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Town centre sights

On the east side of the Mary Regional museum is the shady Niyazov Central Park, whose trees conceal a few surprises. There is a bust here of Major General Yaqub Kulievich Kuliev, who died at Stalingrad. Just beyond this hero of the Great Patriotic War are the dodgems, and thereafter the rest of a run-down amusement park, featuring a ropey-looking big wheel and a riverside pavilion filled with arcade games. A few metres away, near the old October Cinema, stands one of the most evocative Soviet-era monuments still surviving in Turkmenistan. A silver rocket zooms off into space. Around its silver trail stand three golden figures, each gesturing heavenwards: a cosmonaut; a sturdy industrial worker in dungarees; and a girl holding a sheaf of wheat in her left hand, though unable to clutch anything in her right, which has fallen off.

Mollanepes (Poet and Musician) monument West from here, there are several pieces of statuary of vaiying quality along Mollanepes Shayoly. Just beyond the regional museum sits a thoughtful statue of Mollanepes, a well-known local poet of the 19th centuiy, who was also an accomplished jeweller. An Ahal Tekke horse keeps the poet company. Around the statue are laid out garishly painted panels of exotic scenes: the backdrop to snaps taken by local photographers. Two blocks further east is a golden statue of the young Atamurat Niyazov, President Niyazov's father, dressed in military uniform and standing in front of a concrete Turkmen flag. Just across the road from here is a war memorial from an earlier regime: a suitably sombre monument to those who died in World War II, comprising a stylised stone flower, with an eternal flame at its base, in front of which stand male and female figures.

A block to the south, an amazingly large expanse of town centre space has been converted into a rather barren park. At the west end of this is a concrete stage. In the centre of the park is a golden mother-and-child monument. The child's face is serious, and offers at least a suggestion of the features of the adult President Niyazov. Over the road, looking towards the monument, is a poster of the president, his right hand across his heart, as if paying his respects to his mother opposite. The poster is flanked by two quotes from the president about the glories of motherhood. At the east end of the park is a golden statue of President Niyazov, seated in a comfy armchair, the head out of all proportion to the body. The backdrop to the statue is a tiled carpet design. In front, a low dome is decorated with a map of Turkmenistan.

It is instructive to walk a couple of hundred metres south from here, along Saparmurat Niyazov Kochesi, to a more modestly proportioned silver-painted bust of President Niyazov, a product of an earlier year in the life of independent Turkmenistan. A comparison between this monument and that to the north demonstrates the degree to which the cult of personality around the president has developed.

Kemine poet starue in Mary, TurkmenistanA pleasant stroll is to be had by walking eastwards along Mollanepes Shayoly from the Niyazov Central Park, crossing the bridge over the Murgab. Take the first turning to the left, along Chandybil Kochesi, and walk (carefully) across the railway tracks at the end of the road. This brings you to the Atamurat Annaniyaz Park, which features another golden statue of President Niyazov's father in military uniform, this time accompanied by two of his sons. The park also possesses a concrete flamingo. On the eastern side of the park, the building which in Soviet times housed the Regional House of Culture, the Philharmonia and the Kemine Theatre is now known as the Margiana Cultural Palace. The end wall of this building, facing into the park, is covered by a wonderful, vivid mosaic: a Turkmen girl takes flight amid a rainbow, doves fluttering around her. Inside the building there is another large mosaic, albeit a less colourful one, featuring violinists, actors and other cultural types. In the park nearby a concrete base marks the former site of a large statue of the 19th-century Turkmen poet Kemine, a mentor of Mollanepes. The statue, a playful piece portraying the head and arms of the poet, has been moved to a suburban location in the east of the city, where it replaced an equestrian statue of the Soviet hero Poltoratskiy.

Pokrovskaya Church in MaryWalk half a block to the north from the Margiana Cultural Palace, and turn right along Seydi Kochesi, which once carried the name of the Russian poet Pushkin, but now bears that of a Turkmen one. Outside the fire department offices here is the incongruous sight of a MiG aircraft, resting on the concrete stick. At the end of Seydi Kochesi, a couple of blocks further east, is the Pokrovskaya Church, a redbrick Russian Orthodox church, founded in 1900. Inside, every spare piece of wall is covered by framed icons and other religious works. The church is surrounded by pleasant parkland. The part of town through which you have been walking contains some nice single-storey brick buildings dating from the tsarist era.

In the town centre there are several statues of former President Niyazov; the seated statue on the corner of Saparmurat Niyazov koshesi and Gurbansoltan Eje kochesi bears a striking resemblance to US President Kennedy. Behind the statue is a mosaic of a Turkmen carpet.

You can get your shopping done at the enormous Zelyony Bazaar (Mollanepes shayoli). This is a great place to stock up on fresh fruit and just about anything else you need.