The Heart of the Silk Road

The Jayma Bazaar, in Osh Kyrgyzstan, is one of the oldest in Central Asia and has existed on the same site for over two thousand years. The market stretches for more than one kilometre along the western bank of the Ak-Bura River, and has an estimated seven kilometres of alleyways and passages.

Osh is the second largest city in Kyrgyzstan and is situated near the country’s southern border with Uzbeckistan. The city is believed by some to be the location of the famous “Stone Tower”, which Claudius Ptolemy wrote about in his work Geography and which marked the midpoint on the ancient Silk Road between Europe and Asia.

Unsurprisingly for a city at the heart of the Silk Road Osh is known for its ethnic diversity. Traders from all China, Central Asia and Europe have been coming to Osh’s market for centuries and their social interaction has created a melting pot of different races and cultures. (Unfortunately this did not prevent strong anti-Uzbeck feeling from spilling over into a riot in June 2010 that left hundreds dead and destroyed parts of the market.)

The Jayma Bazaar is open seven days a week but I was lucky enough to visit it on Sunday, its busiest day. Many stalls are made from old container boxes and are grouped by product: one alleyway for shoes, another for hats. There is a meat and livestock section, as well as a square given over to craft blacksmiths making knives, horseshoes and cooking utensils.

The majority of the manufactured goods on sale were of Chinese origin, well-known brands that on closer inspection proved to be spelled wrong. Walking in the bazaar really drove home to me the extent to which China continually needs to expand the markets for its manufacturing sector. I began to understand better the important role that the country’s One Belt One Road initiative will play in China’s future development.

However a large section of the market was given over to seasonal fruits and vegetables with hundreds of stalls competing to sell apples, peaches, grapes and melons. There was also a huge quantity of dried fruits and nuts—raisins, apricots, dates, pistachios, walnuts, almonds and peanuts. China’s One Belt One Road project should also help Kyrgyzstan find export markets for its mainly agricultural economy.

That’s the good thing about trade and markets. They work both ways, and help all parties to better their lives.

Next week: Along the Silk Road from Osh to Dushanbe.

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