In some ways, walking down the streets of Tashkent, Shymkent or Bishkek doesn’t feel all that different from a stroll through the center of any city in the United States or Europe. You pass a variety of stores, restaurants, government buildings and shopping malls. The people around you are likely headed to work or to school, or just running daily errands. The faces may look different, but life kind of feels the same.
Then you head to the bazaar.
And you enter a completely different world.
The bazaar is the cornerstone of Central Asian life – the beating heart of any town or city. Often a maze of narrow alleys and crowded stalls, it overwhelms the senses and reeks of chaos. It is where centuries-old traditions come to life.
Farmers come from miles around to hawk their fruits or vegetables – apples, grapes, cherries, melons, peppers, carrots, potatoes – you name it, you can probably find it at the bazaar.
The aroma of spices floats far and wide.
Butchers show off fresh meat – perhaps a little too fresh for the squeamish.
As a sign of the times, today’s vendors also stock beauty products, school supplies and even electronic goods and SIM cards.
And enterprising men and women provide almost any service imaginable.
Need a dentist? Go to the bazaar.
Need a pharmacist? Go to the bazaar.
Need a manicure, pedicure or haircut? Go to the bazaar, of course.
(and yes, I did get a fabulous $3 haircut at the Osh Bazaar in Bishkek – thanks to Brooke Schoenman for giving me the idea!)
More than anything, want to get a feel for a way of life that has persisted for hundreds of years? Want to see the day-to-day lives of the locals? Want to try your hand at haggling and chatting up friendly vendors?
Go to the bazaar.