“Man never gets tired of looking at three things: water, fire and a bazaar”
– proverbio uzbeko
I leave Samarkand at dawn, with my eyes full of the splendid perspectives of the Registan, and I take the road to Tashkent, the Uzbek capital, which I will visit quickly before heading to the airport. My trip to Uzbekistan is about to end.
But first I allow myself a small detour to the south, in order to visit Urgut market, which is located about 40 km from Samarkand.
The Urgut Bazaar is a famous local market with a great offer of fabrics and jewelry. I am happy to walk in the alleys of an Uzbek suq: during my stay, I feel I have refined the art of bargaining.
At the beginning of my trip to Uzbekistan, I felt rather uncomfortable having to negotiate before buying an item, while I now skilfully play my part in this funny comedy: I look at an object pretending to have little interest in it and I ask for its price. When the trader tells me its price, I pretend to be amazed, my eyes open wide, and propose a price slightly lower than half of the initial price.
Now it’s the salesman who pretends to be astonished, shakes his hands and curl his lips in a sulk of extreme disappointment. I’m waiting for him to propose a new price, which I am still going to think is way above its real value. The bargaining dance goes on for several minutes, in a crescendo of raises and downs. From time to time, we exchange a smile or a fun look. Then, the negotiation comes to a standstill: neither gives in and no agreement is reached. It’s time for the twist: shaking my head, I return the product and move away from the stand.
“No way. It’s too much!” I sigh, turning my back.
The dealer chases me, carrying the item I was interested in, puts it in my hands and begs me to come back.
“I’ll make a good price, I promise!”
The final offer arrives, much more reasonable than the initial one. I nod my head, officially accepting the deal. The seller puts the product in an envelope and hands it to me satisfied. I leave with big smiles and handshakes.
An Uzbek saying reads: “if you do not haggle over the price, you offend the seller!”
To this I would add personally: “If you do not become friends with the seller, you have not negotiated enough!”
A large metal gate serves as an entrance to the Urgut market. Inside, the narrow streets form a geometric and orderly net. Business is at its peak: Uzbeks, Tajiks and Kyrgyz flock to the alleys. Although Chinese products are now strongly present, the atmosphere remains traditional and not at all touristy.
For the most part, there are shops selling children’s formal dresses, with communion dresses that resemble miniature wedding dresses; each corner has its own shop of footwear and underwear, its stationery store and toy shops (all strictly made in China).
There are also areas dedicated to street food, with kebabs, baked goods and homemade ice cream cones, which are stored in common thermal bags and sold in bulk. They are snapped up and everyone seems to like them, but I don’t have the nerve to taste one.
As I walk through the crowded market alleys, I enjoy the last taste of Uzbek hospitality. Not one person refuses me a smile, a handshake or a photograph. Upon my arrival in Uzbekistan, I was wary of such kindness, but I learned that there really is no trick and there is no deception. The people of Uzbekistan have a great heart. Everyone knows their place in society and knows how to relate to others in great harmony. I thank every old lady, every young woman, every child and every smiling salesman after every shot. They all enjoy seeing their image on my camera screen and thank me as if I had given them a moment of eternity.
I leave the market with a feeling of emotion for the kindness received. Uzbekistan is really the right place for those who want to feel pampered.
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