5th Asian Indoor Games and Martial Arts: 20 Days in Turkmenistan

luca parisse

When I told my friends that I would have left for Turkmenistan, they all replied: “Hey? Where is it?, I have never heard about it”. I did not even know this country would exist!

Turkmenistan is a Central Asian state, it borders with Afghanistan, Iran, Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan; it faces the Caspian Sea. It was part of the Soviet Union until 1991.

The capital Ashgabat hosted the 5th Asian Indoor Games and Martial Arts (AIMAG) in September 2017.

I participated as the photographer for the Opening and Closing Ceremonies of the games produced by Balich Worldwide ShowBWS is an Italian company that produces big events; amongst the others the Winter Olympic Ceremonies of Turin 2006 and Sochi 2014 and Tokyo 2020 flag handover in Rio.

These huge Ceremonies and Shows are a very complex machine! For example, the Opening Ceremony of AIMAG had incredible numbers: an international team with professionals from 39 different nations7631 performers, enormous scenic objects, a complex system of elevators, a lot of aerial performers, amazing projection on the field of play and three years of work.

My job began with rehearsals in order to get to the show perfectly prepared on everything to avoid mistake and grasp the most important moments.

Regarding the country: the city is amazing, lights everywhere and everything strictly white. Everywhere there is order, everything is perfectly clean; I was shocked seeing women brushing the zebra crossing with a sponge. and …. not even a cigarette butt on the ground.. smoking is not allowed there!

There is an environment of great control, police at every corner! But in twenty days I haven’t seen a single weapon …

Looking from the window of my apartment inside the Olympic village.  

 I do not know this country, I only lived in the capital, I wanted to see more and after the Opening Ceremony I finally had free time and I organized a desert tour towards the “Gates of Hell”.

The “Darvaza Gas Crater” is a gas crater in the Karakum desert, about 260 km north of Ashgabat. It is an artificial crater caused by an accident in 1971. The gas was burnt voluntarily to avoid worse environmental consequences. Since then, the crater has been burning uninterruptedly.

On the way, I visited some rural villages. One of them, Erbent, is a typical desert village that explains the rural life of Turkmenistan well. It is full of Russian scrap in a perfect Mad Max style, jeeps and trucks transformed into barns, buildings in very poor conditions and yurts (typical buildings of these areas).


While I was walking around the village, I saw an old man cutting the meat of a sheep with great precision. The rest of the animal was hung on a pole.  

People were pretty nice to me taking pictures except some women that went away as soon as I got close to them, covering their faces immediately. There were so many children, mostly barefoot boys. Apparently there is a lot misery but no one asked for money and many people smiled to my greeting.

There were camels everywhere too!

I was fascinated by an home made swing with iron rope wires and a pole. Three girls dressed as schoolgirls with the typical green dress and the little round cap were playing there. They ran away laughing as soon as they saw me coming close to them. I guess they did not want to be photographed and they were probably afraid someone would yell at them.

It was very hot. We returned to the small place at the entrance of the village where the driver was waiting; we drank a beer and ate a meat skewer cooked on the fire.


We left the village and after a couple of hours we were at the “Gates of Hell”. I approached the crater when extreme blasts of hot air arrived. All that fire was very impressive!

I went on a sand hill to take pictures from the top while we were waiting for the sunset. The light the fire produced over there was wonderful.

We ate soup and grilled chicken; the atmosphere was very relaxing, the sky full of stars. There was silence. I enjoyed these last minutes before I left to go back to the city.

Like a big lighthouse that illuminates the space. Eos 5d mkii + samiyang 14mm – iso 800 10.0″ f4

We got back to the city routine: I was living in a brand new building of what they call the Olympic Village. I worked at the Olympic Stadium for the Closing Ceremony from then onwards. The show was far less impressive than the Opening and a sea-bound concept, beautiful scenes with clouds performers, hot air balloons and surfing on the fop while video projections recreated the sea that came with a big wave.Ate the end, I am very satisfied; working for these big shows has been, as usual, full of new stimula.


As for the technical equipment, as usual, I brought four camera bodies (2x canon 1dx, 1 x 5dmkiii 1 sony 6300) and a lot of lenses, from 14 to 300mm f2.8 is canon. Everyone flew in my close contact!I managed to put everything inside a rigid flycase (http://www.walimex-webshop.com/en/mantona-outdoor-protective-trolley.html) where I inserted (it was perfect!) the f-stop ICU XL

I used also the Loka UL, my loyal companion of adventures from the big mountains to the great shows around theworld, from the trail running to climbing and mountain biking!


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