Urgut Bazaar is one of the most authentic market we visited in Uzbekistan. The roads were muddy and dirty and everything from fabrics, to carpets to goat heads were sold. A truly original place and somthing that would be hard to emulate.
Getting to Urgut from Samarkand is easy: just take the bus. Many people suggested we rent a driver for a day, or hire a Mashrukta but at the end of the day we asked around and figured out which bus to take. It wasn't that hard! The bus was fairly cheap and since we were among the first to get on, we did manage to get seats. The trip itself from Samarkand to Urgut was (if memory serves correctly) about an hour, and it wasn't too uncomfortable although the bus did fill up the closer we got to Urgut.
The Lonely Planet we had says of Urgut that the town is "one of the best places to buy silk and old textiles in the country." However, the Lonely Planet continues saying "some readers report being disappointed by this markt, but that may be because they showed up on the wrong day. This market in only happening on Sunday and to a lesser extent on Thursday." Well we were definitely not disappointed, and we went on a Tuesday. The market itself was a hustle bustle of activity. From the crowded traffic in the street in the market entrance, to the bustling business of all the vendors and stalls in the market, the market itself was filled with color and sound. As the two videos show, the market is busy and the people incredibly friendly.
Outside Urgut Bazaar
Inside Urgut Bazaar
As you can see from the video above, the market is crowded with people and different foods. Actually, we found the market to be divided into distinct sections: food, fabrics, clothes, carpets etc. It was fairly interesting to drift through the different sections and see the different wares for sale. We later learned that the cotton for the fabrics and clothes was produced in Uzbekistan and shipped to Korea/China to be woven into fabrics and clothes. These were then shipped back to Uzbekistan to be sold. The controversy was that instead of building a fabrics/clothes factory, the government had invested a significat amount of money into building a car factory when they didn't have the technology or experience to do that.
Lunch in Urgut Bazaar
One of the highlights for me was eating in the bazaar. We walked into the restaurant area of the market and found a restaurant serving shashlik (skewered meat) and plov (a traditional Uzbek rice dish). bearing in mind the market and restaurant didn't have the highest standards of hygiene, we were a little concerned but decided to try the food anyway. The food turned out to be awesome and we didn't get sick so the risk was worth taking.
Of course the best part of the market (as always) was the people. Always friendly, always smiling, always waving at us. We really did feel welcome and although we did draw a lot of attention our way, at no point did we feel uncomfortable. We were warned we should be careful of pickpockets so we made sure wallets and valuables were stashed away properly so nothing would get stolen but we we felt safe all the time.
Tajik Girl - notice the single drawn in eyebrow which is considered attractive in Tajik culture
Market Boys - these kids were so excited to see us and have their picture taken. They were really friendly.
Mother and Daughter
One of the great things of walking through the fabric section of the bazaar was the color of the sunlight streaming through the fabrics. The light was soft and colored and almost magical and seemed really surreal and out of place in a place like Urgut. Truly magical and added to the color and the splendour of the market.
The Bus Home
So after drifting around the market for a couple of hours it was time to head off back to Samarkand. We found the bus (pretty easy) and jumped on. Now the conductor on this bus was really funny: the bus filled up pretty quickly and when a lady with a baby got onto the bus he insisted I sit down and hold the baby. The baby was horrified. No matter how much we protested he wouldn't let us stand. Even when old ladies got on the bus he insisted we sit and berated anybody who tried to take our seats. He also berated anybody who didn't want their photo taken and took photos of everybody (we haven't included those here). The bus was pretty full but by the time we got back to Samarkand it had emptied out.
All in all it was an awesome day. We went to the market on the Tuesday and were duly impressed and would encourage all travellers to Samarkand to go to this market. It is colorful and loud and raw and real and it is what you are in Central Asia to see. Later on when we were in Bukhara we went to the local markets that were highly sterilized, super hygenic shopping places that show some level of modernization is creeping into Uzbekistan, but Urgut will take you back a few years, and its fun!