Luxury hotels in Awaza, built using gas revenues and aimed at foreign tourists, have yet to benefit ordinary Turkmens.
Turkmenistan produced more than 1.2 millions tonnes of cotton in 2010, a remarkable feat for a nation that is 80 per cent desert and extremely difficult to farm.
Even so, Soviet-era irrigation programmes and government subsidies have kept up demand for the crop locals call ‘white gold’.
Critics say the quest for cotton is unsustainable with Turkmenistan expected to get only drier due to climate change and increasing doubts about its elaborate new irrigation solutions.
Robin Forestier-Walker reports from the Ahal region.