The livestock market (skotniy bazaar in Russian) takes place at the northern edge of Karakol two each Sunday. It would be better to get there early, as it tends to start at around dawn and is all over by 10.00.
The market is a vast concentration of horse, sheep and cattle, but mostly the first two, which are traded in two separate enclosures. Kyrgyz come from all over the region to visit the market, and to buy, sell and socialize, sometimes traveling for days with their livestock to reach it.
Whether you’re interested in the animals or not, the weekly bazaar gives a good insight into the culture and the livelihood of the people here. Scattered among stands of tightly tethered, complaining livestock are Kyrgyz who have come to examine and bargain for the goods on offer, trying out horses with a short test trot or assessing the weight of the fat on the behind of a fat-tailed sheep with their palms. This is Kyrgyz rural life in its unadorned form and here , as much as anywhere in the region, will you see wizened Methuselahs with straggly beards and white kalpaks going about their everybody business.
The market, which is remarkably calm and dignified given all the activity going on, is as much as a country fair as it is a place of commerce. It is a great place to wander, tale phtographs and watch the morning unfold: it is a good place to buy a horse or a sheep if you know what you are doing (take a sympathetic local along for advice).
Those who have visited the Sunday market in Kashgar, across the border in Xinjiang, may find the scale of the Karakol market a little disappointing, but there is certainly nowhere else in Kyrgyzstan where such old style commerce can be witnessed in such a hassle-free, tourist-friendly manner.
Author: Laurence Mitchell, “Kyrgyzstan”