Shopping in Almaty
A pedestrianised strip of Zhibek Zholy Avenue, known to locals as Arbat in mimicry of the more substantial pedestrian thoroughfare in Moscow, is as close as Almaty gets to a central shopping district. The department store TsUM is here, at the corner with Ablai Khan Avenue, a crowded emporium divided up into many separate outlets grouped by theme, which has served customers since Soviet days. Further to the east along the Zhibek Zholy pedestrian section is the modern Silk Way City mall, heavy with expensive outlets selling Western designer labels.
Other shopping malls are scattered around town, among them the shopping centre on Furmanov Street, to the south of the Central State Museum, centred on a large branch of the Ramstor supermarket chain. Visitors are greeted by a smiling green kangaroo, the symbol of the group. The centre also includes a food court, an indoor skating rink and a cinema. Other central shopping malls include Promenade on Abai Avenue, and the Ritz Palace on Dostyk Avenue.
Central Almaty has been gradually losing its traditional markets, victims of burgeoning property prices, hygiene regulations and the preference of the local authorities and wealthy shoppers for modern- looking malls. But the Green Bazaar is one resolute survivor, the most interesting and colourful place in the city to buy produce, and well worth visiting simply as a tourist destination. It sits close to the intersection of Zhibek Zholy Avenue and Pushkin Street, a block north of Panfilov Park.
The centrepiece is a suitably green-walled, square-based, building. Inside, the space is divided by four central pillars, two of which house cafes spread around internal balconies. The cafe at the southwest pillar offers cheap Uzbek food and a good vantage point for looking down onto the bustle of the bazaar below. In the southern part of the bazaar are the sellers of dried fruit and nuts, mostly Uzbeks and Tajiks, who implore foreign tourists to sample their produce. The dried apricots are particularly good. In the western aisles are lines of pickled vegetables, labelled eastern salads', including bright mounds of pickled carrot. Here too are honey and milk products. Meat hangs from metal spikes along the aisles of the northern part of the bazaar: note several aisles devoted to the horse. Chicken and pork are found in the eastern part of the building. One particularly interesting section, often overlooked, is a small cluster of stalls in the south-western corner of the building, whose stallholders offer herbs and grasses in little plastic sachets, dispensed with detailed advice as to how to prepare curative preparations against all manner of ills. One word of warning: the bazaar authorities get shirty with foreign tourists attempting to take photographs.
The bazaar area continues outside the building, with lines of clothes stalls to its west, mostly offering cheap Chinese goods.
This sprawling collection of markets provides ample evidence that the trading networks of the Silk Routes are alive and well. This is the cheapest place to shop in Almaty, though you should expect row upon row of stalls selling Chinese clothing of indifferent quality. There are, however, more interesting items to be found here, including souvenirs. Bargaining is expected, though this is usually more a matter of knocking a little off the original asking price than the protracted haggling at bazaars in north Africa. To get here, head west along any of the main streets in the centre of town, turning north when you reach Rozybakiev Street. This changes its name to Kuderin Street north of the intersection with Raiymbek Avenue, and changes name again to Severnoe Koltso (the northern ring road) across the intersection with Ryskulov Avenue. Note that Almaty's heavy traffic often gets particularly snarled up approaching Barakholka, especially at weekends, and lengthy jams are possible. A trip here is a great experience for lovers of this kind of market; others are likely to find it a strain.
The largest collection of souvenir shops in town is on the top floor of TsUM. There are carpet and handicraft stores in the lobbies of both the Central State Museum and the Kasteyev State Arts Museum. The summit of Kok-Tobe is home to a group of reasonably priced souvenir shops. The larger international hotels, including the Intercontinental and Rahat, also have souvenir shops, though prices are likely to be higher. Look out for announcements about a craft fair held a few times a year in the Republican Palace of Schoolchildren at the corner of Dostyk Avenue and Satpaev Street. This brings together artisans from across the region, and serves as reconfirmation that Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan produce a generally rather nicer range of handicrafts than does Kazakhstan. It is also possible to buy Kazakhstani souvenirs direct from the men and women who make them at Sheber Aul south of the city. A trip here can be combined with one to the Big Almaty Lake to make for a pleasant day excursion.