Tag Archives: osh

Sweltering in the Valley

Big Friday Night: Getting the kebabs in with the boys

Big Friday Night: Getting the kebabs in with the boys

Well, this was more the sort of climate that I was expecting when I set out on this trip. Blue, blue skies, sweating by 8.30am and the hotel advertisements for hot water become far less attractive.

A good time to pack away my trekking kit, perhaps – my attractive skin-tight thermals and thick walking socks – but alas these have already become casualties along The Rhoute. Yes people, I have been the victim of crime. Back in Karakol, when I dared entrust my threads with the rabid Russians who run the Yak Tours backpacker crash pad. The clothes made it out the river alright, but clearly they were far too enticing to ignore as they hung there, drying in the afternoon sun.

Wallets, iPods, fancy maps, jewellery, passports, small netbook computers – all of these I can understand people wanting to shift, but seriously, used trekking kit!? And from the washing line!? Neanderthals, these people.

No doubt it has fallen into the hands of some undeserving individual, likely one of those unwashed backpacker types with zip-on, zip-off trouser legs. Harrumph.

Anyhow, tantrum over. No need for all of that here in Osh, where a constant stream of perspiration trickles down my back as I peruse the junk in the bazaar for which this town is famous. A traders’ mecca for centuries – the standard chat from the locals is the claim that Osh is older than Rome– the city certainly feels far older than many of the new Soviet towns I’ve been making my way through thus far. Electronics, knives, all sorts of breads, fruits, meats, furniture, ill-fitting suits, colourful silks, full-length Kyrgyz boots, ethnic hats – there’s quite literally everything here, a bona fine predecessor to Wal-Mart sprawled along the Ak-Buura river.

In a moment of foolish pride, I elected not to bring a map with me, thinking that I couldn’t possibly lose my bearings given the bare, jagged rock that looms over the city, known as Solomon’s Throne.

After an hour or three of sifting through the tat, and being unable to stomach any more huge cherries, I was entirely lost in the back streets of the town, clambering over railway lines, across canals and down dusty back streets. Now and then I would come across children playing with old tyres, a bright flash from an Uzbek girl’s dress, or men in skullcaps sauntering off to the mosque. It really was quite a charming afternoon – if only it wasn’t close to 40C, and indeed, that I knew how on earth I was going to make it back to my hostel that evening.

Swallowing my pride, I admitted defeat and sought out a taxi driver outside one of the seemingly hundreds of bazaars.

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Entering Fergana

About halfway: Toktogul Reservoir

About halfway: Toktogul Reservoir

When you ask those in the know how they might describe the Fergana Valley, the lush lowland basin split between Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan, they would generally agree on one word – ‘volatile‘.

Thankfully, I am neither in the know, not have I seen any evidence of all that so far, thus my adjective of choice would likely be nothing more ominous than hot‘.

It’s a different world here down south. So different, in fact, that it’s hard to believe you’re still in the same country. The various mountain ranges that criss-cross this beautiful country certainly succeed in lending a fearsome photogenic backdrop to pretty much any photo you take, but quite how you’d go about keeping these two halves of the country on the same track is quite beyond me.

The trip from the capital, Bishkek, to the second city, Osh, is an incredible ride that gives you an overview of the whole country in less than 12 hours. [Or, indeed, less than ten hours if you do not fear for your safety nor that of others, as you repeatedly overtake on blind bends and inside tunnels on a mission to make it to Osh before nightfall.]

It really is an amazing trip – it comfortably nestles in my Top Five Road Trips of All Time (and we all need our Top Fives, n’est-ce pas?) – and it simply cries out for you to spend a good few days soaking up the stunning scenery, instead of getting mere snatches of it here and there through the cracked windscreen of a spluttering 1987 Mercedes.

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