Kyrgyzstan's Second Largest City

Back to my 'Elsewhere' blog

Osh, Kyrgyzstan
Thursday, September 13, 2012

Since we had not made any reservations in Osh (the house in Karamyk barely had a couple of light bulbs, let alone internet), we asked our ride to drop us off at a guesthouse we picked out from the guidebook.  On arrival we discovered that they did not have any rooms available for the night, but fortunately the woman in charge spoke some English and recommended that we stay at another nearby hotel that offered rooms for around the same price.  She explained the directions to the driver and us and him her mobile number and asked us to call in the event we were unable to make ourselves understood correctly.

On reaching the second hotel, we were offered a room but at a price much higher than we had anticipated.  The process of negotiating the room rate now involved the hotel manager talking to the lady at the the guesthouse interspersed with the driver's mobile being passed on to one of us for intermediate translation!  Even the request to see the room involved a three way handshake, but it all worked somehow!  What was finally agreed upon was that they would give us a discounted room rate for the first day but we would have to move to a room in a house about 100 meters away on the second day. Curious about this offer, the whole group (two of us, the driver and a girl deputed by the hotel manager to show us the room) made our way to a brand new, fully furnished but unoccupied mansion accessible by a pathway through the rear gate of the hotel. It appeared to belong to the owners of the hotel and they were just letting out a room on the top floor to accommodate our request for a discounted price.  Having the house all to ourselves, even just for a day, seemed like an excellent idea (we could do laundry and there would be lots of place to hang our wet clothes, we figured) so we agreed to the plan. 

After checking in we headed out to get some dinner,  with no inkling that we had gone through an entire day without realizing that Kyrgyzstan was in a different timezone (an hour ahead) compared to Tajikistan.  While we thought it was just past 8:00 p.m., the few restaurants close to the hotel were either closed or in the process of closing.  The only place that was willing to let us in had little to offer in the 'bez miasa' (no meat) category. The girl at the counter pointed to an item on the menu and we nodded our heads vigorously.  Something for dinner was better than going to bed hungry.  What appeared a few minutes later were two fried eggs each on a plate.  That along with some room temperature beer made for our first meal in Osh.

Osh is Kyrgyzstan's second largest city and the most important center of the Fergana Valley that extends from Uzbekistan and Tajikistan into Kyrgyz borders. It is an ancient town and local legend credit all sorts of people with its founding including Alexander the Great and Suleyman (King Solomon).  It was also a major hub on the Silk Road. The Mongols destroyed it in the 13th century but regained its prosperity in the following centuries and is a bustling large city today.  It has retained much of its Soviet era flavor, most street names are unchanged and the wide boulevards are flanked by large administrative buildings.  It has a large Uzbek population (40%) who dominate local business. It was apparently the center of bitter ethnic conflict in the 1990s but none of that is evident to the casual visitor as you walk through its pleasant streets.

Osh's bazaar is reputed to be one of Central Asia's best markets (many markets in this region make this claim) and runs more than a kilometer along the Ak-Buura (White Camel) river.  As we walked there the next morning, we were joined by a young teenager who was member of the wait staff at the restaurant attached to the hotel.  While her English was limited, she made up for it with her friendliness. She indicated that she was heading there herself to buy chicken for the restaurant. So we joined her while she led us through a park and side streets to get to the market through the shortest possible path.  She introduced us to some sections of this sprawling market and was amused as we stood by watching her buy chicken and other restaurant supplies.  After she headed back with her purchases, we spent some more time exploring different parts of this sprawling market that sold everything from fruits, groceries, clothes to electrical goods.

Of all the countries in Central Asia, Kyrgyzstan seems to putting more effort into developing tourism and one program that is particularly useful for visitors is called Community Based Tourism (CBT), a grass-roots organization that connects visitors with a network of local families, guides, drivers etc. They ensure that services are priced in a fair and equitable manner. With this program, rural communities are supported and tourist dollars go directly into the hands of locals rather than to tour agencies and middlemen.  CBT has offices in a number of cities across the country and they are an excellent source of information.  Since we were still finalizing our plan for the coming days, we paid a visit to their office in Osh. The Osh center also conducts English language classes and while there wasn't  any class in session when we were there, we were fascinated with all the materials and posters on the walls that were being used to teach English.  Not far from the center, a group of young girls introduced themselves to us on the street and seemed eager to practice their English. On learning that we lived in the US, they had a lot of questions on how they themselves could make their way there either to study or as tourists!

On our last evening in Osh we decided to climb up its most prominent landmark, Solomon's Throne, a jagged barren rock that looms over the city. It has been a Muslim place of pilgrimage of some importance for a long time (supposedly because Prophet Mohammed once prayed here).  A good reason to climb up the stairway that has been hacked along the mountainside is to enjoy the panoramic view that it provides.  We had not truly understood the size of Osh until we were right on top and could see the city extend for miles around us.


Ahhh you are passing through some historical sites - wasn't Osh on the way of Genghis Khan's army when they rode to me the Khwarazm Shah and the sack of Samarqand. You are sort of zig zagging aren't you - first to Tashkent, then down south to Dushanbe and then north east to Osh. I presume you aren't going as far as Bishkek or Almaty ??

Is the area around Osh also the place where Babur came from ? Any memorials there ? From Ramesh, on Sep 30, 2012 at 02:01PM
Genghis' army did come through over the mountains and the Kyrgyz people were almost wiped out for trying to resist. They say he is the reason there are hardly any records of the Kyrgyz people from prior to the Mongol invasion.

As for Babur, his birthplace Andijon is probably less than 50 kms from Osh, but now lies in Uzbekistan, so visiting it from Osh was not an option. Also according to the guidebook an earthquake in 1902 pretty much destroyed the entire city and it was rebuilt since. So none of the ancient monuments or relics from prior to that time exists today. But when we were in Tashkent, we saw the mausoleum of Yunus Khan, grandfather of Babar, on the grounds of Tashkent Islamic University!

Incidentally Uzbeks that we have met are proud to point out to us that Babur came from Uzbekistan. He is a highly revered figure here and the Babur-nama, his autobiography, is considered high literature. At one of the guesthouses, the proprietor was actually a professor of history and was very interested in whether Babur's antecedents were well known in India, whether it was taught in schools etc. From Malini and Venkatesh, on Oct 1, 2012 at 04:50PM

Pictures & Video

Osh Bazaar Traditional Kyrgyz hats for sale at the bazaar
Traditional Kyrgyz hats for sale at the bazaar
Kyrgyz gentleman Solomon Throne Stairway up to Solomon's Throne
Stairway up to Solomon's Throne
Panoramic view of Osh
Panoramic view of Osh
Osh's mosque from Solomon's Throne
Osh's mosque from Solomon's Throne
Osh Bazaar Kyrgyz men playing chess
Kyrgyz men playing chess
Back to my 'Elsewhere' blog