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Along Magtymguly Shayoly

Heading west along the main thoroughfare of Magtymguly Shayoly from Ashgabat Park, you pass the Turkmenistan Trade Centre. Between the trade centre and the purpose-built US Embassy, the pastel green single-storey building is one of the very few structures in Ashgabat to survive the 1948 earthquake. It was built in 1902 to house the Ashgabat branch of the Russian State Bank.

A block further to the west, where Magtymguly Shayoly is crossed by Bitarap Turkmenistan Shayoly, the building on the corner whose entrance is flanked by two concrete rhytons is the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Opposite this is the Institute of Geology. This is one of several institutes (others include buildings devoted to desert research, and seismology) clustered around the open space just to the south, on the east side of Bitarap Turkmenistan Shayoly. The complex was once the heart of the Academy of Sciences, dissolved by President Niyazov. The open space is flanked to the north and south by pleasant arched arcades, a good example of 1950s building in Ashgabat, when architects strove to create an identifiably local style.

The Institute of Geology houses an eight-roomed Geological Museum, many of whose exhibits were put together for the 1984 International Geological Congress in Moscow. The museum owes much to the efforts of its director, Anatoliy Bushmakin, who has assembled most of the collection from expeditions across Turkmenistan, and painted the scenes of prehistoric life and portraits of Soviet geologists which decorate the walls. The rooms are heavy on display cases packed with rock samples, much of which is of rather specialist interest. Among the more interesting exhibits arc sharks' teeth found in the heart of the Kara Kum Desert, dating from the time in which Turkmenistan lay submerged beneath the ancient Sea of Tcthys. There are gypsum casts of the dinosaur footprints found at Hojapil in the Lebap Region, a display featuring Cleaning ladies, hard at work under the watchful gaze of the Turkmen warrior-poet Magtymgulyfragments of meteorites falling on to Turkmen territory, and several rooms devoted to mineral resources of current or potential commercial value, including a cabinet full of teacups, made with the help of the bentonite of the Balkan Region.

One side room is almost a time capsule to the Soviet period, presenting the samples collected by the children of Ashgabat's young geologists' club during their expeditions to wild places across the USSR.

The museum has no admission charge or fixed opening times. Phone in advance (tel 12 353798) to arrange a visit. The entrance is from the courtyard at the back of the Institute of Geology building.

Continuing westwards along Magtymguly Shayoly, a statue of the Turkmen poet after whom the avenue takes its name sits on a small rock in the middle of a concrete square of parkland. The Monument to Magtymguly, constructed in 1971, shows the poet in thoughtful mood, keeping his book open at the correct page with the aid of his index finger. White marble-faced government ministries line both sides of Magtymguly Shayoly just to the west of here. A particularly eyecatching monument on the south side of the road, marking the entrance to a pedestrian street leading to the Russian Bazaar, is a triumphal arch, in front of which strides a statue of President Niyazov.