is cooked. Chekdirmeh and Soozmeh are the daily food of the Turkmans which are normally made of rice and oil. Among other dishes one can refer to are Chourba (Shourba) which is made of vegetable and boiled meat; Oonash, a soup made of dough strings or vermicelli; Qateqliash, which is a kind of soup made of yoghurt, rice and garlic; Swidliash, composed of milk and rice; Bulamaq, composed of oil and rice, and Qatoorqa, made of smoked and ground wheat, rice and sugar.
Turkmans hold an interesting ceremony for circumcision. On that occasion they hold a big feast and invite all the relatives, cook the famous Bulamaq and after cooking they mix it with sugar to sweeten it.
In this city the people who arrive at the age of 63 hold a feast for having attained the age of the Prophet (peace be upon him) and kill a white sheep to serve the guests.
TURKMAN GARMENTS, BEAUTIFUL AND COLORFUL
If you visit Bandar Turkman don’t forget to buy their beautiful traditional dress because a skin cap and a loose red garment called Doon for men, Kooyink a loose skirt for women, Yaliq worn by women at home instead of chador and Boorik, a hat worn by girls before marriage, are the only traditional items which have survived in this northern port. Normally after marriage the girl replaces Boorik with Alangi which is another hat.
HORSES, RECREATION AND PHYSICAL SPORTS
Don’t forget sport in the city. Horse racing is the most important recreation in Bandar Turkman which takes place in spring and autumn. The competition is held in the main racing field in the harbor which is about 100 hectares in size. The horse racing competition in Bandar Turkman has many admirers in the country specially in Tehran and Gonbade Kavoos. Even fans from Persian Gulf Sheikdoms visit Bandar Turkman to watch the race.
Sports stadiums in this city are also interesting to watch. One of the most favorite sports among the Turkmans is the traditional Goorehesh wrestling in which the two rivals wrestle with each other without age or weight limitation. They take hold of each other’s belt and the one who succeeds to lay the rival’s back on the ground is pronounced winner and receives a present called Bayraq which is either a ram or ewe. Ram is a symbol of uprightness and bravery among Turkmans and is much respected by them. When they want to praise the strength and valor of a youth they say the young man resembles the ram.
Dagger (sword) play is another popular sport among Turkman youth. This is a religious/mystical ceremony in which the youth wear loose colorful garments, congregate in a field and raise their hands on their heads in the form of prayer. They twist around each other, move forward and backward and imitate the most natural sounds so that one can hear the sound of swords, the hoofs of wild horses, the hauling of the wind and the voice of the Turkman epic knights. The man who bears the sword sings musical odes with a charming voice and the ceremony continues until they tighten their circle into a knot. The sword bearer then raises the sword as a token of valor and other members firmly grasp each others’ hands as a token of valor and solidarity.
A SMALL VENICE IN TURKMAN SAHARA
When you visit Bandar Turkman you will surely go to the sea coast. Remember that the seashore and swimming quarter is the most beautiful place in this harbor. The Bandar Turkman coast is the most calm and danger-free zone in the Caspian Sea and you will never see dangerous waves disturbing the shore and up to 2 or 3 km out into the sea the shore is not too deep.
Meanwhile you must remember that Chapaqoli village which was inhabited until 1991 but evacuated because of the ascent of water, is a beautiful village to inspect. The ground floor of every house is under the water and the second story of the houses over the water thus giving it the name of `smaller Venice’. This has rendered Turkman Sahara famous and most interesting to visit.
`DOTAR’ HAS ANOTHER CHARM
We spoke about everything except Dotar (a small guitar with two strings) which has a charming melody specially when it is accompanied by the lullaby of mothers and grandmothers.
Analytical & News Magazine (Monthly) June-July, 2000, No. 40 By: Ahmad Kam
Resource: Turkmen Host