Chiyal Bazaar - customs and traditions of Uzbekistan


Oh, the Orient!
With your eccentricity,
Your colours and your bazaars
You deserve admiration.

Having covered just 80 kilometres south of Samarkand, having surmounted the gorgeous Kitab mountain pass with its gently sloping but at the same time rather treacherous curves of serpentine road, you may find yourself in the homeland of Amir Temur. Sokhibkiran was born here, in Kashkadarya Province, in the city of Shakhrisabz. Some 20-25 kilometres more to the west and you reach regional centre Chirakchi which is close to Chiyal village.

At first sight it is an ordinary village which is no different from hundreds of other villages of the region. Yet since olden times its fame has resounded far beyond Uzbekistan. What makes it so renowned is its bazaar. For more than thousand years this bazaar would spring up at one moment, and would vanish away at another, like a phantom. Once a week, on Sundays people gather here but by midday everything disappears without a trace…The sun is still ‘sleepy’ but people are already streaming from different locations gradually interflowing into one big river that runs along the crease leading to Chiyal bazaar.

From the earliest times, following old traditions, people used to gather on the oriental bazaars. In Chiyal, which nowadays stands off the main highways, there have preserved what we call a tradition.

More and more people arrive. They bring their load. Stock-breeders bring their live stock: playful lambs and panting wheezy bulls. On donkeys and motorcycles, cars and tractors, on bicycles and on their own shoulders people carry their goods to the bazaar. In bales and boxes, in sacks and buckets, in carbodies or simply in small packets. There is every sort of stuff: grown and carved from wood, chased and woven, sewed and felted, molded and forged. These are items made by artisans and farmers, blacksmiths and carpenters, tailors, gardeners and bakers, hunters and fishermen. Noise and speech, creak and rattle, laughter and neighing mix with the dust raised by thousands of feet, wheels and hooves and then come up above the hills of Karshi steppe.

Deserts dry out and bloom up afresh. Some generations pass away and a new life comes to take their place. Automobiles replace camels and horses. But one thing that remains invariable is Chiyal bazaar, though it, too, changed its appearance. Over hundreds of years of its existence people have got used to it, just as they have to water, air, and home.

The goods come from remote villages; they come from big and small cities –Samarkand, Shakhrisabz, Karshi. In former times the bazaar was visited by merchants from Herat, Balkh, Bukhara, India. It is very likely that Temur himself could have called at this place.

In such a way, boisterously, almost in dark, this ancient bazaar called Chiyal starts its Sundays.

For stock-breeders Karshi steppe is a land of plenty. People living here have been engaged in animal husbandry from times immemorial. And though this steppe is actually a part of rough, almost lifeless Kyzylkum desert, local people managed to cope with it and to find a good way of survival.

Livestock is one of the essentials for the population of many villages scattered all over the steppe. Thus it’s no wonder that the heart of Chiyal-bazaar is stock market – Mol-bazaar. This is the venue of the most surprising bargaining which traders start from early morning, when the surroundings start to wake up. Livestock yields good profit to the family, therefore each transaction is accompanied by a haggle that is beyond description. One has to see it, to watch it with his own eyes.

Bargaining can start as unexpectedly as it can be closed. Someone is pleased with the result, someone else has bad luck. And many others are still to bargain. Experienced customers take their time: there is so many options to browse before you fix upon the best. Marketing is in full swing.

Now it seems the trader and the customer are striking the bargain. Not at all. The owner of karakul sheep does not let the customer’s palm go, trying to somewhat increase the price. The buyer, on the contrary, is doing his best to cut it down. At last it’s a deal! And again they start talking about the quality of karakul.

Now it’s time to take the purchase home. But the bull is so big that even three strong men cannot manage it. What is to be done?

As usual the aged will advise you what to do. Their life experience never failed them. And their advices are always listened to. Though not always followed, but always listened to with respect and great attention.

The human sea, accumulated here at the daybreak seethes more and more. With every moment the multilingual, bustling Chiyal bazaar blazes with colours. These are the colours of juicy fruits that local fertile land bears: mellow apples and bloom covered quince, brightly glowing pomegranate seeds and endless rows of almond and pistachio. And of course the fragrance of Oriental herbs and spices which makes you a bit dizzy.

Who else in this world can trade as successfully as the oriental women do? Moon-faced, big-eyed, with long black braids, these real beauties offer you to taste or try, or at least just to view the goods they are selling. There is no way you can refuse their offer.

There"s precious little you can’t see in these numerous lanes formed by hundreds of sacks containing different kind of stuff. Because of the dazzling colours, you don’t know where to look first. But be on your guard! In an oriental bazaar there is always a risk that you will be talked into buying something you don’t really need.

Old Chiyal has one peculiarity. Only once a week you have the opportunity to crowd in this exotic place. And to find what you need. If you fail to find it, you can always come back next week and you will buy something by all means.

But what impresses most at this bazaar is the produce of old craftsmen.

I marvel at the potter’s courage
To temper, pound and slap a piece of clay.
Cause clammy dust and ashes used to be one’s flesh
Until the fire of life burnt off in it forever.

Omar Khayam, the author of these lines, was wrong. The past does not inevitably turn into ashes, but is left to people.

This bazaar lives a thousand years, and over this period of time not a single pilferage has ever happened. It has been like this from the very beginning.

Carpets and chests beautifully decorated with patterns and metal inlays, saddles and local sweets parvarda, gold embroidered oriental robes and shoes, caftans and dressy look garment for children - each of these things has its roots deep in history, the experience of many generations of craftsmen from Uzbek land.

Where there is bazaar there is food. How delicious is yakhna- mutton boiled with spices in cauldron for 24 hours. This finger-licking good meat can be tasted only at Chiyal bazaar. Same can be said about jizz (meat fried in hot oil), samsa (patty) and a dozen of other culinary wonders created by local cooks oshpaz. Come and savour!

Author: I. Blidarev

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