The towering minaret and mausoleums of Konye-Urgench in isolated Turkmenistan cut striking forms against the desert sky, yet few foreign visitors make it to a site once at the centre of the Islamic world. Like the fabled Silk Road cities of Samarkand and Bukhara in neighbouring Uzbekistan, Konye-Urgench’s rich historical legacy is sheltered behind the borders of a secretive former communist Central Asian state that creates significant obstacles to tourism. ‘People come here from as far away as Australia, New Zealand and Chile,’ said Aman Amanov, a state guide at the dusty UNESCO world heritage site. But, he said, only 3,000 of the 200,000 annual visitors to the site that claimed UNESCO status in 2005 are international tourists — between a quarter and a fifth of the volume state officials say Turkmenistan welcomes in a year. ‘The Turkmen visa was the most elusive of them all,’ said Charlie Grosso, a photographer and travel writer, who visited the country in 2012. She travelled to the i

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