Dealers everywhere: Magic carpets
Although you will see any number of carpets for sale in Uzbekistan, be aware that most come from Turkmenistan. Not that this is a reason not to buy, trade in carpets across the whole region is as old as carpet-making, pre-dating the borders of modern politics by centuries. If you want to be sure the carpet you buy is truly an Uzbek one, visit the UNESCO-sponsored silk carpet workshops in Samarkand, Bukhara and Khiva or buy from the Yodgorlik silk factory in Fergana where you can see the carpets being made.
At the workshop in Khiva you can see the copper pots of dye bubbling away as well as the women working at the looms.
What to buy: Traditional knotted rugs and carpets; kilims, sumacs and other flatweaves and items such as camel bags are all available. Small rugs will fold neatly inro a suitcase, larger pieces may need to be shipped. Laws are strict about exporting anything with real age or particular cultural value.
What to pay: Price always depends on quality and your bargaining powers. A small silk rug will cost about $200, a kilim or sumac may be had for as little as $50. Whatever you pay, if you really like the rug and have paid a price you can afford, you can be sure you have value for your money and a wonderful memory that will last a lifetime.
Everywhere: Exquisite embroidery
What to buy: Suzane is the name given nowadays to all the wonderful embroideries you will find in Uzbekistan. For those interested -a suzane is a large wall hanging, a nimsuzane is a small wall hanging, a tuskiz hangs in a yurt and a ruijo is spread on the bridal bed. The list of names goes on - but suzane will do. Whether you buy a full suzane or just a single cushion cover, you are buying a piece of a wonderful tradition.
Patterns and styles vary from place to place. In Bukhara the background is nearly always cream (though these days some are tea-dipped to give a attractive muted tone to the colours - that is quite acceptable) and floral patterns feature strongly, often with recognisable flower motifs. Tashkent suzanis tend to have brightly coloured backgrounds and fairly small stylized floral motifs whilst Fergana Valley work features large bold motifs - usually black and red on a cream background.
The choice is certainly greatest in Bukhara where prices are probably as high as you will pay anywhere.
Urgut bazaar is renowned as a good hunting ground - show interest in embroideries there and you will soon be surrounded by women with suzani to sell. Prices are good and bargaining easier.
What to pay: $5 -$15 for a cushion cover -$200 and more for a really fine suzane -the choice is yours. I found a lovely old piece worked on velvet and made into a small bag for just $5 in Shakhrisabz - quite unique.
Everwhere: A hat for every occasion
What to buy: If there is one thing to buy that most typifies Uzbek culture, it must be a hat. Whether you choose a simple black and white doppi or an elaborately embroidered and beaded young girl's cap, a woolly sheepskin telpek or a Turkoman fantasy like the silver one here with the pheasant feathers, pay a dollar or two in a market or twenty or more for something beautiful and unique, it is the hats they wear that mark the identity and status of Central Asian men and women in the most unmistakeable way.
What to pay: When I travel, I buy my bookclub friends a gift -the game is to spend no more than $1 each. In Shakrisabz I found the hats that were $3 in Bukhara (too expensive for me, but a fair price our guide said) for $1. The girl selling them was delighted when I bought 10 and my friends were delighted with their hats. Win win.
Pretty well everywhere: Hand painted pots
What to buy: Hand formed ceramics have a long tradition in Uzbekistan, not only the wonderful glazed tiles that adorn the great mosques and madrassas but also pots, bowls, plates and vessels of every shape and size. Even the "tuvaks' - the little peepot placed beneath the baby's cradles - are made by hand still and every potter has a neat little sideline producing these essential items.
Many forms and patterns are unique to a particular region but you will find these blue, white and green wares all over the country (and in other parts of Central Asia). Once made in small potteries in and around the town of Rishtan in the Fergana Valley, it all now comes from a central factory but much of it is still made by hand as it has been for hundreds of years.
What to pay: A couple of dollars will buy a small tea bowl, the prices go up from there.
Bukhara's trading domes: Not your average department store
Once there were five, now there's just three. The famous trading domes of Bukhara covered the junctions of the roads that led through the busy mercantile section of the city. Each was dedicated to a particular trade, the ones that remain are the Jeweller's bazaar, the Cap-maker's and the Money-changer's. None of them is exclusively devoted to any one thing these days, rather most of the little shops inside and the stalls that are set up all around sell the same mixture of suzanes and silk scarves, bags and jewellery, carpets and hats that make up the stock of decorative items that make Uzbekistan a shopper's delight.
What to buy: There's something for everyone under the domes. From a carpet big enough to cover a whole room to a tiny little shoulder bag made from a scrap of an old kilim, enough jewellery to fill Aladdin's cave, silk scarves and suzanes, spices and bronze jugs, ceramics and tea - the problem comes in choosing.
What to pay: That's up to you. Prices are fairly set, though a little bargaining is in order. Don't insult the vendor by trying to get something for a ridiculous sum.
Bukhara spice merchant, bazaars everywhere: Spices and tea
Lots of options for the serious spice shopper. The bazaars of course are full of the brilliant colours and smells of spice -huge sacks of then in a sweeping curve under the domed roof of the covered bazaar (the Eski Juva) in Tashkent, similar long rows in markets and bazaars everywhere else in the country or a specialist shop in the Money-changer's Bazaar in Bukhara, where you will be offered delicious spiced tea as well. Here you can also buy delightful little gourd spice jars and the wooden handled metal stamps that are used to make the designs that are a feature of Uzbek bread.
What to buy: Some unusual and subtle use of spices, herbs and spices makes Uzbek food very tasty without being overwhelmingly spicy or hot. Cumin, coriander, red and black pepper are the main spices used, though many others, such as fenugreek, star anise, cinnamon and many more all feature. Dill, parsly, fresh coriander and basil are the some of the herbs used, dill being a particular favourite. Dried fruits and berries all have their place while sesame and nigella are just two of the seeds that are often used. Fresh herbs apart, all of these and many more are available from the spice merchants, fresh as fresh and cheap as cheap.
Everywhere: Silk from the Silk Road
What to buy: Uzbek silks in wonderful Ikat hand weaves are absolutely beautiful. Expensive too - this is a highly sophisticated weaving process. For those adventurous enough to wear them, the coats and dresses made from this silk make a real impact. For the more conservative, lovely scarves make an more wearable, and much cheaper, alternative.
I'm still dreaming of a glorious piece of silk I saw in Samarkand, about one and a half metres square with a fabulous Ikat pattern - first price $500 - even 5th price would have been beyond my budget, but what a piece!
What to pay: This has become a bit of a mantra - what you pay is up to you -a few dollars for a machine-made scarf or hundreds for something like my gorgeous square.
$25 bought me a gorgeous stole woven in Khorezm style from best quality silk, a length of silk and cotton mix adras in a very sophisticated ikat pattern cost $8 a metre, machine-made pure silk ikat bought from tSum in Tashkent was $7 a metre - both lengths were the typical narrow width - about 50 cm.
If you really want to push the boat out, an investment piece such as the antique woman's robe in good condition in photo 2 will cost you something in the vicinity of $700-800
Bazaars everywhere: Something for everyone
If Bukhara's domes and Samarkand's madrassas cater mostly for tourists, Uzbekistan's wonderful bazaars make no such concessions. These are the places that the local people shop in every day for their food, their household needs and most of their clothes. The huge covered market halls, open stalls in the plazas and the streets all around buzz with activity and life. These are the places to come for the sounds, the smells and the tastes of daily life.
What to buy: Spices, dried fruit and nuts, fabulous fresh fruit and bread are all great buys here, some for immediate consumption, some to take home with you.
Registan medressah courtyards: Shopping in Samarkand
The austere student cells of Samarkand's old madrassas are mostly now crowded with a riot of colour as they find a new purpose as the small shops selling the gorgeous handicrafts of the country. The beautiful tilework on the arches of the courtyards combine with the variety and vibrancy of the goods for sale both inside and outside the shops to form a wonderful tapestry of colour around the serene space of the the courts themselves with their stone-flagged paving, trees and grapevines. Western-style shopping malls with their bright lights and piped music don't have a fraction of the atmosphere and charm of these places.
Various: Traditional crafts
What to buy: Uzbekistan is a great destination for anyone who loves to shop, especially for traditional crafts. Prices are very reasonable (especially after the bargaining that is expected in most though not all places) and although the quality is mixed there are plenty of good items to be found. Perhaps foremost among these are the embroideries or suzanni. This word is most properly applied to the larger wall-hangings but is now used generically to refer to any piece of embroidery, including the two cushion covers we bought.
But if you don’t want embroidery there are plenty of other lovely things to tempt you, including silk carpets (if you buy one of these, make sure you get a certificate to show that it isn’t an antique); silk scarves in vibrant colours; wood carvings and the classic Uzbek wooden bread stamps; pottery and ceramics; paintings of all styles and in various media; and a range of other souvenir items such as mosaic tile-work.
We found Bukhara and Samarkand to have much more variety than Khiva both in the range of shops and the items in them. We also bought a few things in Tashkent, although were too tired from our journey the previous day to properly take in the options and make sensible purchases!
What to pay: Prices everywhere are very reasonable, and in most places you're expected to haggle (ask "is the price negotiable") We paid just $6 for an original watercolour of a mosaic detail at the Bibi Khanoum Mosque in Samarkand, and just $30 for our fantastically embroidered cushion coverRelated to:
- Arts and Culture
Bazaars: Fantasic fruit
What to buy: Uzbekistan is a fruitarian's idea of heaven. No matter what the season, fabulous fruit is always available. Summer and autumn brings an abundant harvest of everything from the first loquats of the year, through the apricots, strawberries, raspberries, mulberries and cherries of early summer and on through peaches and grapes, apples and pears, melons of every shape and size, figs bursting with sweetness, to the pomegranates and persimmons that signal the coming of winter.
Watch out for bright orange lemons - they look marvellous, are not very common and are quite expensive so are obviously prized - and they are so sour they'll strip your mouth! On the other hand, you can find sweet lemons that you can eat like an orange -delicious.
Sun-dried fruit with an intensity of flavour that recalls the summer is available all year round.
Bazaars: Baked fresh today
No bazaar in Uzbekistan worth its name is without the sellers of freshly baked bread. They come in from the villages with their loaves piled high on little carts and old baby prams. Golden rounds of crisp crusty "non", each baker having their own particular pattern or seeded topping. The bread is baked in a tandoor oven and is at its best when absolutely fresh and still warm.
What to buy: Do buy a loaf and eat it straight away, still warm from the oven, if you possibly can. It will bear no resemblence to the rather hard and dry loaf it will become later in the day, or served up for breakfast next morning in your hotel perhaps.
If you do buy a loaf, be careful not to be seen throwing what you have not eaten away in the street. Bread is treated with respect here and never carelessly discarded.
The Blacksmith's Museum and various shops: An ancient craft
The Museum of the Blacksmith's Art in Bukhara has a fascinating, if somewhat lethal, display of knives and blades for show and sale. Generations of the same family have worked in this forge.
What to buy: Scissors in the shape of storks come in all sizes with blades so sharp they will cut through almost anything. If you buy them, or one of the very impressive knives, be sure to pack them in your hold luggage.
Other metal work for sale includes ewers and jugs as well as large trays and plates.
Bazaars: Nuts to you
What to buy: Seeds and nuts are another feature of the bounty that Uzbek soil produces. Sesame, poppy, nigella and other seeds are used in cooking. Sunflower and pumpkin seeds are a favourite snack and there are mini- mountains of almonds, groundnuts, cashews, pistachios and walnuts in the bazaars. All are as fresh as can be. Walk down the aisle of the bazaar and you will be offered a sample of any or all of them.
Don’t miss her magic music - Yulduz Usmonova
… as I obviously did when I was travelling through Uzbekistan.
But… this is again one of the miracles of VT :-) . Mira
was reading what I wrote about Samarkand and dropped me a comment about an Uzbek singer, she liked very much. I replied that I didn’t heard that much Uzbek music while I was there, and voila – she sent me a link to Yulduz music on Youtobe.
So, for all of you who like local music, make sure you listen into her Yulduz Usmonova at Youtube clips.
Interesting also to read about her in Wikipedia :-)
She was born in Marghilan, and her parents worked in the silk factory (the one I also visited).Related to:
- Theater Travel
- Arts and Culture
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