One of the most fascinating things that you must do when in Bishkek is to visit Osh Bazaar. Osh Bazaar is similar to those “Rehri Markets” of India but is gigantic in size in comparison. It has different sections allotted to different goods being sold – clothes, footwear, meat, traditional clothing, dry fruits, vegetables, tools, grocery, breads, military surplus etc etc. It is named Osh Bazaar because most of the sellers there arrived from the city of Osh in South of Kyrgyzstan – that is what my hostel owner told me.
The first time I went there, I entered the place pretty confidently, thinking that this was just another of the bazaars you would find in the downtown areas in Indian cities. But I did underestimate its size and in the end struggled to find my way back. I felt embarrassed as an Indian person to get lost in Osh Bazaar as we are so used to the rush of people and finding our way in packed shopping areas and generally keeping our shit together in such situations.
You get to see a lot of different stuff in Osh Bazaar. The meat market area for instance. I had never seen anything quite like that in my life. People were selling all kinds of stuff – including horse meat. I wanted to try that but chickened out at the last moment.
I really liked the circular disk breads which you can find all over Osh Bazaar. The thing about breads in general in Kyrgyzstan is that they have a very very hard crust on the outside but are very soft from the inside. I read somewhere that they were made rough and tough like that to survive the long journeys of the nomads and the same recipe has been passed on through generations.
There was an area where few ladies were selling noodle salad or something like that. I wanted to try some of that but wasn’t sure what and how to communicate.
I went to the dried fruits section and bought some dried tomatoes and some another salted dried snack with a shell. The lady gave me a piece to taste. I put the entire thing in my mouth unknowingly without removing the shell at which the lady started shrieking as if I had swallowed a cyanide capsule. I was happy to talk to her as she was one of the few locals who did not start gushing about Mithun when I told her that I was from India. But when she was packing the stuff i bought, she paused for a minute, thought of something, turned towards me and started “Indiaaa… hmmm.. Jimmy dah?” and I replied with a scowl “dah”.
Then there was this section which had all the traditional Kyrgyz clothing and souvenirs. I used to spend most of my time in this section hunting for treasures. I did manage to find a nice felt cap with Kyrgyz motif which I then wore throughout my trip. In my last few days in Bishkek, I did a lot of shopping here and in the military surplus section where I managed to collect a few Kyrgyz military badges to put up on my rucksack and jackets.
On one of my visits, I encountered the fake police, which I had read a lot about. One guy came up to me, showed some ID card, said he was checking for narcotics, demanded to see my passport and visa and started checking all of my pockets. Soon three more people joined him and started hustling around. They then saw my wallet and demanded how much money I was carrying at which I said “NO MONEY” a little assertively and with a pointed finger and walked away. They did not follow me after that.
Honestly, I was never afraid of these guys at all, coz they didn’t look like your typical goons. I mean they were chubby and had Asian features. The media today has created these specific images in our minds as to how robbers, terrorists should look like and these guys did not fit into that description at all. They in fact looked very innocent and I felt like I could take them all down in case of a fight, like the way they show in Bollywood movies. When I was in Kashmir in India, I was pretty much afraid of almost everyone on the street coz they had features similar to the South Asian terrorists, though in fact they were probably the friendliest people around.
This whole media and the perception thing came back to haunt me few days later when I was hanging out with my hostel buddies and owner at a café and we were talking about the same thing and then this French guy pointed at me and then made an exploding sound and then acted dead. There was an awkward silence after that considering that the day before, there had been a suicide bombing in Brussels.
Osh Bazaar was definitely my favorite place to hang out in Bishkek. There is just so much so stimulate your senses – the sights, smells and the sounds. There are these speakers installed everywhere in Osh Bazaar where some lady speaks in Russian/ Kyrgyz in a monotonous tone all the time. That in itself gives a very surreal feel when you approach this place.
I would certainly recommend anyone visiting Bishkek to come and spend some time in Osh Bazaar coz you never know what you may fish out here.