Uzbekistan is bazaar. One big bazaar. It is a country of mosques, minarets, madrassas, marauders and souvenir stalls.
Every available space is dedicated to selling traditional Uzbek crafts such as traditional silk carpets, traditional sheep fur hats, traditional women’s robes made from traditional Ikat styled fabrics, traditional silver jewellery, traditional ceramics and of course, traditional fridge magnets.
If you wander into one of the produce markets you will face to face with brightly coloured conical peaks of spices (the higher the better, apparently), more brightly coloured dried fruits than you thought existed, bowls and bowls of brightly coloured, sour-tasting pickled vegetables.
Once you realise that this was a major trading hub of the Silk Road, you realise that the souvenir stalls set up outside every mosque, every madrasah, every minaret, every corner, every alley, every available space is not here just for the tourists, they have been doing this for centuries.
Ever since the first caravans rolled through these parts there has always been traders trying to sell their wares. As Bukhara, and especially Samarkand, were crossroads of the Silk Road, these places became major trading locations, so expect to be asked to buy something.
The long history of trading also has a dark past. Khiva was once the centre of the slave trade along the Silk Road. In this seemingly innocuous building, it’s hard to imagine the cruelty that would have occurred during the height of the slave market. It all looks so innocent now.
Unlike some other countries, the sellers are not pushy. Yes, they will invite you into their store to take a better look. They will shout out the special qualities of their Silk, They will hand you a sample of their dried fruit to taste to encourage you to buy, they will also offer you tea as a welcome, and they will invite you to look at the fridge magnets. What they won’t do is be pushy or aggressive.
It is in their blood, it is their heritage. Asking an Uzbek not to try and sell you something is like asking someone not to breathe.
So let them breathe, and buy something…..and remember haggling is part of the game.