Suitcase and World: The Markets.

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

The Markets.

Photo From International Mission Board (imb).

With a legacy imbued by centuries of trade, it does not come as a surprise to me that Central Asia is famed for its markets.  Contrary to what the name implies though, the Silk Road was never a single road.  Instead, it a loose network of routes, linking together the major trading centers of East Asia with those in the Middle East, the Mediterranean and Europe.

In its heyday, there was so much traffic moving along the various routes of the Silk Road that by the13th century,  that Persians and Selcuk Turks built a system of caravanserais—roadside inns, havens for traders and travelers, where they could wash, eat, worship and rest safely for the night—evenly spaced one day’s travel apart.

1916 Russian: "Tashkent. Street in the old city." Image shows Uzbekian native people in national clothing,
Bactrian camel with pack saddle. Published by Sherer, Nabgolts & Co., Moscow, Russia, 1916. 
Photo from

I can imagine what it must have been like, all those centuries ago, when the camel caravans would bring gold, silver, jade, glass, and games among other goods as they traveled east from the Mediterranean Sea to China and return with silk, herbs, tea, and ceramics.

I can imagine local farmers loading up their carts with produce they've grown and harvested and driving it long distances to reach the market.  I can imagine that along the way, the farmer would pass the shepherd bringing in a few of his flock for sale.

I can imagine a space set up in the town where people would congregate to buy, sell and trade food and goods and to socialize.  It would be a popular gathering spot for young and old.  I can imagine the sight of people sitting around a table and sharing in a meal or a drink, all the while chatting and laughing the time away.

I can imagine the cacophony of voices shouting out what's for sale and at what price.  I can imagine a regular person like me  making her way from one vendor to another checking out what's for sale or barter and haggling to get the best quality for the lowest deal.  I can imagine the heartwarming smell of freshly baked bread and the gut wrenching odor of freshly slaughtered animals.  I can imagine swooning over all the wonderful fruits and vegetables.

Even though it's now centuries later, I imagine the heart and soul of markets of Central Asia to still be much same, sans camel caravans.

I absolutely love, love, love going to visit local markets!  It's truly one of the things that I am looking forward to doing on this trip.  If giving the time, I would go to every market I can.  Such was the case when I was in Paris on a work assignment.  Before I left home, I had researched where all the weekend markets were located and put together a map.  On the first Saturday I was in Paris, I literally went to ALL of the markets that were on my list.  I bought food, drink, souvenirs, chatted and laughed with locals.  I had a great time!

Given that we are on tour, our time in each place is pretty limited so I don't know how much time we will have at the markets.  I don know for certain that we are going to visit Chorsu Bazaar in Tashkent and the famed Osh bazaar in the Krygyzstan.  Pat and I do have an extra day on our own in Tashkent so I am hoping we will have more time there.  But, on the chance that we do have time, here's my list of the markets I would like to visit on our trip.

Chorsu Bazaar (Photo from
Chorsu Bazaar (Tashkent, Uzbekistan) is one of Uzbekistan’s most famous markets and certainly  easy to spot thanks to its giant green dome.   Our hotel is just a short walk away so Pat and I will definitely be coming here on our own.  Depending on how interesting we find it to be, we'll either be here for a few minutes or a couple of hours.

I've never been inside a circular shaped market so it should be interesting to wander through the building and see how the stalls are set up.   Of course, I am interested to see what they sell here.  I have noticed that dried fruits and nuts are common in Central Asia.  This might be a good place to pick up some munchies for those long drives that lay ahead of us.

The area covered by the dome is not large enough to accommodate for all the sellers so the markets spills out on to the streets - I expect that's where will find the produce vendors and as often is the case, the *flea* market.  A visit to Chorsu Bazaar is on the itinerary of many a Tashkent city tour so I am expecting to see souvenir vendors here as well.  It will be our first market and our first stop in Uzbekistan so for me, this will be a good place to start getting an idea of what traditional Uzbek handicrafts are.

Toki Zagaron.  (Photo from Turan Travel)
Toki Zargaron Trading Dome (Bukhara, Uzbekistan) is one of the dome bazaars located in this ancient city.  Back in the Silk Road days, the construction and layout of Bukhara was heavily influenced by the traders,  Streets in the center were occupied by bazaars, each of which specialized in a specific type of product. To improve traffic flow,  specially designed dome buildings called "toki" (ark) were been constructed and the markets moved inside. 

Four of the trading domes still exist today - Toki-Sarrofon, Telpak Furushon, Tim Abdullakhan, and Toki Zargaron, the most well known and largest of the trading domes.

Toki Zagaron is the jeweler's dome and once upon a time, it housed 36 jewelry and goldsmith shops.  Today, there are still jewelers there but I believe you can buy other goods as well.  I'm not interested in buying any jewelry but I would love to go to Toki Zagaron just to see the complex which is unlike any other bazaar or market building I've ever seen.  If we get to see any of the other three trading domes as well, that would be wonderful.

Panjshanbe Bazaar (Photo from caravanistan)

Panjshanbe Bazaar (Khujand, Tajikistan) is set in a modern building dating back to 1950s, but this covered market still embraces the centuries old trading heritage of the city.  It's a classic old city market and from the looks of it, very clean and well organized.   Although a visit to the market is on the itinerary, I wonder if we can twist our guide's arm in to leaving it to the end of the day so we can spend more time wandering through the market.  I would love to pick up a Turkmen souvenir here.

Osh Bazaar (Osh, Kyrgyzstan) is located in the heart of Bishkek, in exactly the same spot that it was in back in the days when Osh was a major trading center on the Silk Road.

Osh Bazaar (Photo by Neil James Spicer)
Looking at photos of the bazaar, it looks like utter chaos but organized chaos. It's that type of place where things are piled up as high as they can be piled up and every inch of space is squeezed for use.  It's that kind of labyrinth of a place where you can't walk in straight line for any great length of distance because it's so crowded.  It's so noisy, you can barely hear yourself thing.  There's so much stuff to look at, your head just continually spins from side to side. It's not a pretty place, with nothing more than tarps to protect people from the elements, but it's my kind of market!  From what I've read, it’s absurdly cheap to buy things here so this may be the perfect place for us to stock up on munchies and buy a Kyrgyz souvenir.

The Karakol Market, located in the town of the same name is open on Sundays only.  It is the most famous and colorful livestock market in Central Asia.  The market attracts Kyrgyz from all over the region who come to buy, sell or trade horse, sheep and cattle (mostly the first two) and to socialize.  Karakol is located on the eastern shore of Lake Issyk Kul and although we're scheduled to be traveling to Issyk Kul on Sunday, I don't know that we'll be able to visit this market. It would be really interesting though.

Russian Bazaar (Photo by Gilad Rom)

The Russian Bazaar (Ashgabat, Turkmenistan) is one of the largest and oldest covered markets in the Turkmenistan.  This two storey marketplace is supposedly a bargain hunters paradise.  That means it's a place for me!  On the ground floor are stalls selling fresh vegetables, fruits, breads, meats, herbs, and wine shops that sell locally made vodka, brandy, and wines.  There are also plenty of eateries selling cheap street food.  Perhaps a shwarma??  The second floor has electronics, household goods and clothing. We only have a day in Ashgabat and it's packed filled with sightseeing.  Maybe we can negotiate with our  driver to bring us here at the end of our day.

Green Bazaar (Photo from Remote Lands)

The Green Bazaar (Almaty, Kazakhstan) is the largest farmers market in Almaty. It’s name, which in Kazakh is Zelionyj Bazaar, comes from the sale of vegetables and fruit at the time. Today, the market sells a wide range of goods that go beyond fresh produce including meat , encompassing meat, most notably horse meat, local dairy and other Kazakh delicacies.

Almaty is where we end our trip and we have an extra day here to spend on our own. We'll definitely be visiting the Green Bazaar to take in one last glimpse of the culture of Central Asia.

Regardless of the market, it's pretty certain none of the vendors will take credit cards so we'll be lugging cash around.  I'm planning to bring along a few, very crisp US dollars, in small denominations, just in case I don't have enough local currency.  I'm really going to enjoy the market visits!