Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan 2018

Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan 2018

Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan



There is one advantage in having no luggage in Osh – replacing clothes and medicines is extraordinarily cheap.

After a breakfast in the hotel that was as unremarkable as the city itself, my task for the morning was to set off and get some basic necessities for the trip ahead, working on the assumption that it would be a minor miracle for my luggage to be returned before I left Osh tomorrow morning.

The hotel staff proved especially unhelpful in spite of their willingness to assist.  They assured me that the nearest chemist would require a ten minute taxi ride but that there was a bank just down the street.  The bank was certainly there, but it was closed and didn’t have an ATM.  On the other hand I walked past several chemists in the first five minutes, and was able to stock up on basic medications imported from Russia at a cost equivalent to about one cent ($Aust.) per tablet for Paracetamol and three cents per tablet for Rinitidine.  Clearly, Russian pharmaceutical companies operate at lower profit margins that those in the West.

Given that I would like to try to hand wash everything I wear each night, which is the only clothing I have with me, I thought I should try and buy something to wear during the night as I know I’ll be sharing my room with others on some of the travels to come.  The hotel staff assured me that the best place for cheap clothing was the Jamya Bazaar, the city’s large market. This seemed like good advice, but they told me it was so far away that I would need to take a 20 minute taxi ride.  I checked on Google Maps, and it showed the markets to be three kilometres away, a distance that would take about 40 minutes to walk each way.

Walking would give me a chance to explore the city, so for me it was the obvious way to go.  My impressions of the city didn’t change much during the walk, although I did discover some lovely hidden gems, like a beautifully preserved (restored?) socialist-realist mosaic covering the entire wall of a building, an exquisitely manicured flower bed in front of a Soviet-era housing block that was in a state of severe disrepair, an inspirational mosaic on the end of another Soviet-era housing block showing a soaring Ilyushin Il-62 jetliner, and some panoramic views of Gora Sulayman-Too, a high rocky outcrop that apparently provides great views of Osh.

The highlight of the walk was the Jamya Bazaar itself.  My time was limited so I didn’t explore the markets fully (I aim to do that tomorrow morning) but rather concentrated on finding a men’s clothing stall to get a T-shirt and some underwear.  This was a successful enterprise, by the way, and I can only hope that the quality is better than the low prices may imply.

The markets are a dark labrynth of passageways, often partially blocked by displays of brightly patterned cloth and women’s dresses, winding their way between double-storeyed structures made of shipping containers overlain by corrugated iron sheeting.  What the markets lacked in elegance they made up for in interest, especially in the food areas where animal carcasses were hanging up in the open air and artistic displays of locally-baked round loaves of bread filled the air with the aroma of freshly-baked bread.

It was only as I was leaving the markets to return to the hotel that I came to appreciate their large extent as I looked down on them from a bridge that crossed the valley in which the markets were located.  They were not a pretty sight from above (unless you are a corrugated iron enthusiast), but it was awe-inspiring in its own way.

The reason I had to return to the hotel was to meet the group with whom I will be travelling over the next week or more through Tajikistan.  The eastern and southern parts of Tajikistan are not easy places to travel alone, as the recent terrorist attack on a group of cyclists demonstrated.  It was therefore far cheaper, safer and easier to arrange this next part of my travels through my good friends at Koryo Group, with whom I have travelled on several previous occasions in North Korea, Russia, Tajikistan and Turkmenistan.

Our group of 20 people met in the hotel dining room at 1pm to receive our briefing from Rich Beal, the Koryo representative.  Among other things, we were reminded to respect local cultures, which are very conservative, to be punctual, and not to encourage our drivers to overtake other vehicles on dangerous roads.  Following the briefing, we travelled a short distance to a restaurant to share a lunch of vegetable soup with bread, followed by a local specialty of steaks with tomatoes.

The rest of the afternoon was spent introducing Kyrgyzstan and its history.  This was achieved first by visiting the Sulayman-Too sacred mountain and its associated cave museum.  Set in what was an underground restaurant in Soviet times, the cave museum outlined the ancient history and some of the natural biography of the Osh region.  Following the tour of the museum, we climbed to the top of the mountainous outcrop to take in the amazing views over Osh – a city that looks even more unremarkable from the advantage of altitude.  Everyone agreed that Osh is indeed an unremarkable city, a place that boasts an elusive charm.

Sulayman-Too was once a place of worship for Muslims and pre- Islamic people.  Even today, locals say that three visits to the top of Sulayman-Too is the equivalent of a visit to Mecca, although I doubt the Saudi tourism board would agree.  It is also one of Kyrgyzstan’s first UNESCO listed sites.  At the top of the mountain, a small structure known Babur’s House is now used as a tiny mosque.

This visit was followed by a visit to another museum, larger and more extensive, which showed the history and culture of the Kyrgyz nation.  I thought the exhibits showing the Soviet period were the highlight of the museum; there were some truly unusual examples of Soviet memorabilia, such as the 1.5 metre finely carved wooden piece that showed Lenin as the foundation, overlain by the struggles of the Great patriotic War (World War II), topped by a representation of the Male Worker and Female Collective Farmer statue that still graces the entrance of the VDNKh (Exhibition of National Achievements) in Moscow.

Our final visit was to the large square outside the City Hall where the main Islamic prayers are held at the end of Ramadan each year – and which is overseen by the largest statue of Lenin in Central Asia.  (There is another large statue of Lenin in Khujand, Tajikistan, which is on a taller pedestal but the statue itself is smaller).  The irony of Lenin overlooking the square where Muslim prayers are held is not lost on the local population, and the statue’s continued presence is said to be unpopular.  However, it is said that the statue remains so as not to offend Russian Government, a seemingly flimsy excuse given the huge number of Lenin statues that the Russians have dismantled within their own territory.

The news I received about my luggage today is that there is no news.  It was confirmed that apparently no-one has any idea where it might be located at the moment.

I set off tomorrow for the south-east of Kyrgyzstan to begin the journey through the High Pamir Mountains of Tajikistan.  I’m not expecting any internet access for about a week, so the next updates might come in a bunch when I arrive in Dushanbe.  If I can post updates ‘on the road’, I’ll try to do so.

Day 3



18 August 2018