The Ferghana Valley is a densely populated valley in Central Asia, located between the Tian Shan Mountains in the north and the Alai Mountains in the south. The valley is divided between Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan, three countries of the former Soviet Union. It’s 300 km. long and 150 km. wide and is inhabited by over 10 million people. The valley is very ethnically diverse and has been the scene of many ethnic conflicts in recent years. The valley has seen much more violence and uprisings than any other place in Central Asia.
Our last stop in Kyrgyzstan before heading to Tajikistan, was the city of Osh, one of the biggest cities in the Ferghana Valley. Osh is a city that is very rich on history and its estimated to be more than 3000 years old, making it the oldest city in Kyrgyzstan. Osh is very different from any other city in Kyrgyzstan, mainly because of its ethnically mixed population, comprising Kyrgyz, Tajiks, Uzbeks, Russians and other smaller ethnic groups. The region is also much more religious and conservative than the rest of Kyrgyzstan, where most people are liberal muslims.
At the time of our travels in Kyrgyzstan, the Ferghana Valley was peaceful and hadn’t seen any violence for a while, so we decided to check out the area, knowing that it could change any day. We were more wary while travelling in that area, but we had nothing to be worried about.
After sorting some things out in Bishkek, we left the city at 11.30 AM and headed towards Osh – a trip that would take 11,5 hours in a small and overcrowded car.
The drive was beautiful through mountains and lakes, and especially the Toktugul Lake caught my eye. The weather was perfect and the water still, which created the most beautiful reflections of the surrounding mountains. Unfortunately, our driver was an idiot and wouldn’t even stop for just a second to let us take a photo… I can’t remember ever being so annoyed before. I just gave the guy 900 soms, so the least he could do was to stop for a second at the lake… But nope.
We had originally planned to only stay in Osh for one night and then head to Khujand in Tajikistan the next morning after a bit of sightseeing, but our plans changed, since we decided to reverse our plan of Tajikistan and travel to the Pamir Mountains first. That meant that we had to have another day in Osh to sort out our plans and as it turns out, we were really glad that we did.
Osh is very different from any other city that we’ve visited in Kyrgyzstan and we noticed several differences that we were surprised to find. First of all, it was obvious how much more religious Osh is than other Kyrgyz cities. Muslim scarfs aren’t the norm for women in Kyrgyzstan, but we saw a lot of those in Osh. Not all were wearing them though and it’s an option to wear it or not, which I really like.
There were also other more unfortunate things that were different about Osh; We saw many people begging on the streets and had several children come up to us asking for money. There were also a ton of people who said hello to us randomly and wanted to take pictures with us. I don’t really mind the picture thing, but it can get quite overwhelming sometimes and it feels weird being targeted because of my skin colour.
We spent half the day in Osh planning our further travels to the Pamir Mountains at the CBT office, climbing the Sulaiman-Too Sacred Mountain and exploring the park around the famous 3-story yurt.
The Sulaiman-Too Sacred Mountain forms the backdrop to Osh and it contains many ancient places of worship as well as caves with petroglyphs and two mosques from the 16th century. Sulaiman-Too is an important sacred place for Muslims and has been worshipped for several millennia, and thus became the first UNESCO World Heritage Site in Kyrgyzstan in 2009.
The mountain rises 175 m. above the city, but since the city lies at an altitude of approximately 1000 m., it’s actually quite a tall mountain. Climbing it was really easy and took about five minutes to do. When we got to the top, we enjoyed an ice cream in the scorching sun while looking at the stunning view of Osh.
The one other thing that we wanted to see in Osh was a 3-story yurt located in a beautiful park in the center of the city. The yurt was much smaller than expected and to be honest, I was more excited about the park and the people that seemed to be having a great time there. There wasn’t much information about the yurt, but we were told that it was once inhabited, although it’s never been a portable yurt like yurts usually are. Today, the 3-story yurt is a museum, but we decided not to go in, but instead check out the park.
When we were about to leave the park, an elderly lady spotted my camera around my neck and called me over. I wasn’t sure what she wanted, but then she pointed to my camera and made it clear that she wanted a picture of her and all of her friends. They were all dressed in really colourful clothing and they looked lovely together, so I wasn’t going to miss that picture opportunity! I was thankful for them to even want me to do it, and I enjoyed seeing their reactions as I showed them my pictures of them afterwards!
We spent the evening in our guesthouse, hanging out with Molly, a cat who is now on my top-5 of cats! She is so adorable and small and we both loved to cuddle her and have her sitting on our laps while eating, using our computers or just chilling. I actually let out a few tears when we had to say goodbye the day after. She had slept with us the entire night and been super adorable. I had one plan for Kyrgyzstan, when we would be back in June; to visit Molly in Osh!!
And on June 4th, we did. We decided to spend a night in Osh, not because we wanted to see more of the city, but because we missed Molly. We spent the entire evening hanging out with her and she spent the night in our room, switching between laying under my quilt and under Steve’s quilt.
We both really enjoyed Osh and we were glad that we decided to spend an entire day in the city, as a few hours just wouldn’t have been enough. But our best memory from the city is without a doubt our new cat friend, who we hope to visit again someday.
Here’s some information on how to travel to Osh:
- To get to Osh from Bishkek, you can catch a share taxi from the West Bus Station for 900-1200 soms (you can easily get them down to 900). It takes 9-12 hours and is not the most pleasant drive in the world. It’s also possible to take a marshrutka (or several of them), which should take about 12-18 hours and be a much worse drive (not advisable).
- To get to Osh from Khujand in Tajikistan, catch a marshrutka to Isfara, which is located near the border to Kyrgyzstan. The price is 10 somoni per person and the ride takes about 2 hours. In Isfare, catch a marshrutka to Batken in Kyrgyzstan and the driver will drop you off at the two borders (Tajik and Kyrgyz) and wait for you on the other side. It costs 5 somoni per person and takes about 40 minutes. Once you get to Batken, there’ll be plenty of share taxis going to Osh. Haggle for the price and don’t pay any more than 500 som (Kyrgyz som) per person. We were told that there were no marshrutkas going to Osh, but we saw one leave after we had agreed on the price with the taxi driver… So that’s also an option.
- We stayed at Bayana’s Guesthouse in the center of Osh for three nights in total. It’s a nice guesthouse with everything you need for just 540 soms per person per night. The owner and staff are really friendly and helpful, and they have the cutest little cat, who we got to name Molly. You will love her, even if you’re a dog person!