In the side street that leads to the Zarina B & B where we stayed are a couple of small local shops, which we found very useful for basic supplies. Here we could buy bottled water at a lower price than that sold in the hotel (about 200 som for a small bottle). I also came here to buy sweets to take home for work colleagues. This involved a fair amount of miming as I was keen to get a good mix of flavours but at the same time avoid chocolate which wouldn’t have survived in that heat. The shop-keeper was a little bemused at first but eventually we were able to understand each other and the resulting purchase gave me lots of satisfaction. The sweets were pretty tasty too!
What to pay: Prices are so cheap by western standards that you don’t need to be concerned about how much things will cost.
While visiting the Bibi Khanum Mosque our attention was caught by this artist painting quietly in the centre of the courtyard, and by the paintings he had arranged around the great marble Koran stand there. These were mostly very detailed watercolours of some of the exquisite tile-work on Samarkand’s mosques and other monuments. We watched him at work for a while, then checked out the paintings more carefully. The work was very fine, and the prices incredibly reasonable, so it was an easy decision to buy one, though a much harder one to choose which it should be. In the end we selected one that we liked, of an entrance surrounded by blue and green mosaic. For this original watercolour measuring about 15 by 20 cms we paid just $7 – what a bargain, and what a lovely souvenir of our visit to the mosque. It now hangs just by our front door and reminds me daily of the wonders of Uzbekistan’s architecture.
What to pay: Prices ranged from $5 to about $20
The Registan is the prime spot for souvenir shopping in Samarkand, with many of the former hajira (cells) in the madrassahs turned over to local stall-holders. This can detract (and distract) considerably from the impact of the madrassahs, but is convenient if you want to browse several places before making your selection. You quickly find however that most of the items available are much the same from shop to shop, as are the prices.
What to buy: The standard items you’ll see in almost every shop include suzanni (embroidery, usually wall-hangings or cushion covers), small pottery or ceramic pieces, silk scarves, knives, pictures, rugs, musical instruments, cheap beads etc. We bought a small mosaic picture which reminded us of a typical Uzbek scene, a pre-restoration photo of the Tillya Kari Madrassah and a simple cushion cover for my mother-in-law (see photo 3), all of which we found in various hajira in the Ulug Beg Madrassah.
The best purchase for us though was another cushion cover I found in the shop on the left of the entrance to that madrassah. Here a young girl was working at a suzanne, and the quality of the work on display was very evidently superior to much that we’d seen elsewhere. Whereas the first cushion cover had large areas of plain cotton unadorned by embroidery, the ones here were completely covered with beautifully worked silk stitches. You can see the one we chose in photo 2, now taking pride of place on our sofa at home.
What to pay: Prices do vary with quality, and in the cells haggling is encouraged. We paid $7 for the cheaper cushion cover (and the shop-owner was so pleased to get it he threw in a small clay figure for free!) and $5 for the mosaic picture. The shop in the entrance portal, which proclaimed itself a museum of embroidery, charged higher prices which were fair for the higher quality on offer. We were quoted $35 for the cushion cover that had caught our eye, and when we asked if that was negotiable (polite speak for “can we haggle”) we were told no – but he would let us have it for a discount at $30!
This was a real find! I’d been searching for a gift for my mother, who likes scarves (which you can find in abundance in Uzbekistan) but prefers square ones (which you can’t find at all!) Then in this little gallery a stone’s throw from the Registan I found what I’d been looking for. It doesn’t sell traditional Uzbek crafts but more modern ones, with a great range of paintings in various media, pottery and hand-painted silk scarves – including some square ones :)
Even if you aren’t interested in buying you’ll probably enjoy a visit to this friendly gallery, where the owner is likely to welcome you with tea and sweets, and will answer (in limited English) your questions about the work for sale. And the building in which it is housed is itself interesting, one of several grouped around a shady courtyard with first floor wooden galleries. Next door is another gallery displaying more paintings and very good photos of Uzbek scenery and Samarkand itself.
What to pay: The prices aren’t cheap, indeed by local standards they are high, and haggling isn’t an option, but the items are of very good quality and worth what is asked for them. I paid $22 for Mum’s scarf, for instance.
You'll find postcards everywhere in Samarqand but it'll be more difficult to find a place to send them. I asked my guide about it and she suggested me to go to Afrosiyab Hotel. There you can find nice postcards and they sell stamps too. You can send your postcards there, they have a box.
What to buy: Postcards, stamps and other gifts
There are nice pottery in Uzbekistan. Every region has its own style, own colors and designs... Pottery from different regions sound even...different!! That's because every kind of pottery is made of different types of clay and they need different times to be baked.
There are local craft shops everywhere in Samarqand but the biggest concentration of shops that i saw was inside the medrasahs of Registan
What to buy: All kind of pottery and other local craft
What to pay: Local craft and souvenirs have european prices. You can bargain if you buy more than a piece but you'll have only small discounts
Read my tip:
Sher-Dor: the main Lecture Room in Samarqand things to do
What to buy: These are the bests carpets of the world. The quality of carpets depends on the materials (silk),natural colors and on the "megapixels". Smaller points, best quality. Some countries use the work of children to do smaller points, which makes carpets theorically "better". In Samarqand they only use the work of women. They sing, chat, listen to music...there is no hurry, women have to be happy and no stressed otherwise bad or sad moods could be reflected on the final carpets.
Another interesting thing: the quality (and price) of carpets grows with their age. A 10years used carpet is much better than when you bought it!!
What to pay: From 1500 $ untill....
The best place for shopping is without doubt Samarkand’s bazaar. You can get almost everything here, fresh fruit, snacks, any delicious sweets and candy (honey for example – yumm). However, I didn’t find any silk here, at least not what I was looking for (best place is still Marghillan in Ferghana Valley).
If you look for souvenirs, you should visit one of the countless stalls in the medressas. Well, of course, there are differences in price and quality. I didn’t actively look for souvenirs, as I was heading for trekking in the Pamirs, so no excess luggage was allowed. But I did see some nice places where I would have shopped if I could:
Ulug’bek Medressa (for tea and stoneware), Gur-i-Amir (for tiles) and the little former caravanseray (?) between Ruchebad Mausoleum and Gur-i-Amir.
What to pay: From what I have heard, the prices are a bit lower than in Bukhara and Khiva, but more expensive than in Tashkent (as of mid 2006).
What to buy: While in Uzbekistan you are likely to encounter the ubiquitous national dish plov - palov in Uzbek - and related to pullao etc. There are various ways of cooking it; a book in Uzbek, Russian and English 'Uzbek National Dishes' (1995) explains them for those who are really keen (but it is not easy to find). As plov is made in Uzbekistan it can be rather heavy on fat for many tastes but it is easy enough to produce for yourself in a more palatable version which retains the real flavour. Essentially it involves frying meat, onion and carrot, adding spices and serving mixed with (or over) rice. Just say 'Plov' in Samarkand market - even though saffron may be what they would prefer to sell you - and you will be given something like ground black pepper, cumin seeds and - the distinctive part - barberries. Thus you have a cheap, portable and unusual souvenir to serve to your friends when you return home. Can't cook? Bet you can cook plov....
Samarkand certainly isn't as overtaken by traders and small shops as Bokhara (a woman in Khiva said to us,with a most dismissive shrug, 'Huh, Bokhara - supermarket' ! ) but there are still more than enough shops to keep the believers in retail therapy happy. The main area for souvenir/handicraft shopping is undoubtedly the Registan where all of the medressas have shops in the student cells around the courtyards. Here you will find the usual mix of ceramics and embroideries, carpets and hats, paintings and ethnic textiles, etc that are the most popular souvenirs of a visit to Central Asia.
More difficult to find are the wonderful silks and other textiles by the metre - the stuff in the bazaar is nearly all synthetic and not the real thing at all. Very few of the traders in the handicraft shops sell any fabric by the metre, though I did manage to buy some very good small pieces of striped cotton/silk mixtures that I was told by the guide were old and hard to get these days. You have to ask though -they won't be on display.
There were not many souvenir sellers in Shakhrisabz at all - it's a very small town and not on a lot of itineraries. We found a group of young girls selling cheap things near the Dorus Siadat and women with better items in the courtyard of the Dorut Tilovat. Apparently there are shops selling much the same stuff but we weren't looking and we didn't see them.
Tour groups are usually taken to the Khudjum Embroidery Factory where most of the work for sale in the town is made.
What to buy: Wherever I travel I set myself a task to bring back a gift for my Book Group friends - something that typifies where I have been. In what has become a standing joke amongst the group, I also set myself the task of spending no more than a dollar on each gift -it certainly can be a challenge!
Finding the skull caps that had been $2-3 in Bukhara for only $1 in Shakrisabz was a great coup - and the young girl I bought them from had a smile that lit up her face when I instantly bought 10, no bargaining or bartering. She was delighted and so was I.
With a whole range of colours and sizes to choose from, there was one to suit each of my friends - and they do look good.
What to buy:
Caps for a dollar are one thing - cheap and cheerful, you don't expect the finest work. Look carefully though among the items that some of the older women selling handicrafts have on their stalls however and you may well find something very fine indeed - like this beautiful old piece of embroidered velvet that had been made into a small bag. Faded and worn it may be, but the work is of the highest standard - it really is a work of art to be treasured.
What to pay: $5 was all I paid for this - it was what she asked and I was more than happy to pay for such fine work.
Samarkand food market is an interesting place to wander around and see some local life. The best time to go is early in the morning: is cooler and the place is at its maximum activity, when people come to buy the stuff for the daily meals.
We found melons EVERYWHERE in the street stalls, in the market... They were big and so tasty! And cheap, we bought one to have for desert at the hotel and it was like 10-20 cents. So since then we used to buy one, tell the vendor to cut it in slices and share it with the group. It was very refreshing in the Samarkand heat :-))
Uzbeks have a particular way to bake their bread and to be recognisable.
The sesam seeds on top of the round breads are patterned in a way that the local people can see where the bread was baked.
Of course to us, it looked all the same... but it tasted quiet good