At the end of a mind-blowing road trip along the Pamir Highway (which you can look forward to in a later post), my two fave travel friends and I are in Osh.
Driving most of the day from Karakul Lake across the border in Tajikistan, we arrive in town late afternoon. We had booked a couple of nights in Osh, to relax and refresh, and to have a look around – before flying off to old familiar places, i.e. Bishkek. I’m glad we didn’t just hasten through.
Kyrgyzstan’s second city is located in the romantically named Fergana Valley. A crossroads on several centuries-old trade routes, it’s the end (or starting) point of the Pamir Highway, about 30 minutes from the Uzbek border, and just across the Alay mountains is Kashgar (another deliciously exotic name) in China’s far west. Not least, it is smack in the middle of the fabled Silk Road that connected East and West – from China to Constantinople. With all this transit traffic through the ages, Osh has become a melting pot of cultures, with more than 80 nationalities and 3000 years of history.
Things to do in Osh
I won’t bore you with details about the relaxing and refreshing, other than to say: Hotel Classic, swimming pool, sauna… bliss! More interesting for you, is a look at things to do in Osh. We spent a full day traipsing about town, looking, listening, smelling, tasting. Here are the highlights:
Sulaiman-Too Sacred Mountain
Climbing to the top of Sulaiman-too (Solomon’s Mountain) is an experience not to be missed in Osh. UNESCO agrees, and added this holy rock to the world heritage list in 2009. The peculiar little mountain can be seen from practically everywhere around town, and everyone has been there, it seems. Including Mohammed. Naturally, this five-peaked mountain is a pilgrimage site, and has been for 1500 years. You’ll find several little caves and clefts and nooks and crannies along the incline – a total of 17 holy places still in use – some with curative properties, some with the gift of fertility.
We are English and Norwegian, inherently pragmatic, so we are not here to be cured of anything, but rather for the views, for curiosity, and a little bit for the exercise. And exercise it certainly is on this sweltering day; about 20 minutes up stairs which become narrower and steeper, and twist and turn as you near the top.
Turn around, and this is what you see. Careful when scrambling to the top.
(Also, prepare to be invited to be a part of family photos with people from around the world. I’ve only ever experienced this with my kids before. Here in Osh, we even bump into a young man taking selfies with people from different countries. I’m the first Norwegian in his collection, he says. Sounds slightly ominous.)
The founder of the Soviet Union is alive and well in Osh. This statue of Vladimir Ilyich is the largest in all of Central Asia. Not sure what that means, if anything. But here he is, towering – across from city hall, with a bright red Kyrgyz flag waving before him.
Food and drink
After 8 days on the road, we’re in the mood for something other than Central Asian cuisine. We try – and can recommend – these two international eateries (No pics, I’m afraid. Too busy with the eating and drinking):
Izyum: Next to the river, Izyum has different dining areas, some with sofas and cushions. Good food, and mellow music, interspersed by the live variety: a local man (possibly one of the waiters, but I can’t be sure) singing his heart out. There’s also dancing, mostly by a local hen do when we visit; a very civilized hen do, it must be said.
Tskarskii Dvor: Above Navoi Park, this place looks like it could be in the Alps, or even a cheery collection of Christmas market stalls. In addition to the delicious chicken shashlik, my favourite feature is the cosy swings, perfect for after-dinner drinks.
And as we’re on the subject: let’s talk about baked goods. Lepyoshka bread, to be specific. Almost too pretty to eat, these. Almost. Especially delicious when crispy, hot and fragrant. Served with every meal in these parts.
The special tool to decorate such beautiful yeasty creations is available for sale in Osh’s 2000-year-old bazaar.
…along with any number of other items you need, like a children’s poster with the Cyrillic alphabet…
… and perhaps a few things you didn’t know you needed.
I’m strangely intrigued by this particular stall:
This huge market place has everything: food, clothes, pitchforks, books, cigarettes, perfume, household goods, cattle… The traders are local Kyrgyz folk, as well as Chinese, Uzbeks, and Tajiks.
There’s also a meat market, but that isn’t of interest to this flexitarian. If you’re more of a carnivore, you’ll find beef, mutton and horse meat, as well as numerous lamb and sheep byproducts: heads, eyes, ears and so on. And brain served with a spoon.
Navoi Park is a delightful place to while away a few hours, with the scent of shashlik pervading the air. Have an ice cream, laze about in a swing, watch old men playing chess (why always men?) or kids playing anything …
Just be sure not to miss the Soviet era Aeroflot Yak40 by the ferris wheel.
Public art in Osh
We end our little jaunt through Kyrgyzstan’s second city with colourful works of art – Soviet and current.