The driver rolled to a halt near the outskirts of Osh. He checked with us to make sure we were okay with where we were left, let us pull our bags from the bed of the truck, and sped off into the chaotic Osh traffic. We had booked an AirBnB with a local family who lived on the south side of the city, and set off for a long hike to find them.
My immediate impression of Osh was that it didn’t feel like the friendliest of cities. That’s something that I had actually read before. It seems the consensus on Osh is that it’s Bishkek’s rougher counterpart. Not only that, but there’s just a lot of weird design choices that were made, namely the pipes. Most cities have pipes underground, but Osh instead has them running along the sidewalks, acting as weird pedestrian fences. Whenever there’s a spot where you might have to cross, the pipes are directed up and over to make a big, rusty arch. Others just have stairs going over them, or nothing at all.
It took several hours to find our host’s home, but when we did we were the recipients of hospitality that totally changed our otherwise negative impressions of Osh. We were given as much food and tea as we could handle (found out how awesome borscht is), shown how to navigate the city, comfortable beds and showers, everything. I regrettably didn’t get any photos of or with them for some reason, but the two nights spent in their home were the highlight of Osh, without which me and my friends would’ve had a much different impression of the city.
With only a day to really explore a city, it’s of course impossible to have an accurate impression of it. You only get the very surface-level idea. And for a city like Osh, that’s not the nicest-looking or feeling of places to travel through, we didn’t get the best of impressions. That said, we didn’t have many negative interactions with the people who live there. It’s just an outwardly weird city to us who were passing through.
Much of it is crumbling which, as I came to learn, is a trait shared by many cities in Kyrgyzstan. Built during Soviet days and not seriously maintained since then due to lack of funds within a corrupt government, it’s no wonder many cities feel a little decrepit.
We decided to start with a hike. Osh is in the Fergana Valley, which is the location of a major border crossing between Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan. But right in the center of the city is a huge mountain that overlooks everything. At the base is a mosque and the top a mausoleum. We tried to enter the mosque because I wanted to take photos. The men at the door shook my hand but not the hand of the Frenchwoman I was with, and then brought us to the bathroom instead of allowing us inside the mosque. That was basically the only weird interaction we had in Osh.
We started up the mountain. The rocks on the path were worn smooth from years and years of walkers, and many were polished so well that our shoes couldn’t grip them at all. It was the last day of Ramadan, so the trail was quite crowded as everyone was home for the day. When we reached the top in three sweaty messes, we had a strong wind and good view of everything. Osh, despite not being that big population-wise, stretches out for miles and miles in every direction. To the northwest, you can see right to Andijan, the first major city in Uzbekistan and the cultural hub of that region of the country.
After some time, we left to hike back down the other side of the mountain and to explore Osh a little more. We were all still exhausted from our 17-hour day of crossing out of China, so we really just went to find a coffee shop. But I took as many photos as I could along the way.
This is quite a short post because honestly, I didn’t do much in Osh. I normally try really hard to find something interesting about each place I go to, but Osh just didn’t capture my attention that much. I was tired after a lot of movement in China and was happy to have some down time in a coffee shop for a few hours.
The highlight of everything was spending a couple nights with a normal family. Without those interactions, I honestly don’t think I’d be thinking back positively on Osh. I wouldn’t be thinking back negatively either, since we met a lot of nice people on the street. But it was just a city that didn’t do a whole lot for me. You don’t really travel in Kyrgyzstan for the cities (if you do, you’re missing the point). It was nice for what it was, but it’s not necessary to visit for more than a day.
By the end of the time there, I didn’t have that many thoughts on it, which is uncommon, and was happy to be hitching a ride out of there.