When in Central Asia, one of the easiest ways to see life from a local’s perspective is to wander through the markets of each town – places where travellers can readily find things such as seasonal produce, freshly butchered meat and stacks of imported Russian and Chinese goods. Most of the items on sale in the bazaars of Uzbekistan are locally grown and produced, so the markets are a great stop for anyone looking to shop sustainably and responsibly. No matter which markets you visit, be sure to sample first and bargain hard to get the best deal!
In Samarkand, a bustling tourist city replete with ancient Islamic architecture that once lay at the crossroads of the ancient Silk Road, travellers can explore an atmospheric market just past the main street of mosques and mausoleums. The Deqhon Bazari is a great place to stock up on dried fruits or fresh bread before heading further into the country’s desert landscapes. Of special note here is the first pavilion full of local sweets and birthday cakes. That fudge will melt quickly in the midday heat, so be sure to eat it quickly!
Though the city of Bukhara does have full-on farmers’ markets further afield, the easiest shopping to find is the souvenir bazaar spread throughout the Old Town beside the 12th-century mosques and under the historic domes that have survived from the 16th century. Some of the former madrassahs in Bukhara have also been restored as workshops for local artisans who still work in trades that once helped make the city a trading centre famed throughout Central Asia.
Within Uzbekistan’s capital of Tashkent, you will find one of the oldest markets in the country and in all of Central Asia: the Chorsu Bazaar. Though prices can be slightly higher here than in the rest of the country, the availability of so much fresh produce and easily packable snacks makes it a great stop. There’s even a station of the Tashkent Metro just on the outskirts of the market, making it a reasonably daily stop to stock up on an abundance of cheap, delicious and quality food items.
Perhaps the biggest bazaar in the country lies a full day’s journey away from Samarkand. Still maintaining the tradition of weekly regional markets, the Sunday bazaar in Urgut village is an excellent place to wander for a truly authentic glimpse of local culture. A walk through the districts of the Urgut Bazaar takes travellers from local produce and meat stalls to handmade crafts and immense rolls of colourful fabrics from which so much of the local clothing is tailored.
Whichever colourful market you choose to visit in Uzbekistan, make sure to stop and chat with the people you meet. Whether there to shop or sell, the Uzbeks themselves are what make the experience truly special. With just a bit of Russian, you can use these markets as an ideal starting place for conversation about where you come from, what you’re doing in Uzbekistan and a bit of friendly bartering over so many products you never knew you couldn’t live without.
If you’re looking for a way to support the local economy and get a glimpse of what daily life is like in Uzbekistan, the bazaar in each city is one of the most accessible routes available. Even in towns like Samarkand that are on a well-established tourist trail dating back to before Marco Polo’s visit, the local markets are a great way to interact with the Uzbek people who make travel in the country so interesting.