Buying Magic Carpets in Uzbekistan

The Ark, The Mudbricked Fortress at Bukhara

The traditional caravan trading routes through central asia, linking China to Europe and the Middle East, are as exotic as they come, and the Uzbekistani city of Bukhara is first amoungst them when it comes to exotic mudbricked cities, bazaars, mosques and medrasses. In these cities and towns that have been trading with merchants and travellers for millenia, what better way to emmerse yourself in the cultural particulars of the region than to experience the art of buying a traditional handwoven carpet! But in buying a carpet there are many things to consider, such as a strategy that you will need to put in place…..

First of all you need to wander through the bazaars with total indifference to any of the shops, and or their wares. Soon enough a wiley shop keeper will have found out who you are, and will call, unseen from inside his shop “we have very special prices for Australians today”. Then a porty fellow will emerge from his door with an inviting smile stretching from ear to ear saying “please come inside for a quick look”. Having been suitably impressed with the shop keepers opening gambit, one should follow inside and sit on a couch/seat to await a quick showing of carpets until tastes are determined. Now it is important to point out that Uzbekistan is rather undeveloped and unsophisticated when it comes to carpet shops, rarely will you find a large plush showroom, and if you do find a large showroom it undoubtably will be lit by candlelight, making it feel like you are in a cave. So you must be preapred for small display rooms, but this increases the intimacy of the experience.

A Medrassa and the Kalon Tower, Bukhara

It is important at this point, before the carpets are all laid out, for the prospective buyer to announce that he has already bought many rugs from India, and turkey, and that you don’t actually need a carpet…as you’ve already got one! None the less you should be aware of the appropriate dimensions for the carpet that you are definetly not going to buy… This ensures you see the ones you want not some mishapen pieces that are of no interest. Choose the colour that will suit your room and then ask questions of the seller such as “is this sheep or camel wool??” and, “How many knots per square inch are in this carpet?” The more knots the easier the carpet is to bend and subsequently more supple your carpet will be. It also determines quality and as a consequence price. Then you must turn a corner of the carpet to determine the suppleness of the carpet, you may wish to ask for a magnifying glass to see the knots if one is not offered. It is also pertinent to enquire after the knotting method: one knot, one and a half or double knot. One should also walk upon the carpet to determine how nice it feels. This all adds to your credibility as a carpet buyer.

Once a carpet has been chosen, it is recommended that you reconfirm that you definetly don’t need another carpet at the moment. The shopkeeper may then offer to show you his house, and a few more carpets that are similar. One will then get in a car with the shopkeeper to see his house, his carpets, and his carpet making rig. You should ask about the family heritage of the carpet maker if it is a family business. The shopkeeper will tell you his father and grandfather were both carpet makers aswell, and that they are Uzbek/Afghani in heritage (Bukhara is only 250km from Afghanistan).

You should then reconfirm that the carpet in the shop was still your favourite, and that you will need another look. Upon return to the carpet shop you should ask if they can freight the carpet to Australia, should you decide to purchase, of course….even though you are not actually in the market for a carpet just now. “DHL, fedex or Uzbek mail??” will be asked, at which point you can find the price to Australia……after the carpet has been weighed. I would suggest that you ask now for a carpet price, even though you are not going to buy one just now…..you know as a matter of curiosity, given your experience in the carpet industry around the world. One can now suggest that you will go and may come back later after lunch. After you have perused other carpet shops in town and determined market value of carpets, you can return to the original shop for the price negotiation. Remember to factor in freight and taxes for a total cost. Then set your target price but be flexible, however have walkaway point. It is also important to remember that the people are generally poor, and any money you give will be put back into the local community.

It is now that the negotiation begins. The carpet in question will be rolled out once more. It is worthwhile at this point to search out flaws or errors in the carpet. Point these out. Then ask how you will be able to pay for this carpet, and in what currency. Remember that there is an official US dollar exchange and an unofficial rate that is much better. Don’t get caught out. The difference in price is 25%. Once this has been determined, then you should ask for the total price including freight to be negotiated. This will lead to a flurry of phone calls with the DHL agent to cut the external fat out of the price. Once this has been completed, one must announce that “it is still quite expensive” and that you “couldn’t possibly afford to buy the carpet at this price”. You will be told that this is the final price. At this point I would recommend you point out that Australia’s dollar is effectively worthless against the US dollar since the GFC. One should then offer a low price as an alternative. After some umming and arring a slightly cheaper price will be offered. The prospective buyer should then say their thankyous for the seller’s time and get up and leave…… At which point you will be stopped, and a cheaper price reached.

The Kalon Mosque and Tower, Bukhara

Once everything is satisfactory, you can make payment, and take photos of the carpet, this is to ensure that when your carpet arrives by post it is that one you actually bought. Then you will leave with the carpet seller to the Uzbekistan ministry of arts, culture and sport building, and be admitted by armed military guards. Try not to get too flustered by this show of military power…..The buyer will be ushered into a large room with a big desk for the appropriate minister to sit, and a smaller table in front for the buyer to sit. Behind desk are suitable Uzbek military propoganda posters and happy photos of the relavent dictator in both civilian and military attire. In the room will also be various other men, all suitably fitted out in Mafioso looking suits and black leather jackets. You will then be required to produce your passport, visas and residency status, and then be asked to sign at least 6 different forms………….in cyrilic.

Voilà!!! You now own a red camel wool carpet that hopefully will arrive home soon. Great fun buying carpets in Uzbekistan!!

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About Nathan H. Gray
Nathan H. Gray is Managing Partner of AsiaAustralis. AsiaAustralis is a stategic consulting service partnership established by experienced international management consultants to assist private and public organisations achieve their strategic objectives in trade, investment and government relations throughout the Australasian region with a particular focus on SE Asia. Based in Adelaide, South Australia, AsiaAustralis has a network of associates throughout Australia and Asia that can be called upon to assist and facilitate major projects, business opportunities and government to government trade and investment facilitation. To Contact AsiaAustralis check out the website: www.asiaaustralis.com or send Nathan an email: nathan@asiaaustralis.com

12 Responses to Buying Magic Carpets in Uzbekistan

  1. red camel wool carpet – is not possible. Camel wool is very difficult to paint. For 15 years I have never seen a red camel wool carpet.

    • You make an interesting point about the type of carpet. ie Camel wool etc. I would firstly encourage anyone looking to learn more about Uzbek and Afgani carpets to have alook at your website at bukhara-carpets.com it is a good site and truely reflects the carpets that I have seen during my travels in the region.

      As to the colour of the carpet and style of carpet, I would say that having purchased carpets in Turkey and India as well as Uzbekistan, there was definetly a noticable difference in the type of wool used. It was much different to the Sheep (goat) Wool carpets I have seen in both Uzbekistan, Egypt and Turkey. In relation to the colour, I would make an assumption that although the carpet was handwoven, I am not confident that the carpet has been made using natural dyes. This may account for the red colour taking into the camel wool.

      At the end of the day, the important thing to be aware when you are purchacing a carpet while traveling is that you should always be happy with what you purchased. If you are happy with the quality and price then that is the most important thing. For me, one of the most enjoyable components of buying a carpet in Bukhara was the act of bargaining. The people are so lovely and ultimately I am completely satusfied with the quality of the carpet that I have purchased…..besides when people come into my house I have a wonderful story about the City of Bukhara, its history, and the the story of how I bought the carpet. For me, my Bukhara carpet is not just a floor covering, but a art piece and memory of my travels.

      But, once again, I would encourage anyone who is not able to travel to this wonderful city in Uzbekistan, to have a look at the website above. Bukhara-carpets.com is a great site.

      Cheers for your feedback, and I hope you enjoyed my description of buying magic carpets in Uzbekistan.

  2. DL says:

    Any specific trader or shop you would suggest me to visit to get carpets? 🙂

    • There are many traders in bukhara all offereing good carpets. It really depends upon what sort of carpet you like, and how your purchase criteria is ranked. I would recommend a wander through the Market areas. Bukhara is a lovely city and so I doubt you will be dissapointed.

  3. Leigh Daly says:

    Would love to know the approx. price of a 8 x 10 carpet please.

    • Hi Leigh,

      Sorry, I am not really sure what to suggest about prices, other than bargain hard, always bargain hard.

      • Wendy Phillips says:

        well what did you pay for yours? I’m leaving for the Stans in two weeks and have been put off buying by stories of export tax, illegality of buying antiques, harassment at the airports and that they’ll end up being more expensive that if I bought in the US. And, yes, I have bought a carpet in India….

      • Hi Wendy, I cant recall exactly how much I paid for the carpet, however, a number of your points you raise are indeed true, it could be more expensive than in your home country. However, it is unlikely that you would buy an antique carpet neccesarily, I would recommend a new version anyway, as it will help to promote, encourage and reward local industry more in a country which is not exactly first world. The prices that I found varied greatly, and so you would be advised to know the price you are prepared to pay, and bargain approriately. When making a purchace decision on a carpet from the Stans, you need to think about why you are buying it? Is it just because you need a new hallway runner? or is it because that new hallway runner will remind you of your trip to Central Asia. I have a general rule when I am buying things abroad while on my travels. Will it be a lovely momento that I will actually see daily as a reminder of my wonderful trip? will this momento be unique? Will this momento have a stroy attached to its purchase that I can regail upon my guests? and most importantly how does the price compare to what i could buy at home or online? I am prepared to pay more for the momento with all the associated stories, evocative memories and experience, although I am not prepared to pay much more. So my advice, would be to do your research before hand in regards to what type of carpet you might like ie. Size, colour, age, dye quality, weave etc etc, then understand the home market price delivered to your door. This will give you a good bargaining reference point, and allow you to make considered purchase decisions without getting fleeced.

        Have a great trip to the Stans and grab yourself a carpet if you feel the opportunity is too great to lose. Enjoy.

      • Wendy Phillips says:

        Thanks, Nathan. That’s really helpful and a good way to look at it. It’s just that I always feel that if they accept my price I must have been fleeced and they are laughing at me all the way home!! Ha ha.
        Wendy

      • PS> I love my carpet from Uzbekistan it always reminds me of my trip to central Asia and the silk road.

  4. Vyacheslav says:

    We are ready to show carpet plant in Samarkand and Bukhara where you can buy a wonderful carpet. Prices from $100 and more… silktour.ru is our travel agency in Moscow as a part of tour operator Exotic Travel Club. We can show Uzbekistan as nobody can do. If you want to buy carpet without traveling you can choose a delivery. Please contact us and we can send it from the carpet plant in Uzbekistan by plant’s prices.

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