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Tolkuchka Bazaar

The sight of withered men haggling for shaggy sheepskin hats, a braying camel suspended in midair by a crane or a sheep being driven away in a sidecar are a few of the oddities you can expect from the Tolkuchka Bazaar, one of Central Asia’s most spectacular sights.

Ashgabat's largest bazaar, and one of Turkmenistan's major sights, Tolkuchka is an out-of-town market which runs from around 08.00-14.00 on Thursdays, Saturdays and is particularly animated on Sundays. It is officially known as the Number 4 Bazaar, and also carries the Turkmen name 'Jygyldyk', but it is the Russian name which has stuck. Tolkuchka means, roughly, 'Little Push', and this is an apt description for the market which, unlike almost everywhere else in low-density Turkmenistan, gets decidedly crowded. It is a colourful, chaotic place, offering wildly contrasting sights: the indignant newly purchased camel which, while being winched onto its new owner's truck, sensibly tucks its legs under its body; the vendor of beautiful Turkmen embroidery who rubs breadcrumbs across her wares as a means, apparently, of adding lustre to them; the ethnic Korean ladies who run stalls covered with small mountains of pickled carrot; stalls selling Chinese clothing and shoes with names like 'Dafeeboys' and 'Jo's Love Fashionable'; and the Turkmen telpeks, unfeasibly shaggy white sheepskin hats, displayed on metal pegs stuck into the ground, so that they look like giant dandelion clocks. Whatever you want, it’s sold at Tolkuchka. Most foreign visitors head straight for the carpets, but Tolkuchka offers a great deal more.

Above all, Tolkuchka is the place for carpets. Predominantly deep red, most are the size of a double bed or a bit smaller, and the average price ranges from 500M to 750M. Remember you’ll still need to get an export certificate for the carpet before taking it out of the country; these are available at the ‘expert commission’ at the Carpet Museum. Carpets more than 50 years old cannot be exported at all. There are many stalls in this part of the bazaar selling telpeks and the embroidered skull-caps known as takhyas, carpet bags, Soviet memorabilia, Turkmen jewellery, toy yurts and talismans to ward off the evil eye.

Tolkuchka is in full swing every Saturday and Sunday from around 8am to 2pm and, on a slightly smaller scale, on Thursday morning. Watch out for pickpockets. The current site is about 8km north of Ashgabat, past the airport and just beyond the Karakum Canal, while the new site is 3km further away. A taxi should cost around 4M. Buses go there from the corner of Magtymguly shayoli and 1958 koshesi (1958 is a block east of Turkmenbashi shayoli).

Large numbers of battered buses run between Ashgabat and Tolkuchka on market days. They depart from several places in the city, but the Tekke Bazaar is a good place to head.