Mobbed in Urgut and Stunned by Samarkand

Nisha on the hunt

Nisha on the hunt

It keeps getting better and better. Today was all about mad buying, incessant rain, a delightful spell of snow, a clean toilet (!), stunning mountains views and a godforsaken village outside Urgut.

After two nights in Shahkrisabz with intermittent electricity and NO HEATING (read: no hot water!), we were ready to leave for Urgut. The regular route via a mountain pass was closed, undone by a harsh winter. We headed out by another road in heavy rain. All of a happy sudden, snow began to fall. It was beautiful to see rolling meadows of green get powdered with a delicate white… the donkey’s saddle bags and the shepherd’s shoulder collecting their final load of snow before spring sends the winter packing.

We came. We saw. We conquered.

We came. We saw. We conquered.

As luck would have it, when we reached Urgut’s famous Sunday ‘Bozaar’, the snow had let up. But the ground was terribly slushy and the market packed. Trolleys overflowing with buns, loaves and nons, prams (yes, prams!) with steaming samosas buried under at least 5 blankets, vessels with boiling beetroot in a dark treacle, fresh juices, gyros… we walked right past all this to the very end. In fact, the market ended in a slushy open field where under temporary shelters and crude tables about 50 men and women waited with sacks full of handicraft. The minute they realised that we were their customers, we got mobbed (much like last time!) It was something to be experienced! I have never ever seen something like this, not even in India! Madaam! Devushka! Antiqua! Old design! Very old! Too old! suzani! silk! Nisha and I were literally assaulted. We were tugged, yanked, pieces of handicraft flew past every seccond, one nudged my chin, someone grabbed her shoulder… it was utter mayhem. I’ve never felt so in demand in my entire life! In a few seconds, they knew our names… then it became, Anaeeeeta, beautiful, loook, Anaeeta, Shahrukh Khan, Bobby, Taj Mahal… Neesha, how much dollaa, no new, very old, you buy…it was non-stop. Fabrics kept flashing before us and we had to decide or they would not leave. I found myself saying: that one! Yes! that one No! there were wall hangings, bed covers, small cushion covers, tribal accessories, clothes, tassels, costumes, caps… women furiously pulled things out of their pockets, blouses, purses, little tin boxes… bold floral patterns in stunning palettes of mustard and purple, black, brown and rust, and every other combination you can imagine and even not! Not everything was fabulous, but to tell the good ones from the ordinary was almost impossible.  Then came the haggling. That’s when I came into my own! I love it.  She says 30, I say 5. They all exclaim. Oh! maaadaam! Anaeeeeta, CAATAASTROFEEE!  With an emphatic NO! I walk away. They follow, in hot pursuit. I am unmoved. The scene repeats, over and over again. Some, in desperation, succumb. Others persist. Like the lady who sold me the coral and silver earrings. I declare, even with her I prevailed. Haggling is my thing!!! Eeeehaaaa! Felt like AnaTimur, raider of the Urgut bozaar…

So impressed was the local bozaar lady with our marauding ways, she invited us to her village home where she pulled out more. And boy! Did she have it all! No lunch for the wicked. By the way, it may not have been snowing but it was bloody cold. Like really finger-numbing, eye-watering, toe-deadening cold. We spent two hours there, pillaged her collection and left for Samarkand victorious.

Entering Samarkand was like driving into an open-air museum… the tallest structures here are the stunning mosques, mausoleums and museums the world comes to see. The Registan from my car window was breathtaking. Just breathtaking. Imagine how at the end of a days journey, a weary, cold traveller on the silk road would have felt being greeted by this awe-inspiring, most magnificent of structures. There doesn’t exist in my world anything more beautiful.

Tomorrow, I’m leaving craft behind and dedicating my day to Samarkand. Can’t wait.

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    Arastan was an online store that curated rare and handpicked treasures from exotic bazaars along the ancient silk route. Unfortunately we ceased trading in early 2014.

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