It is known that about five hundred camels were sold a day, a lot of horses; especially highbred fast horses were in demand. But the most popular goods at Taraz were sheep, areal treasure of nomadic Turkic people.
No one can say how many centuries passed since shepherd tribes selected Karakul sheep, a masterpiece of selection. But it is known for sure that one thousand years ago nomadic Turks raised fat-rumped sheep with strongly marked astrakhan characters and lamb pelts were much in demand in caravan sale. In Bagdad Turkic astrakhan was valued much higher than the local pelts.
More often astrakhan was red or gray. But do you know what Sur is? It is astrakhan of unusually beautiful color tint range. It ranges from silvery and golden to lilac and white-marble. According to a legend Sur had a gift to take away fatigue and irritation, to bring calm and good mood.
Astrakhan was fashionable and valuable not only in ancient times, but in all times. One gets convinced of that when one has visited the Chimkent Karakul mill the produce of which is in great demand both in this country and abroad. Every year Kazakhstan astrakhan is snatched away at fur auctions. In Chimkent (Shymkent) there is a research institute of Karakul farming with a museum of karakul attached to it. If you visit the museum, you will get a good idea of what modern Karakul farming is.
There is a proverb saying “The people who have a steppe are rich indeed”. One believes it when one sees flocks of long-legged hump-nosed sheep on pastures.
As a result of century-old selection steppe nomads succeeded in selecting fat-rumped sheep to say nothing of the Karakul one. A fat-rumped sheep supplied the steppe people with everything. Its tender meat satisfied the most exacting taste of a gourmand. The fat was used not only in cooking dishes but as a valuable remedy. The wool was used for making thick felt and rugs (koshma) which were indispensable in nomads’ dwellings. The hog was the warp for carpet-making; the nomads liked to decorate their dwellings with carpets and strips. From the milk the people made cheese, brynza and thirst-quenching drinks. The curried sheepskin was a good material for making clothes, footwear and utensils. Even tendons were not wasted; they became “the voice” of a dombra, for they were used as strings. The dombra always filled hearts with joy and carried away the world. A steppe nomad raising fat-rumped sheep always had meat in the cooking boiler, dried brynza — kurt in his saddle-bags, a warm fur coat on his shoulders, thick felt for his yurt and footwear, rendered fat to fuel his lampion (chigara) or massage himself with — when having caught a chill. If the Karakul sheep decorated a steppe nomad, the fat-rumped one, figuratively speaking, gave him food, drinks, clothes and treated him, brought warmth and light to his dwelling.
Rakip Nasyrov, “Along the Great Silk Road”, published by “Kramds—reklama”, 1991.