The Turkmen city of Ashgabat is probably one of the weirdest places on Earth. Much of the capitol was the brainchild of the long-standing totalitarian President Saparmurat Niyazov, who has become most famous for the obscure laws he decreed like his ban on dogs, lip syncing in concerts and the circus.
No less bizarre are the architectural monuments that he built during his 15-year-reign in the capitol city, of which the Neutrality Arch is probably the most famous. Another one of the strange creations of Niyazov is the Walk of Health, a concrete stairway that runs alongside the treeless Kopet Dag mountains, aimed to improve the health condition of the citizens.
The Walk of Health is actually two walks. The first one has a total length of 8 kilometers, and the other has a total length of 37 kilometers. After it was built, Niyazov ordered all ministers, members of parliament and civil servants to hike the entirety of the longer walk once a year. He also expected the population of the city to do the walk at least once per year as well.
Niyazov himself watched his staff start the walk, and later flew in his helicopter to the final stage of the walk to greet them on their successfully completed walk. He argued, that his heart condition would not allow him to do the walk himself. In retrospect, he probably wasn’t lying. He died in 2006 of a heart attack.
Despite forcing employees to walk for their health, the forced march was counterproductive. Apparently, walking on a concrete stairway for 37 kilometers without a source of shade in sight, in one of the more extreme climates on Earth, is a health risk. Ironically, following the annual march, many employees took sick days off of work. To make the walk even slightly plausible, the government has begun to plant trees along the shorter walk.
- Lonely Planet Central Asia, 4th Edition, July 2007