Ever since the Great Silk Road era, bazaars have always been the heart of an any Central Asian city. Bazaars are where life boils, and no major life event happens without attending a bazaar. Malls with air-conditioners, maps, and lots of shops under the same roof is a new concept for Kyrgyzstan. Malls are expensive and give artifical vibes, meanwhile bazaars are not only a place where you can get anything (at all), but also do business and socialize with people. For a tourist bazaars in Bishkek could be interesting to find rich possibilities for shopping, observe caleidoscopic scenes and be part of chaotic loud life. There at least dozens of bazaars in Bishkek, and each is interesting in its own way. But here I will guide you through the most iconic and fascinating three bazaars: Dordoi, Osh and Mal bazaar (livestock market).
During the Soviet Union commerse was illegal. One couldn't sell fruits from his garden, or couldn't buy and resell anything because it would be a violation of a law against enterpreneurship. But after the collapse of the Soviet Union, when many lost their jobs at factories and mines, enterpreneurship had a second breath. Many engaged in commerse as a way to survive. People started to go to Russia, Ukraine and Kazahstan to sell there stuff from China, or produce clothes and sell in Kyrgyzstan. That's how Dordoi came to a life. Now it is the biggest market in the Central Asia, and people from all around ex-Soviet countries and Turkey come to buy things and sell in their home countries. Although, you can find anything in Dordoi, it is most commonly known for selling clothes. It is around 1 hour away from Bishkek on a public transportation. When you arrive there it might look little bit chaotic. However, it has its own logic and order. There are no maps, so if you are searching for anything particular it is better to bring some local, who can oriente in the market. Otherwise, you can ask anyone in the market where to find what you are looking for and they will tell you.
Located centrally, Osh bazaar is known for having the cheapest prices in Bishkek. As you have noticed the market has a name of the city Osh. Why? Because everyone in Kyrgyzstan knows that the best trademen are from Osh. Historically, Osh was a trading city and had the best bazaars in the region. Compared to the Dordoi market, Osh bazaar is smaller but nevertheless you can find anything here from food, clothes, building materials, golden jewelry, furniture, and (this might interest tourists) the cheapest traditional souvenirs. Yes, this is the place to buy souvenirs not in a mall. I will open a secret that all locals know, but tourists might not know. The souvenirs in the mall and souvenirs in the Osh market are literally the same, the only difference is a price. Do you want to pay tripple more just in order to shop in an air-conditioned building? It is up to you.
Caution: smell alert. Yes, the livestock market doesn't smell well. Also, you can guess that I don't recommend to visit this market if you are vegetarian. But one thing to keep in my is that Kyrgyzstan's most population own small family animal farms. My grandparents, uncles and cousins do. It is the main source of income. Not only people farmed horses, sheeps, goats for food, but also it was and is a way of life. The best time to come to the market is in autumn. All summers families spend in jailoos feeding their animals with fresh grass from the moutains, then they sell them in markets in autumn. That's why autumn is a season of weddings because people get money to organize big celebrations.
These three bazaars might be not the prettiest view of Bishkek. Probably your travel guide will not bring you here. It is loud, chaotic, messy. However, if you would like to really get to know how locals live, you might want to come to Dordoi, Osh bazaar or Mal bazaar. They pump life into Bishkek and besides, observing fascinating bazaaar scenes, you can also get a haircut, try delicious street food, and get very cheap souvenirs.
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