Urgut Market – the best place for Suzani shopping in Uzbekistan?
Oh, the fabled Urgut Market. For years, I read internet forums and guide books, wishing to visit this bazaar south of Samarkand.
This time, I was going to visit Urgut Market, and please, if you are interested in textiles, let me share my Sunday shopping trip. There are various reports on when this market is most active. I visited on a Sunday and the market was definitely in full swing then, including suzani traders.
Table of Contents
What you need
If you want to buy anything at Urgut Market, you need cash, US Dollars are best. Though there are a couple ATMs in the bazaar. The one I saw was super crowded – and ATM in Uzbekistan, especially in less touristy areas, have a tendency to run out of cash. Also, Uzbek ATMs are notorious for not working/being empty.
There is no need to bring local currency in huge amounts as textile and suzani sellers will accept Euro and dollars – in fact, all prices are quoted in US-dollars, so if you want an easy ride and maximum negotiation potential, bring some US dollars in cash.
Also a bottle of water and sun protection, as well as comfy closed shoes won’t go amiss in the huge dusty open air market.
How to get to Urgut Market
If you ask in your hotel in Samarkand, chances are you will be supplied with a driver and guide. If you like your comforts, that will be a good way to get there. However, be prepared to pay some commission to the guide and have pries marked up a bit.
If you like to travel independently, like me, the easiest way (rather than searching for the bus) is to take a share taxi from the Northeast corner of Amir Temur Park, a 5-minute walk from the Registan. It is basically at the intersection of Registan and Umarov Streets – shared taxis park on the park side of Umarov Street. Best ask, as there are several minibuses and shared taxis leaving for different destinations.
I shared a midsize car with four large ladies and a teenager, so it was a bit cosy, and paid about 15-20k sum, or 1.70 in Euro money. On a Sunday, everyone wanted to go to the bazaar, but it may help to say “Yangi Bozori” to make clear you want the famous market and not the town centre about 3km on.
After 45min of pleasant drive, our taxi pulled up by a concrete shopping mall close to the triumphal arch spelling “Urgut Savdo Kompleks” .
I got off and at first, perused what was being sold next to where we were dropped off. House shoes, sewing machines and sewing materials, usually from China, but half decent quality. Not a bad start.
Then, I went into the mall, only to find it mostly empty. There were a few shops with fabric, usually narrow-length ikat, but a lot of synthetics. You can find some ikat here, but to be honest, you may be better off buying ikat elsewhere.
Most of the market is outdoors like in the picture below, with rows and rows of small shops, their wares proudly displayed outside. Sometimes, there is shade, often you are out in the sun.
You can buy food and general items at Urgut Market. In short, this is not a tourist market at all. If you happen to have moved here or want a set of Uzbek crockery, this is the place to come, except for Suzani. But other than that it is nothing like the souvenir and handicraft stalls that crowd the streets and madrassashs of Bukhara, Khiva and Samarkand.
But of you are interested to see a local market, and if you want to buy quality Suzani, other vintage textiles, or traditional jewellery and accessories, this is the place to be.
Shopping for fabric at Urgut Market
The Uzbek taste for fashion (and fabric) is colourful, sparkly and shiny, and the local trade and manufacture is happy to oblige. In addition to that, Uzbekistan is one of the worlds largest producers of silk, and produces a fair bit of cotton also.
You can therefore buy local fabric at very cheap prices. But… and there is always a but… a lot of the fabric is for the local fashion. Meaning at least 70-90% is not natural fibres, and at least 50% is has rhinestones, sequins or shiny foil fixed to the fabric.
So, what I noticed fist, were bales of shiny velvet. In some shops, especially in the modern mall, I saw length of sparkly lacey fabric, brocade and metallics.
Ikat was on sale, too. These ones looked nice from a distance, but when I touched them, they were very obviously artificial fibres. I tried to ask about fibre content, but did not get far with my rudimentary Russian.
So, I would say, Urgut is not the best place to buy natural fibre ikat material.
I have been to shops and markets that have a much better choice of what us Westerners might prefer.
In Samarkand, I once bought ( after a bit of searching) some very inexpensive cotton (about 130-150cm wide) with an ikat print. We are talking about 1-2 Euros per metre here.
In Bukhara, Minzifa Textiles in the Toqi Telpak Furushon (“middle” trading dome) has traditional (narrow) cotton ikat. Feruza’s Ikat Shop (nect to Toqi Zargaron) has similar, in different qualities, and some vintage silk as well.
And Khiva‘s Allakuli Khan Tim Market, next to Polyvon Darvoza, one of the “main” gates, touristy as it may be, has at least one stall with reasonably priced cotton and silk ikat (along with ready made garments).
I have a post with further details here.
But the nest ikat is to be had, surprise, surprise, in the Fergana Valley. Blog post to follow, or feel free to contact me for addresses.
Suzani In Urgut Market -So, where are those fabled suzani in Urgut?
Ha, the main reason I wrote this post is to help you find the suzani sellers. Urgut is a huge Sunday Market for the region, and not a tourist market.
I thought, as I had read in some internet forums, that I might be swarmed by touts which would direct me to the section where the vintage textiles are sold, but nothing, In fact, the market was super busy, but no one called out at me to buy like in Bukhara or Khiva. After strolling through rows of crockery, other textiles, cookware and carpets, I decided my strategy was failing and I was just hopeless finding the siuzani by chance.
So, off to the parking lot I went, asking a random person about Suzani sellers in my broken Russian, He shrugged. So, off I went to some huge industrial carpet warehouses behind the mall. By that time, I was half sunburned and had racked up 10.000 steps – this is how big Urgut Market is, or how clueless I have been.
In this section, there was absolutely nothing going on, and I asked an old man. He pointed in exactly the opposite direction I was coming from, towards some older single-storey low warehouses. I walked round the outside in order to move faster, again past some nice crockery and multicoloured velvets and trimmings.
At some stage, the shoppers became more sparse and I entered a row of older cream-coloured warehouses, spotting a very colourful suzani from afar. This is what the area looks like.
To get there, it is a bit of a walk. And it is not the easiest to find, because it is “hidden” behind at least 5 blocks of general market stalls.
If you come out of the main modern “Mall”, cross the street, then walk straight on through a busy market area, first with food, then with cookware and other fabrics and homewares. Then you come to a grid of older cream-coloured small warehouses – this is the right place! The suzani sellers are only in a single lane, but now you are so close, if you ask, any on could point you in the right direction at this location – it’s so hot, you are almost there.
The “right” section of the market started with modern suzani and bedspreads. Not many, and definitely not a very lively section of Urgut market. But then, as I turned a few corners, more and more suzani in different styles and colours appeared outside small buildings
What SUzani are on offer?
To be honest – by the time I got there I was so knackered and thirsty , I was really overwhelmed. Lovely middle-aged and older ladies were trying to pull me into their shops, gaugiing my buying power, and then pulled out what they thought were appropriately prized pieces.
All prices were quoted in dolalrs, and the seller, all women, spoke enough English to negotiate prices very confidently. And, surprise, surprise, everyone here buying, not many people at all, were tourists – some form Russia, some from the Baltic republics, maybe the odd American.
I genuinely believe the sizani here are real, most are vintage, most are handmade.
ONe common phrase I heard was “look, no needle”. This meant they were hand emboidered, not by machine, and if you look at the pieces, a bit londer, you will see a difference, with the relatively neat, looped stitches in front of the cheaper machine-embroidered pieces and the flat stitch and slightly messier backs of the hand emboidered pieces.
The neater and more intricate the stitching, the more expensive the piece. Most designs are embroidered on cotton with silk thread. The odd all-silk piece was there as well but much more expensive.
Here are just some examples of what you can buy.
I am not a textile expert, but apart from the material, most of th eSuzani are in “SAmarkand” style, usually on a light ground, with floral motifs. Pomegranates feature a lot.
The darker, more geometric or stylized motifs tend to be from villages, and are a bit more rough in their design – and to me, appear more modern.
This absolute stunner was on sale for about 150 US Dollars.
How to buy?
First of all, remember to take a decent amount of cash, preferably in US Dollars. Uzbek Sum are fine, too. Somehow, my Euros attracted a somewhat less favourable conversion rate when compared to the dollar.
The sellers, usually women, are really friendly, and if you happen to be female also, become quite friendly and chummy which may work in your favour. I found it advantageous to visit on my own rather than with a guide who may, behind the scenes, ask for a cut.
So I listened to the sales banter a bit, before making a bid on a piece I really liked. Generally, I believe prices are fair here and not inflated for random tourists.
I think the most expensive pieces I came across were silk suzani, about 3x2m, for 200 US dollars. As far as age is concerned, I am no expert. I believe they are from the Soviet Era or 1990s at the latest. With increasing industrialisation, who would have time now in Uzbekistan to make these beautiful embroideries?
The price negotiations were easy, as the prices did not seem high to start with… I think I got 10-30% off, depending on the size of the piece and attitude of the seller – I haggled enough for a little discount but tried to make sure the sellers were happy with the sale as well.
And given the number of selfie requests and small gifts I received, I think they were.
Here is what I paid, as a guide for your own negotiations.
- A 2x3m vintage silk-on cotton suzani, not the most intricate: 120 Euro.
- Two 1x1m Urgut-style rural black, white and red Suzani and 1x1m very colourful suzani on black background: 20 Euro and 25Euro.
I came to buy one large piece, to use as a cover for a guest bed in my study… but as it happens…you have to be really disciplined to walk out with just one. I think that is really cheap for such beautiful handicraft, and an absolute steal if you compare with prices on the usual craft and antiques sale websites.
Getting back to Samarkand
From what I read online, shared taxis exist. There weren’t any where I got off in the morning, so I went to the parking lot, doidn’t find any taxis either but a bus who would shortly depart for “Samarkand, yes, but Kaftarxona”. I trusted the Samarkand bit, and had a really scenic ride through well tended villages into a Samarkand suburb, for about 10 cents.
From Kaftarxona there a re frequent marshrutka buses to the centre (mine stopped at the Siyob Bazaar), and there are taxis as well. I lugged my hefty bag through the market, not in the mood for more shopping, and had a much-needed lunch at the “Art Cafe” next to Bibi Khanym Mosque, which has the advantage of having an ATM right in the restaurant to replenish my funds, as well as a nice outdoor terrace, but the food was rather mediocre.
I added all the “significant” places to this map. However, the suzani sellers I could not reliably locate in this somewhat bare map of Urgut, so I hope my descriptions are good enough for you to find them. Come early, ask around, ask several people – you will find them, eventually.
The Small Print
I visited Uzbekistan – and Urgut Market – on my own dime in October 2022 and .
Please excuse the shoddy picture quality. Always, professional, I only managed to take photos with my crappy mobile phone, as it felt inappropriate to whip out a larger SLR – and I was somewhat dazed by all the beauty there. There are no affiliate or links or paid advertising in this post. As always, please feel free to leave a comment or message me with any questions, I will try my best to guide you.
Last not least, I found this short video which pretty much reflects my experience!