Each Bishkek bazaar has it’s own personality. Orto Sai is neat and quaint with orderly grids of shops and the clean-stacked mounds of vegetables from Korean vendors. Madina is a business bazaar busy with textile shop owners and the odd housewife. And Osh Bazaar – Osh Bazaar is the dirty heart of Bishkek. Containing everything in a muddy warren of sidepaths and subsections, covered bazaars within the bazaar where aisles stocked high with shoes and so narrow two people can barely pass butt into each other at odd angles, hidden basements and second floors home to hundreds of unseen shops selling items of every shape and form from cheap clothes from China to light fixtures, drapery, cigars. Push-carts crowd the sidewalks with sellers shouting their wares – tomatoes, dubious ‘snake oil’ skin rubs, Muslim prayer mats, bananas, women’s stockings, girl’s sweaters, lightbulbs and super-glue. Before the bazaar the second hand-market stretches over the sidewallks, crowding around the bus stops, down a muddy hill half-covered in half-decayed stone structures. Paths weave between old fur coats strung between the trees, carpets folded and piled in tilting towers, sheets and tables covered with cut glassware, knick-knacks, half-chewed children’s toys, cooking utensils and incomplete sets of teacups. It’s like someone shook up a supermarket and a whole summer of garage sales, hurled the contents over several blocks of sidewalk, and allotted one pile of the mess to each resident of an entire small town.
Today I went to buy gifts for family members, as it’s my last weekend in Kyrgyzstan before we meet. For among the mess and clutter the Osh Bazaar hides perhaps the largest selection of local handicrafts (rivaled only by the top floor of Tsum). But unlike Tsum, shops in the Osh bazaar are completely scattered along perhaps 3 or 4 ‘veins’ surrounded respectively by shoes, bedding, saddelry and women’s underwear. So finding anything is always an orienteering adventure.
Today’s hike began at the Southern end, which also happens to be the general location of the second-hand bazaar. Now this is not quaint like the second hand bazaar that stretches from Beta 2 to Orto Sai. It’s not a place for a Sunday morning stroll, cappuccino in hand. The second-hand bazaar here quite honestly looks like someone upended a Soviet-themes Salvation Army Warehouse and several hoarder’s basements onto the remains of a slum city. Which is why I’ve never gone in it before. But today a blue painted plate caught my eye and I wandered in – only to discover that among the tremendous amount of junk and under the layers of mud and dust the second-hand bazaar hold some amazing finds (along with a much more complete snapshot of soviet life): a silver-plated accordion sitting on a table with dusty books, well-worn hand-painted wooden spoons, enough cut glassware and decorative swans to fill a basement Macy’s. I found my plate (and a few others) for the price of a latte, squished back through the mud, and wove my way through the covered bazaar to the Kyrgyz handicraft shops in the back.