Kumtepe Bazaar Marghilon – heaven for fabric shopping
After a jolly Sunday at Urgut Market, I was really excited about visiting the other famous Uzbek Bazaar the Kumtepe Bazaar of Marghilon. I hadn’t found much about it online, especially not whether it would be good for purchasing some quality locally made silk and cotton ikat, so I decided to write this post.
Unlike more tourist-oriented bazaars in Samarkand, Bukhara and Khiva, Kumtepe Bazaar is first and foremost a local market and half the valley seems to flock there on Thursdays. For me, the major attraction was to find some good local quality ikat fabric. But should you not make Kumtepe Bazaar, do not worry – there are a few places for new ikat fabric in Marghilon.
It is a huge and bustling bazaar. We manged to walk through maybe a quarter or a fifth of it. And don’t worry when you arrive and see this:
But worry not! The bazaar has a huge space dedicated to textiles, and all you need to do is find it. For the first half hour, we just wandered past the stalls. My fellow travel mates had a few things on the shopping lis,t like, an extra suitcase, and some gifts, so we wandered about to see where we might find those items, and admired what’s for sale.
And then, we got closer to the fabric and soft furnishing section!
The locals preference is bright colours, gold, sparkle and shine and the vendors are ready to please.
So, finally, we were getting closer, and I could barely contain my excitement. Thankfully, I was travelling with some other people, otherwise I would have disappeared in the fabric halls and resurfaced, really poor, several hours later.
Table of Contents
Shopping for fabric at Kumtepe Bazaar
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 will find all in Kumtepe Bazaar.
You can therefore buy local fabric at very cheap prices at Kumtepe Bazaar. 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. These are fabrics draped on dress forms – no self-respecting Uzbek woman would walk around in a halter-neck. I did like some of the patterns, actually, but in the best case scenario, the fabric would be viscose.
You can see some of the traditional patterns but here, these are covers for seating furniture, not dressmaking material.
But I was getting closer to the style I was after, and while this would not fit in at home, I oved viewing all the colours and material.
You may have seen in pictures the traditional Uzbek seating furniture called a tapchan. It’s a large raised platform with backrests, usually placed outside in a shaded courtyard, to sit and lounge on. You can place a low table in the middle, so you can use it as a dining platform as well. And all those tapchans need cushions, lots of them. I think this is what many of these fabrics are for.
But when you ask around for ikat, someone will readily point you in the direction of the ikat sellers, about one block from the main road, in a two or three closed bright halls.
Buying traditional ikat fabric at Kumtepe Bazaar
Finally there! The hall where the ikat is sold. Right away, I was completely blown by the colours and pattterns.
From really inexpensive lower quality cotton to silk, there was ikat galore. I would say colours certainly erred on the bright and multicolour rather than the single colour-white combos I had seen years earlier in the markets of Samarkand and Bukhara. Bearing in mind about 90% was sold to tourists on the old towns of those cities, I felt the sellers were being slelective and this was more of a fair repsresentations of Fergana Valley’s fabric output.
The fabric on the picture below is silk velvet, some of the most expensive ikat fabric for sale.
Row and row upon stalls with the most gorgeous, most colourful fabric. Sellers were friendly and some managed a little bit of English, but Russian or a translate app always works. Internet in Uzbekistan is great, and translation apps are real game changers!
I really didn’t know where to look first. Eventually, I settled on a small piece of silk velvet, enough to make a cushion or a small bag, and the usual cotton ikat in a colourway I did not have yet. Because the traditional ikat fabric is only 40-60cm wide, it can be challenging to sew garments with it that aren’t straight up an down.
The patterns repeat every metre or so, so if you want to make a larger garments, it’s important to buy enough, and at these prices, this should not be an issue. I bought so much, I admit, I inherited one of my travel mates bashed-up suitcase, filled it with fabric, taped it, and it arrived home fine. Honestly, if you have a weakness for this style of fabric, leave some extra room in your luggage.
The single colour with white is probably one of my favourites, especially the blue and off-white. I imagine it will go well with a neutral light brown.
And row upon row, there were some more stalls with different fabric tempting me. The ikat feels quite dense, the cheaper materials are fairly coarse, the more expensive ones finer, a bit like a dense cotton lawn, and quite light. I have not washed any of them, so I cannot tell you about colour fastness. Most of the fabrics have a bit of natural stiffness – suited to dresses, coats, or soft furnishings. In theory, the cotton is okay to launder, the silk they told me you can wash in cold water.
Last not least, I found some wider ikat fabric. This one is 120cm wide and it is actually vintage silk, made on machines during Soviet times. Back then, the Uzbek Soviet Republic as it was then called was a major silk and cotton manufacturer, but almost everything was woven on machines. The silk looks gorgeous, only showing how durable it can be. It is a bit shiny for my liking, but how could I not take these two gorgeous pieces?
It’s not as readily available as traditional (narrow) ikat, although some tourist oriented shops may sell it as it is quite popular due to its quality and good width.
Strangely enough, nowadays, I doubt that the cheaper materials are handwoven, but somehow the standard ikat width is 40 to 60cm.
What you need
If you want to buy anything at Kumtepe Bazaar, you need cash. In Kumtepe Bazaar, Uzbek Som are best as there really aren’t many tourists. US Dollars usually work too in Uzbekistan, so this might be good for backup currency.
There are a couple ATM across the road at one or two small banks. Taking a taste of my own medicine, I went slightly overboard with the fabrics and had to replenish my cash and stand in line for a semi-functioning ATM where people seriously got a wad of ATM cards out each and seemed to withdraw money for the whole village. Which is okay, but better avoid and take cash.
Also a bottle of water and sun protection, as well as comfy closed shoes won’t go amiss in semi-covered market.
Be armed with some Uzbek or Russian words for the fabric qualities you are seeking.
Cotton is paxta in Uzbek and хлопок (kchloo-pok) in Russian
Silk is ipak in Uzbek and шелк (schoo-lk) in Russian.
Viscose, polyester and the like are quite international and similar in those languages.
How to get to Kumtepe Bazaar
In order to visit Kumtepe Bazaar, you need to be based in Fergana Valley. While Fergana Valley lacks the big sights of Samarkand and Bukhara, it is a worthwile and interesting destination – the most populated and most fertile region of Uzbekistan, full of factories, cash crops and the odd oil field and large factory.
I spent a few nights in Fergana and Marghilon. I think unless you wish to travel on to Kyrgystan, one of these towns makes for the best Fergana Valley base. Fergana is more “Russian” in character, with tidy parks, restaurants and tourist facilities in general.
Marghilon has several silk and cotton processing plants, of which at least one is open to the public, a train station with now very comfortable train services to and from Tashkent, and a couple nice accommodation options. It is also very close to Kumtepe Bazaar.
It is important to know that Kumtepe Bazaar really just takes place on a Thursday. Some stalls may be open on other days, but Thursday is the market day here. From Margilon, you can take a minibus which is super cheap but… even with some knowledge of Russian, I found the Damas micro buses super uncomfortable and the routes a bit confusing. We happened to have a travel mate who managed to have Yandex Taxi on his phone (Russian app, blocked in many countries) and Yandex was the most-used taxi app in Margilan and Fergana. Every hotel I visited was really helpful and offered to book a taxi on my behalf, and they are usually not expensive. Since we usually shared, we stuck to taxis. It takes just 10 minutes to drive to Kumtepe Bazaar from Margilan Main Bazaar in the centre or from the train station, maybe 20 minutes from Fergana.
Where to Eat
The Fergana Valley is not a culinary destination, really but the fruit and vegetables it produces are great. With being a vegetarian, there is even less choice. I lived off fruit for a few days, sustained by the great breakfast in m guesthouse.
In Kumtepe Bazaar itself, there are some very simple stalls selling plov and these baked savoury pastries. Like a mixture between a Hungarian langos and an empanada, not quite like the ubiquitous traditional somsa.
Other than that, I have not much to report on the Margilon restaurant scene but there is an excellent beer garden in Fergana called “Beer House” where I got some excellent vegan shashlik from potatoes and vegetables
What else can you do in Kumtepe Bazaar?
To be fair, I came for the fabric shopping and wasn’t disappointed. Other than that it’s a huge rambling bazaar where you can buy anything but it’s not big on souvenirs. You can find clothes, shoes, luggage, tools, furniture… pretty much everything you might need to furnish a home and then, some food but not a lot.
It is an authentic Uzbek bazaar and very crowded, and if you just want a smaller version with food and traditional breads piled up high, the Central Bazaar in Marghilon is a better option.
Where I stayed
The rooms at Sakura Inn may be a bit more modern and many have private baths. There is a very nice owner who speaks English and Japanese but some other staff only spoke Uzbek and Russian. And there is a cute cat!
My room in Evergreen was larger, a bit more “modern Uzbek style” but what gives it the edge over Sakura Inn is the lovely garden with great outdoor seating, the great kitchen and also the wonderful breakfast the owner’s family would serve up every day. You can walk to the train station and a really nice silk/ikat store being developed in an old caravanserai from Evergreen but it’s about 3km along a busy road to the central bazaar.
Another nice option is the Guesthouse Ikathouse in Marghilon, a slightly more grand building with similar rooms to Evergreen.
Where to buy fabric elsewhere in Uzbek tourist destinations
In Samarkand’s Siyob Bazaar, 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 (next 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. A more detailed blog post on fabric shopping in Uzbekistan will follow, or feel free to contact me for addresses.
Other bazaars in Uzbekistan worth visiting
If you visit Uzbekistan, chances are you will be doing the “Silk Road” route of Khiva, Bukhara and Samarkand. All these cities have bazaars and shopping streets primarily aimed at tourists, and they can be a great experience and you will find them in a standard guidebook. The markets mentioned below are a bit of an addition and represent my personal experience.
Siyob Bazaar, Samarkand
This is large part huge local bazaar, part souvenir shop. At the Bibi Khanym entrance you will find fruit, bread and dried good picturesquely piled up, and this sections sees a fair share of tourists with some prices to match. I really recommend a wander and browse as it is so close to tourist attractions and also has a couple nice cafes and restaurants close by, as well as a huge restaurant with plov and grilled meat inside.
Urgut Market (near Samarkand)
Anotehr huge weekly bazaar that takes place on a Sunday. Like in Kumtepe, you can buy everything and anything here, but I found it even more chaotic than Kumtepe. However, I rare it as an excellent place to buy an authentic suzani. The Suzani sellers are in a small section of the market, and it takes a bit – or a guide- to find them.
If you happen to visit the Samanid Mausoleum and want to get your fill of fresh produce, visit what’s known as the Kolchosny Rynok/ Markaziy Bozor next to the Chashmai-Ayyub-Mausoleum. The dried fruit and nuts I bought in Uzbekistan were really good. The old town trading domes are tourist-oriented handicraft only.
Mirobod Bazaar, Tashkent
Yes, I now, Chorsu Bazaar is the big famous one, but can be overwhelming. This is a nice alternative in the city centre, in a really nice residential area with some great mid range hotels (Sapiens, Sunrise Caravan) nearby. Both Shota Rustaveli Ko’Chasi and Mirobod Ko’chasi are nice, with wide side walks, cafes and restaurants and quieter streets with yet more restaurants in between,
The structure is similar to Chorsu Bazaar, with a round covered central bazaar and stalls around it. It is open daily and great for last-minute purchases of funky socks (including some really nice warm camel wool ones), dried, fruit and nuts and tea, and of course, loads of fresh produce and a nice atmosphere.
The Small Print
I visited Uzbekistan – and Kumtepe Bazaar – on my own dime in October 2022
There are some affiliate links to Booking.com in this post. I have used them to book these two accommodations I stayed in and can recommend them. If you can, booking directly is preferable, but in this casem I booked online because they said they don’t mind and often, staff don’t speak English and there is a time difference – so online booking it is.
As always, please feel free to leave a comment or email me with any questions, I will try my best to advise you.