Bazaars are big hubs in Uzbekistan that bring together people from the local town and sellers from places far and near. Every market has sections for fresh produce, dry fruits, spices, clothes, prayer caps, handicrafts, household items and more. They bustle with activity, colour, a variety of smells (good and bad), hectic negotiations and camaraderie.
On Sunday morning, Nisha and I traveled to Urgut, a town outside Samarkand known for its Sunday market. We wondered if anyone would show up given the weather but once we saw rush hour traffic outside the market entrance, we could feel our adrenaline rise.
The key highlight of this bazaar was its handicraft section with beautiful suzanis (famous textile rugs of Central Asia) brought by women from all over Uzbekistan. Suzana literally means needle or knitting. Painstakingly made using chain, satin and buttonhole stitches, these rugs are striking with their bright, vivid colours and a variety of motifs. Suzanis were traditionally made as a part of a girl’s dowry and have now been revived in a major way. The suzanis at this bazaar were collected from women in villages across Nurata, Samarkand, Bukhara and Shakhrisabz areas in Uzbekistan, and from Turkmenistan and Tajikistan as well. (We saw some beautiful antique ones, but unfortunately had to restrict our buying to newer ones since it is forbidden to export any more than 50 years old.)
The bazaar was teeming with stalls full of hand-embroidered panels, belts, prayer caps, silver jewellery with corals and old coins, traditional gowns and more. As soon as we stepped in, it was clear that Nisha was the only serious buyer for the day. Word spread like fire and soon women with their wares mobbed Nisha wherever she went. It was an absolutely crazy morning – the women chased her, kept bringing more stock from their stalls and wouldn’t let her move an inch. It was a minor miracle that she managed to keep track of her multiple negotiations and paid the right sums of cash to the many women who held her hostage – in a nice way. At the end of a successful deal, they held our hands and gave us their sunniest smiles. I have a feeling we’ll be back here next year.
And yes, it was mind-numbingly cold again. Within half an hour of being there, we could no longer feel our toes and fingers. There’s a reason why we look almost white in our pictures!
We ended a manic day at the most moving monument of the region, the Shah-i-Zinda. We will let the pictures speak for themselves.