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Exploring Kyzylorda

Central Square - The large, green central square is surrounded by many of the key administrative buildings of the town, including the blue-domed city akimat, the court, Korkut Ata University and drama theatre. There is a curious monument in the centre of the square: a metal ball on a plinth, with six metal legs radiating out in a manner that gives the sculpture a vaguely extraterrestrial appearance.

Along Auelbekov Street - From the regional museum, head east along Tokmagambetov Street, reaching after one block the Agzhan Bazaar on your right. In front of the training centre opposite are a couple of charming statues of cosmonauts, almost entirely hidden by trees. There is a large frieze on the outside wall of the building, glorifying the Soviet-era youth movement, the Pioneers, which once occupied it. Behind this building, in a run-down park, is a statue of Lenin, now partially obscured by bushes. Cut through to the western entrance of the park, on Auezov Street, and turn right, then left onto Konisbek Kabantaev Street, and then right again, onto Auelbekov Street, which runs northwards to the railway station.

A couple of blocks on, at the corner with Tolibekov Street, stands a war memorial, a tall five-legged obelisk with a now extinguished eternal flame at its base. A couple of artillery pieces guard it against frontal attack. Two blocks further north along Auelbekov Street brings you to the square in front of the railway station. There is a resolute-looking statue in the square of the young Komsomol leader Gani Muratbaev.

Nearby stands a single-storey Tsarist-era building, surrounded by metal railings decorated with shanyrak designs. This houses the Ak Mechet Museum. This is devoted to the history of the town from its foundation to its time as capital of the Kazakhstan Soviet Socialist Republic. The labelling is in Kazakh only, which makes the decision to charge foreigners double the entrance fee paid by locals look rather cheeky. There is a model of the moated Ak Mechet Fortress in the centre of the first room, which through photographs and displays of household utensils offers a chronology of the towns development to 1925. The next room covers Kyzylordas four years as capital, with displays of books printed in the town by Kazakh intellectuals such as Seifullin and Zhansugurov, few of whom were to survive Stalin's purges in the following decade. In the next room is a mock-up of an office of the Central Executive Committee of Kazakhstan, with Lenin's portrait on the wall and his bust on the desk. Then come souvenir items and photographs from the 2005 celebrations marking the 80th anniversary of Kyzylorda's selection as Kazakhstan's capital. Another room is laid out as a period guest room, heavy with dark furniture.

Around the bazaar - If you head west along Tokmagambetov Street from the regional museum you reach at the end of the street a bust of local writer Askar Tokmagambetov, clutching what appears to be a tulip to his breast, in front of the green-painted neo-classical theatre named in his honour. Turn right here along busy Kazibek Bi Street. After a couple of blocks you reach, on the right-hand side of the road, a modern monument featuring a series of heroic Kazakh figures standing in a ring. Behind this, a path leads into the town's main park. There is a small children's park to your right, featuring some remarkably odd compositions for tots to play on. A giant spider clambers up a climbing frame. A bull is about to charge, somewhat encumbered by the carriage he is pulling. In the centre of the park is a square adorned with a range of colourful, if somewhat weather-beaten, structures which serve as the backdrop for local photographers: two large foam doves and a pair of kissing dolphins.

Continuing along Kazibek Bi Street, cross over the roundabout and then turn left. You reach on your left the attractive, restored Russian Orthodox church, dating from 1878. Its octagonal tower supports a blue cupola. A smaller octagonal bell tower above the main entrance offers arches of fine decorated brickwork. In the colourful interior all available space is covered by icons and wall paintings of religious scenes. Signs at the entrance warn sternly that women in trousers, short skirts, without headwear and wearing lipstick are not admitted. The rules regarding lipstick-wearing men are unclear. Across the road, beside a small park, is a five-sided monument honouring the local Bolshevik fighters killed in the Civil War. Nearby is a single-storey Tsarist-era brick building constructed in 1878, its long facade bookended by two small brick buttresses. Once a school, it now houses a supermarket.

The road on which the church stands takes you to the heart of Kyzylorda's busy bazaar. From the bazaar, a road surmounted by a broad arch runs south to the Korkut Ata Monument, built on the bank of the Syr Darya River to commemorate the 1,300th anniversary of the Book of Korkut Ata. Paths either side of the road also take you to the monument, through metal arches and past flower beds whose blooms are fighting a tough battle against sun and vodka bottles. The monument itself is a cleverly designed structure comprising three tiled panels, the space between them taking the form of a kobyz. That space is occupied by Korkut Ata, riding a camel. A footpath runs alongside the river.

A block east from this monument, at the corner of Kazibek Bi Street and Korkut Ata Street, stands the blue-domed Aitbaya Mosque. Built in 1878, it has been heavily restored, with a new minaret. The latter has an attractive design of alternating octagonal and cylindrical segments, rising to what looks like a fine paintbrush dipped in a pastel blue. The mosque has a facade of slim columns, with patterned tiles around the arched entrance. The interior features stucco decoration around the mihrab and at the base of the dome. In the corner is what appears to be a well: according to the imam this runs to a secret passage through which the faithful were able to come to the mosque during the Soviet period. Light filters into the dark interior from arched windows around the dome. Across the road from the mosque is the local head office of the oil company Petrokazakhstan, housed in a building with a distinctive 'corrugated' facade.