Sunday animal farms (mal bazari) are a big thing in Central Asia. Because They are loud, smelly and chaotic; but they also give a glimpse of Central Asian life and culture — which is exactly why I love them.
Our first stop on the Central Asia overlanding trip was Taraz, a town in Kazakhstan just a short drive away from the Kyrgyz border. We were lucky enough to pull into town on a Sunday, market day. Before we even reached the market, sheeps and goats were already on display by the road. Goats huddled in little herds, strapped together with strings.
In the market, the atmosphere was raving. There must have been hundreds, if not thousands, of animals in the market, all herded by their owners who were busy striking deals with potential buyers. Sheeps and cattles were dragged around the market to be sold, animal poo was everywhere, and vendors were busy hawking their ware. There was little room to wiggle through as animals and people covered every single inch of the market ground.
At first I was overwhelmed, carefully traipsing my way through the chaos; but my hesitation dissipated once I saw the smiles and greetings around me. Locals warmly welcomed travelers and they were more than eager to come chat with me. Many of them wanted to have their photo taken and when I did, they wanted to know more: where was I from? Why was I there? It was clear that few tourists make their way through this town, and we – the lucky few – got to experience Kazakh warmth and hospitality in a genuine setting.
We met so many people at the market, one of whom even invited us to his home and treated us to a feast of manty (dumplings), smoked fish and chay (tea). I’ll leave that story for another blog post, but meanwhile, here are snapshots from the animal market to give you an idea of the chaos and energy:
Vendors from all over Taraz and the countryside gather at this Sunday market to sell their livestock.
A friendly wave from a local.
Navigating through a sea of animals and people.
A Kazakh man wearing the traditional Kalpak hat. He asked for his photo to be taken and when I showed him his picture, he broke into a wide smile.
Shaking their hands to a deal!
These two young boys were so eager to practice their English with me, they followed me around the market the whole time!
A young boy tending to his goats.
This man definitely had the swag of a Kazakh man.
How to get to Taraz:
Taraz is located in the southern part of Kazakhstan and it’s a popular stop enroute to Tashkent, Uzbekistan. It’s a four-hour train ride from Shymkent and a twelve-hour journey from Almaty. This animal market is located at the edge of town.
I traveled to Aksu-Zhabagly as part of my Silk Road overland trip with Oasis Overland. Over a period of two months, our group of travelers are traveling through Central Asia on an overland truck and we’ll be camping and cooking along the way. I chose this option instead of independent travel in order to see more of the backcountry of Central Asia and experience the countries on a closer level, and it’s proving to be an excellent way to see the region.
Disclosure: While my trip was discounted, any opinions expressed above are my own.