26.08.2012 20 °C
The first taxi that came past us at 6am already had some locals in it, but they stopped anyway. They were going to the same place as us so we jumped in the back. As soon as the car took off we heard knocking coming from the boot. Our eyes flashed frighteningly at each other for a quick moment, before we both realised that it wouldn't be a person locked in the boot, just a few sheep. Sure enough, when we arrived and the boot was opened three sheep were revealed - one black, one white and one caramel. We were at the Karakol Sunday animal bazaar.
The outdoor market, with a spectacular backdrop of the snow capped Terskey Ala-Too mountains, and beautifully bathed in the early morning light, was in full swing. It was busy. There were several hundred farmers and buyers tightly packed into the market space, with as many animals. Most of the farmers have only one, two or three animals to sell, very rarely more. Every man has on a hat, many a version of the characteristic Kyrgyz felt hat. All serious buyers carry a loop of rope in hand in order to take home their new purchase - no animal comes with rope (used like a leash). Some entrepreneurial women had set up stalls to cater to the early morning needs of the farmers, selling an array of vodka and beer. It is noisy and smelly and its best to watch where you step.
The bazaar is divided into different sections for the different animals. You walk first into the sheep section, the loudest and most chaotic. Also the most stubborn of all the animals, but then I would be too if I had a rope tied around my throat and was being dragged along. With animal fat being such a staple of the diet throughout Central Asia there are plenty of fat tailed sheep to be seen, and there are some big booties! The cow and horse sections are more sedate and orderly with most of the animals being tied up to wooden poles. But keeping things interesting and unusual to us city slickers, there is the the odd potential buyer taking a horse for a test drive. Finally there is the pig section. We nearly walked through it thinking it was the car market, but get a little closer and you notice all the boots are open and full of piglets. Being a predominately Muslim country, who don't eat pigs, this section is almost deserted and all the farmers here are Russians.
Trades are swift, a few prods of the animal, perhaps a lift of a fat tail, a little negotiating and the money changes hands. The owner's rope is untied from the animal, the buyer ties up and walks off. And with this pattern, slowly the bazaar empties.
It was a unique experience and a wonderful insight into the life of the small scale farmers who make up a large percentage of the Kyrgyz economy and population.