Border crossing day, yay. These days can swing both ways and with some of the horror stories we’d heard and read about the Uzbek border guards we were prepared to be thoroughly searched.
Getting from the hostel in Tashkent to the depot for shared taxis to the border was easy and the 45 minute journey cost UZS26,000 (USD$4). From here we got a taxi for UZS25,000 per seat and within 15 minutes another passenger arrived, a cardboard box was loaded between us in the back and we were off. The ride took us over a pass and through a military checkpoint into the Fergana Valley with a stop at a road side somsa place so Matt could show the locals how to sell the steamy dumplings. As the surrounding locals stand on tables to get a better look our somsa stall holders ask Matt while pointing at his hiking boots
“But Australia is hot, why do you have such big boots?”
The rest of the four hour journey slid by quickly as our front passenger spoke perfect English and happened to be in the fashion industry owning a clothing design plant. We passed a green Lada overfilled with purple eggplants, a Damas minivan full of freshly baked biscuits, a sedan stacked inside and out with rolls of printed cotton fabrics and a tractor pulling three empty trailers with raw cotton still floating on the outside of the cages. As we begin to arrive in the valley the approaching mountains are obscured by the haze belching out of the nearby coal fired power plants. As the valley widens bare rocky banks on both sides of the road are covered in advertising for Hamkorbank, Procab and Alutex to name a few while on the shoulder a stray dog is making a meal out of a dead sheep.
Expecting to be dropped off in the city of Andijan to then find another ride to the border we were amazed that we’d actually managed to score a lift all the way to the border. Boom! Arriving at 5:30pm the border was shortly closing and we hoped this made our chances of being searched lower than arriving earlier in the day as the guards would be thinking about home time. When we entered the small customs office we were greeted by the surprise of a familiar face, German Caroline who we’d met back in Bukhara. The border guards seemed to be in a good mood and our random jovial greetings, hugs and happy surprise seemed to lift their spirits even more. That or they couldn’t wait to finish their shift and they promptly sent us on our way out of Uzbekistan with nothing more than a
Caroline on the other hand had every one of here registration receipts inspected, missing dates where thoroughly questioned and finally her bags were also searched. We also had rumours of the potential for the Uzbek guards to be assholes confirmed first hand a few days later. A Swiss cyclist had every photo on his camera, hard drive and memory stick investigated, every piece of medication questioned and even had to pitch his tent in the customs hall while a German girl had to join a small group of women who were made to enter a small curtained area and strip to their underwear where female guards searched their bra and underpants. Cross your fingers and hope for the best!
On the Kyrgyz side the short bus ride into Osh cost us KGS30 (under USD$0.50) each and within 30 minutes we were at TES Guesthouse with a warm reception and a cold beer in the fridge. Osh being Osh there is not much to keep one here for long and we spent most of our several days in town organising a self drive trip to the Pamirs/Wakhan Valley. If you find yourself in town for a few days doing the same here’s a couple of things to check out.
There’s enough here to see though it will only take you a day to complete all the main sites then it pretty much time to move on.
This is Kyrgyzstn’s only UNESCO world heritage site. Once a Muslim and pre-Muslim pilgrimage site the rising rock tower is said to be the midpoint of the Silk Road Route betwwen Asia and Europe. It also reputedly contains the grave of the Prophet Solomon and it’s said that women that crawl through an opening over the rock will give birth to healthy children. We kept Sarah well away from that rock.
The easy walk up gives lasting vistas over the surrounding valley to the mountains beyond and whilst completing the loop walk you pass over the top of the Mosque and the Soviet styled Museum that has opinions divided on its beauty. On a nice day you’ll meet plenty of friendly locals up here.
This is a locals market with not much on sale for the tourist except for grabbing supplies for the trips into the Pamirs or buying a cheap felt Kyrgyz hat (you can get simple ones for KGS150 and they even fold flat to fit into your backpack). But it’s a great place to just wander around and get lost. We met and talked poor Russian/Kyrgyz with some of the store holders and everyone was super friendly and of course inquisitive about Matts hair. We only had one attempt to rip us off when a women held back change for 10 minutes while we repeatedly tried to make her understand the math behind giving us back our extra $3. Which she obviously knew all along.
The Three Story Yurt
Located in the middle of town within the Alimbek Datka Square its little more than a curiosity shop with costumes to pose in and a couple of exhibitions dedicated to 19th century heroes. Still from the outside it’s impressive if you’re passing by. There is an admission fee.
Bakyt – The Alien Fairy Cake Wedding Palace
Staring at this monstrous creation it seems that Soviet style architecture is far reaching and long lasting. Take a photo, move on.
Lenin Street is lined with many a different restaurant for all sorts of budgets and tastes. Find one that suits and dig in or for something different check out these options below.
We were hanging for some western food and stumbled upon this pizza and burger joint right next to the Three Story Yurt. For the tight arse traveller the pleasing price of KGS125 (USD$2.0) you get a huge burger and side of chips. Skeptical about ordering Western food our taste buds were smashed with delightful juicy chicken bu0rgers and crispy chips.
Definitely check this place out.
We read about this place online and thought we’d follow the herds to try the pizza and drink the beer. Well the pizzas are good, not spectacular, though the beer was the best (and coldest) we drank in Osh. Sarah made the mistake of ordering a Mexican bean soup that was way off the mark and overpriced. Stick to pizza or local dishes.
The place to get many of those foods that you miss from back home. A surprisingly varied selection with prices to suit the western wallets. It’s a good place to stock up on some treats before a Pamir trip. Also around the Osh Bazaar are many places to grab some local fare. From Lagman soup to Bifstek there’s something for everyone. Try the excellent (and dirt cheap) osh or plov, a rice based dish at tiny Osh Restaurant (40.32’13.77N 72.47’46.34E).
In the summer the town is littered with beer tents. Pick one and drink cheap beer. They are many concentrated in the park area opposite the university. Ladies expect your draft beer to come with a pretty plastic straw. It’s also a great place to check out the local old men playing board games in traditional Kyrgyz felt hats.
We chose TES Guesthouse because we had the chance to sleep in a yurt and it wasn’t the Osh Guesthouse (where good reviews are now few and far between…).
TES is a small scale conference style sort of place which offers two yurts with three beds in each, camping pitches if you have your own tent as well as private rooms. Breakfast is great, is included in the price and varies each day. Outside there’s a load of picnic benches under cover to socialise with other travellers and it’s a great stop for overland drivers as it also has secured under cover parking on site. With cold brews in the fridge we spent several enjoyable days here organising a rental car for our self-drive trip into the Pamirs and Wakhan Valley.
The staff were great and Matt even went to play indoor football with the manager and his friends one night in 30 degree heat. Madness! After a few years between games it took him a week to be able to walk properly. All in all we’d highly recommend staying here while you’re in town.
Next up: Organising a self-drive trip into the Pamirs.
For more photos for our two year odyssey around the world click here to see our Flickr page.
Thanks for reading and we hope to see you again!