The Lebap Regional Museum (Shaidakov koshesi 35; admission 2.85M; 9am-1pm & 2-6pm) is well worth visiting for its building – a unique Shia mosque built in the early 20th century by an Iranian merchant named Hajy Malik and turned into a museum by the Soviets in the 1960s. It’s a brick structure, which stands in a small park just to the north of the Lebap Restaurant, with a rectangular tower and two brick minarets and it may become a mosque again once the museum moves to new premises that were being built opposite the train station at the time of writing. Its sides opened by arches separated with fluted columns. The mosque was secularised during the Soviet period, and became a museum in 1967. But many older locals still regard it as a holy building, and say a prayer when they pass by.
Downstairs, an ethno graphy section includes a fully furnished yurt, a diorama of a silversmith workshop and the requisite room full of quietly disintegrating taxidermy. The ethnographic displays include apart from a walk-through yurt, a life-sized model of a traditional Turkmen courtyard, complete with stuffed sheep, and collections of silver jewellery, musical instruments, and even 19th-century agricultural implements. The archaeological section is most useful in displaying models and photographs of some of the main sites of the region, such as the Astana-Baba and Darganata mausolea, and the madrasa of Idris Baba. Some artefacts from Amul are on display, but lack any proper labelling, and the museum guides (who are more at home with the ethnographic parts of the museum) are unable to provide much illumination. The natural history displays are designed to give a flavour of the natural wealth of the three nature reserves lying within Lebap Region, but attempt to do this largely by means of stuffed animals. These include a Turan tiger, an animal now extinct. Also on display is the Amu Darya shovel-nosed sturgeon, a particularly rare species whose meat was, said the museum guide, a particular hit with Churchill when served to the British prime minister at a meal hosted by Stalin. And there is a diorama featuring plastic dinosaurs stomping across the hills of Kugitang, demonstrating their footprint-making skills.
The 2nd floor is surreal, with displays including randomly collected coins from foreign currencies (most long since superseded by the euro), two enormous cakes, a collection of children’s clothing, a few Berdymukhamedov hagiographies and a collection of wares produced by the Charjev Leased Chemical Enterprise. There are cases devoted to the main industries of the town, including the production of silk, cotton and liquorice. Other displays include samovars, modern banknotes from across the region, and tsarist coins.
In the small park outside the museum, a group of statues features the busts of seven prominent Turkmen classical poets, grouped around Magtymguly, as if for protection. The park also retains ten broken fizzy-water dispensers, a legacy of the Soviet era. Another Soviet relic is the old cinema beyond the western edge of the park. Built in 1948, it is now mostly used for displays of Turkmen dancing. The colourful foyer retains faded photographs of film stars dressed in 1970s styles. Among the mostly Russian stars on display is a photo of Jean-Paul Belmondo.
A couple of blocks northeast of the museum is the Russian Orthodox Church (Magtymguly Shayoli), built to honour St Nicolas. Built in the late 19th century, the church is painted canary yellow and decorated on the interior with a rich collection of icons. The entrance is beneath a white arch on the west side of the building. Another arched entrance on the side facing the road is kept locked. In the streets around the church are some interesting single-storey brick buildings of the late 19th and early 20th centuries.
Turkmenabat has a couple of busting bazaars. The most convenient is Zelyony Bazaar, near the telephone office. A better choice if you are looking for carpets is the Dunya Bazaar, 8km south of downtown.
The ruins of the old town of Amul lie on the southern outskirts of Turkmenabat, unromantically abutting a chemical plant. There is little to see at this unexcavated site beyond a raised fortress, with a higher citadel at the northwest corner of the mound. Take a taxi to get here.