Most purchases in Turkmenistan are made at the local bazaar. These large markets exist in every town and have been part of the culture for centuries. Indeed, Turkmenistan lay on the ancient Silk Road trading route and so once held much prominence as a trade center, as merchants brought their wares to this geographical region where east collided with west.
The bazaars are open every day, usually from 8:00 a.m. until 8:00 p.m. Some of the large markets on the outskirts of big cities only open three mornings per week due to influx of goods. During the cotton harvest season, bazaars are closed during the day as locals attend to the fields.
One of the largest bazaars in Turkmenistan is Tolkuchka, which is located about five miles outside the center of Ashgabat. There is a more centrally-located market in the city called Gulistan, which is sometimes referred to as the Russian market. Here, you will find a variety of products, including telpeks (sheepskins), khalats (traditional Turkmen clothing), and most famously, Turkmen rugs and carpets.
Tips on Buying Turkmen Rugs
Turkmen rugs are the most famous product of Turkmenistan. They are deeply rich red in color, with asymmetrical geometric patterns, once found in the fashionable quarters of every socialite’s mansion when the mysteries of the orient first became accessible in the west. To this day, their skillful, handcrafted patterns provide a novelty for those wishing to spruce up their homes.
Sometimes you will hear these rugs referred to as Bukhara rugs since the city of the same name in neighboring Uzbekistan was once the center of the rug trade to Europe and beyond. However, the rugs originate in Turkmenistan and are still made here. You will find them, in all shapes and varieties, at the local bazaar. One of the large markets, like Tolkuchka in Ashgabat, is a good place to head. Here, you will see a good choice, although be prepared to barter in order to secure the best deal. A bargain can be found here if you are prepared to haggle for the price, a well-practiced custom in Turkmenistan (indeed, a centuries-old tradition).
There are also several private shops selling rugs which you will see around Ashgabat, among other places. Once you have made your purchase, you must seek export permission from the relevant government agency. It is possible to export as much carpet as you wish, although anything that exceeds 1.5 square meters needs to pay an export duty. In any case, an export permission certificate must be gained from the Expert Commission (behind the Carpet Museum, Ashgabat), which will ensure the rug is no more than 50 years old. Staff from the commission will examine the carpet and charge a set fee per square meter. The commission is open to the public for three hours in the afternoon on Monday to Friday (2:30 p.m. to 5:30 p.m.) and for two hours in the morning on Saturday (10:00 a.m. to 12:00 p.m.).