Gulzada made sure that I got to the bus station in Bishkek and helped me search for a ride to Osh. She also helped me fend off the taxi vultures that skulk about when they see a tourist with a backpack. We finally found a share taxi going to Osh later that afternoon. It was a tearful goodbye as I was saying farewell to my Kyrgyz sister. I’d spent such a great time with her and her family for the past week, leaving that family support network was hard. The reality of solo travel is lonely, almost every hello ends in goodbye. How does one cope with never knowing whether you’ll see that face again. I guess that’s why we don’t greet strangers in the streets. I’m still humbled by Gulzada’s gracious presence and generosity, I have to go back and see them again.
It was a long drive from Bishkek to Osh. There is a reason why I decided to road trip it rather than fly. You pass through some of the most incredible country scenery. The road winds through two massive 3000m passes through the spectacular Suusamyr Valley, down the Narryn River and into the Fegana Valley. It whet my appetite for the Pamir Highway I about about to tackle. This drive must go down as one of my favorites. My fellow travelers were friendly enough and we broke the ice over some chai and lunch at a makeshift restaurant along the road. Lunch was awful, just a huge mutton bone (which someone else had gnawed at) sunk in huge floating chunks of fat in an oily broth. I counted one piece of carrot and some potato in that soup…
Early in the trip all I remember was being fed apples and the countless political banners running along the roadside advertising the upcoming elections and the countless candidates. The political situation in the country has never been stable, a study on the brief independence of the country makes for depressing reading. I was pretty nervous
about going to Osh, I remember seeing the bloody riots of 2010 on TV. There is a definite tension in the air down there. The Kyrgyz north is very rustified and well equipped transport and infrastructure. The south of the country feels like a tethered limb, it’s more troubled and flares up in bouts of ethnic tensions and anger. We were going to stop in Jala-Abad but thank goodness we didn’t. Democracy isn’t a strong point in the country, corruption, nepotism and civil unrest have continued to instill disillusionment in the populace.
I caught my first glimpses of the Uzbek populous which make up 40% of the population of the city and seem more in tune with neighboring Uzbekistan than in their adoptive Kyrgystan. Stalin buggered this area up by mapping out international boundaries which butchered the Fergana Valley into a fragile and somewhat hostile place and thus dividing ethnic groups.
I arrived late in the evening and tried to find a place to stay. My driver tried to help me out until he gave up and dropped me off at the Osh Guetshouse, which was locked! But there was a group of friendly Israelis who were trying to get inside and mentioned there was loads of space. Whew! I got the dorm to myself and was pretty happy to pass out on the spot. The next day I was invited for an amazing breakfast with my new friends and it was great to swap travel stories. The group of Israeli guys had just traveled from Tajikistan along the Pamir Highway where I was headed and they had loads of tips and advice for me bless em. We chatted all day and I went off later that afternoon to explore the chance of finding travel mates to Murgab. I found another hostel which was chockablock and met Kame. Kame is just delightful, we were both wanting to head to Murgad asap and after an afternoon of arranging plans, we found a cheaper alternative to hiring a car. Most tourists tend to hire a car and split the costs. Being just two of us, this wasn’t an option. So I left a message at the hostel in the vain hope other tourists would join us. Kame popped back to my guesthouse and had found a driver who was willing to take us to Murgab, for a pretty darn reasonable fee. Yay! I enjoyed my last evening watching movies with my guesthouse friends.
I didn’t explore much of Osh, nor did I want to. Two nights were enough for me and I was itching to leave the dreary city. I didn’t feel safe there and I was ready to leg it as soon as I could. I liked the Jayma bazaar which boasts a great amalgamation of Tajiks, Uzbeks and Kyrgyz who trade everything from traditional skullcaps to pomegranate and the mandatory array of Chinese junk. I didn’t take many pictures in Osh, a friend advised against it. No one wanted their photo to be taken. This picture pretty much sums up my impressions of Osh.