The Hustling and Bustling of the Animal Bazaar in Karakol

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Kyrgyzstan is country, that is still characterized by the agrarian culture. The majority of people in the country are dependent on agriculture or at least own a few horses, kettle or sheep. Everywhere you see the animals roam freely through the countryside, farmers working with their horses or cows, or people training with their horses for one of the big national sports such as Kok Boru (which some describe as Polo with a dead goat’s body). This means that there is also a huge demand for animals and trading horses, kettle, and sheep is a big part of Kyrgyz culture. Therefore, also trading animals is an important aspect.

Animal trading on the bazaar

One of the best places where you can witness this culture first-hand is the animal bazar in Karakol. The market is the biggest bazar of its kind in the region. There is one other animal market across the boarder in Kashgar that is even bigger – a lot bigger in fact – but in Kyrgyzstan you won’t find a market of a similar size. The marketplace is divided into mainly to parts: one for sheep and goats the other one for horses, cattle and presumably also camels sometimes. You can walk through the animals, who are surprisingly calm despite all the noises, movements and other animals around. People are closely inspecting the animals, and may even try the horses before the bargaining starts over the price. However, the negotiating process is not something that happens in private. If you have been successful and bought some livestock it is time to go home – but how do you take home a horse, a cow or your new sheep? The horses and cows will just go on the truck-bed, which looks pretty adventurous. But the goats and sheep you can just put in the trunk of your car. How they get enough air in there I don’t know. I also was amazed that none of the animals seems to panic – at home transporting your animals in these ways would never happen.

A place where time stands still

Sometimes, it may also be time to bring it to the smith before you can bring your horse home. There are a number of smiths joining the market and it is a great spectacle for all visitors to watch him shoe a horse. There is always a small crowd surrounding their stands and observing his work. We later found a picture from the beginning of the 20th century and the stall and equipment of the smiths still look exactly the same.

Although the bazaar can be crowded and there is so much going on at the same time (it is sometimes hard to decide where to go and what to look at first), the people never seem to be in a hurry. They take their time to chat with people they meet, drink a cup of tea or to just chill a little in one of the corners. It is easily possible to believe that the bazaar has hardly changed over the past century.

The people are very friendly; however, we did not meet anyone who was able to speak English. But especially the younger boys were very interested in us and were eager to show us their horses, explain the inner workings of the market and to hear our story of what brought us here. In those moments I always wish my Russian was a little better. But even with the few sentences, I could put together it was easy to make contact. We arrived around 7 am which apparently is early for tourists (but not for the locals), but the locals are used to tourists strolling through the rows and rows of cows and horses. So we didn’t have the feeling to be intruders, but were welcome guests.

More than just a market

Even if you are not interested in animals, the market has a lot to offer. In fact, it is just as much a rural country fair as it is a bazar. It is not just a place for trade and commerce, but also a meeting point of the community. People get together to exchange the latest news, to talk business, or to practice the traditional horse games and have fun. The guide on our horse trek got very excited when he found out that we had visited the animal market in Karakol the Sunday before and was eager to see some pictures of the horses sold there. He was not interested in buying a new horse anytime soon, he just wanted to know what was going on, what horses are currently on offer, and so on and so on. If you want to learn more about the traditional Kyrgyz way of life and their rural culture, the animal bazar gets you insights in all of it.

Tip: The animal bazaar starts very early in the day when it is still dark. Most Kyrgyz come around 6 am to look at kettle or horses to buy, but sellers arrive already much earlier. By 10 am it is almost over. So getting up early is worth it to get some good shots! We came around 7 am and have been one of the first tourists to arrive.

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