Osh City, Kyrgyzstan is a great city, lets just get that fact out there, on the internet, so everyone knows. It is, it’s great. Osh is the second largest city in Kyrgyzstan, is the oldest city in Central Asia, and is known as the capital of the Southern Kyrgyzstan. It was a major centre back in the Silk Road days, and has been tossed back and forth between several major conquering parties throughout the years. It is in the Osh Oblast, and is a solid 10-16 hour car drive south of Bishkek . Notice the rather vague time span for that trip, yep, Kyrgyz roads and a few mountain passes don’t really make for straight forward Google Map’esque travel time predictions(to learn about this option check out when I did the [intlink id=”1129″ type=”post”]Roadtrip through Kyrgyzstan[/intlink]). And most people, to get to Osh, fly. It’s a 40 minute flight. And you get a plastic cup of water!
Osh City, Kyrgyzstan- About the City
Osh City has about 300,000 people living here, but that number bloats and heaves, much like everything in Kyrgyzstan, with the seasons. Osh is home to several universities, so students flooded in at the start of September, and depending on agricultural work, numbers can changed based on labor flows. The city straddles the Ak Burra River, which varies in both it’s degree of cleanliness and current. I cross the Ak Burra several times a day walking to and from the [intlink id=”1033″ type=”post”]marshrutka[/intlink], and because I live in the South of the city, it’s pretty clean near me. There is something very soothing about hearing the rush of water. Bad news when I’m running from the marshrutka to my outhouse, but that’s like, maybe only a few times a week! Tops.
The thing I like about Osh is that it is quite well maintained, for the most part. The sidewalks are swept (really I see women sweeping them when I’m running in the morning!), there are garbage bins everywhere which are actually used, the parks are trimmed, the fountains are clean and actually spew water around (waterless fountains are so depressing!) and people here really take pride in their properties. It is also sitting in a bit of a valley, and has hills on one side of it, which I can gratefully see from my window! Apparently a few terms back, there was a Mayor who put a lot of money into city beautification, and once done, the residents liked it, and now it’s a basic requirement of the City to keep the efforts alive.
The city is also very green and lush, probably something to do with the river, and roads are lined with trees, and there are even gardens in boulevards. Rumour has it at the start of the summer the city planted a bunch of flower pots along the boulevard of the main car bridge that crosses the river, and there was a big uproar about it because they would be hard to water. They are still there, so I guess the gardeners solved this frightening logistical quandary.
What I see in Osh City, is that it is a place where people live and call home. What I’ve seen in [intlink id=”945″ type=”post”]Bishkek[/intlink], the capital of Kyrgyzstan, is that people seem to be passing through, or there for a few years for school or work, but they always think of their home villages as home. Here in Osh, people truly live here, it’s got a soul; residents take pride in it. I guess you can tell it’s a community when people bother to get riled up about some flower pots!
The people of Osh are very diverse as well. There are Kyrgyz, Russian, and Uzbek people, as well as many ethnic groups from around the south and the rest of Central Asia. This makes for a different flavour to the city than the rest of the country, and also in turn positively effects the flavour of the food. The diversity colors the city, but has also meant that the city has had times of divisiveness and all out conflict (see later in this blog). But at this time, all is well, and the diversity of the population is easily seen on the street, in the neighborhoods, and in the food!
Things to Do in Osh Kyrgyzstan
Parks and Rides!
In the summer, people were out and about; the pools (oh yeah there are pools in Osh!) were busy with families picnicking and watching their children float around. The park where there is a summer amusement park of sorts was always hopping, again with families paying 20som for their kids to get on a ride and quickly look like they were going to vomit but at the same time trying to have fun. And really you have to commend that kind of effort! When I feel like vomiting, there is no brave face on this girl!
Climbing Sulaiman Too in Osh Kyrgyzstan
The center piece of Osh is of course Sulaiman Too, it’s even on the Osh flag! Suleiman is a craggy hill, sticking straight out of the otherwise quite flat landscape, and is the only UNESCO World Hertiage Site in Kyrgyzstan. It is thought to be holy due to the jaunt that Solomon, back in his day, took up the side of it. To get up, it’s about a 20-minute walk, straight up, no shade, and when you get up to the top you have a practical 360 view of Osh and the area. I climbed Suleiman the day after I first arrived in Osh. In the middle of June. At 11:45am. It was a million degrees and there was not a cloud in the sky. I almost died. Have not been up since, but I figure with people coming to visit pretty regular I’ll be made to climb it more than enough times eventually. But to get an effect, here is a video I took from the top on a gorgeous summer day….
Eating and Drinking in Osh Kyrgyzstan
You can get decent food and drink here. I’m a fan of the hamburgers (or as they say in Russian ‘Gamburgers’) at the Borsok Cafes, as well as the pizzas. There are some good shawshluk places, Oasis sells what Erik says is the best Schwarma in the country, and the samsas are pretty diabolical. There are also some great places to drink. There is the place known to us as the Treehouse, which is an outside, under the trees place.
Erik and I go to a café beside the river that is near to our homes, which we call River Bar. Creative I know. The downside about River Bar is that they don’t have a toilet. Which means I end up squatting behind the kitchen, facing the river, scratching my legs to hell on the prickle bushes. And in true fact this café does have a toilet, but it might seriously be the most disgusting toilet on the planet, so instead of cleaning it, they just closed it off and pretend that it doesn’t exist. Which it shouldn’t. It needs a nuclear bomb of some kind.
There is Bridge Bar, which is an English saloon’ish place. It has a big red phone box outside, but then has swinging saloon doors, which to me, connotes saloon. Whatever the identity crisis, it has wicked aircon, wifi, and a friendly staff.
**When I say ‘decent’ regarding drink I mean it’s available in nice places to drink it. The beer in Kyrgyzstan is not what one would call stellar. Sometimes I think “why do I even bother, this stuff tastes like Coors Light”, and then I kick myself and remember than crappy beer is better than no beer!
The Main Bazaar in Osh
The bazaar in Osh is pretty damn big. There are different parts of the bazaar for different needs, though I can almost assure you all that there is not one yoga mat in the entire place. You can buy shoes, geese, boxing gloves, cosmetics, fur hats, books, nail clippers and everything in between. Except yoga mats.
The one thing the bazaar is kind of lacking is a solid meat section. I’ve written before about my morbid and slightly demented love of meat sections of bazaars. I know they smell weird and there is blood everywhere, but you always see something awesomely gross, like an empty sheep face! And then have a surge of hunger. But the Osh bazaar is sorely missing in this area, unless of course I have yet to trip upon it, which is possible, I can’t imagine I’ve managed to see the whole market yet.
Hit the Pools of Osh!
The City of Osh can be hot. Like, really hot. In July, there were days when I wished that nudism was a thing in Kyrgyzstan, and resented having to wear even the light summer dresses I took to. It’s because of this that the pools are around. The river runs through the centre of the city, and feeds about 8 different pools, of varying price and matching quality. Now everybody knows I love a good afternoon poolside, which is truly found at the most expensive pool, 350som for the day, but with lounge chairs, poolside beer delivery, and a pretty clean pool. The least expensive I went to was 50som, in the very south of the city, where it was questionable whether the pool or the river was cleaner. I swam in it anyways, it’s hot! Dana and I went a few times to a moderate pool, about 80som, and would get solidly stared at by the jegeets. And get jumped over by children running around.
Things I like about Osh Kyrgyzstan
The Lenin Statue is gigantic, and presides over the city, literally as it is in front of the city and oblast admin building. I like to think the great father of Communism is keeping an eye on things.
There are drainage canals running all over the city. I know they are probably full of giardia and Hepatitis, but again, the sound of running water is nice.
It’s starting to cool off! No longer is Osh mind numbingly hot, fall is starting to slowly come, and rumor has it the winters here may not be as harsh as the rest of the country, but only time will tell that one, knock on wood!
Marshrutkas and buses drive relatively slow here, so you can actually see what number so you can hail them if needed, before they are already well past you. Of course the flip side to this is that sometimes the buses are so slow, you are barely moving. I have evidence to this fact, as one morning I was running beside a bus and actually keeping up with it. And gazelle-like speed is not my athletic strong suit.
Recent Events in Osh
So now that I have painted a glorious picture of Osh in all it’s splendor, there is a little fly in the ointment. Osh has not had a completely peaceful time the last few years. As I said earlier, Osh has a very diverse population. In 2010, tensions were running high all over Kyrgyzstan due to spikes in utilities, all in the wake of a coup that overthrew the President several months earlier. I won’t get into the opinions of how everything started, but Osh suddenly became a conflict zone, with ethnic violence and property destruction rapidly igniting and escalating.
Osh burned, and over the course of 5 days many people were killed, injured, displaced from their homes, and separated from their families. Uzbekistan allowed ethnic Uzbek people to come over their border as refugees as they were the primary group that was being targeted. The rioting wore out on it’s own accord, but Osh was damaged greatly, and the population as a whole wounded. It was then that [intlink id=”1044″ type=”post”]Peace Corps[/intlink] pulled out all volunteers in the South and has only now just returned with us.
Today, Osh is a pretty peaceful place. Many of the people who fled the city have returned. Some people say it’s because the city’s people have worked hard to build relationships between ethnic groups, other people say it’s because the people are scared of a repeat of 2010. 2010 is referred to by all kinds of terms, ranging from ‘events’ and ‘riots’ to ‘conflict’ and ‘war’. What I can say from my standpoint, is that being in Osh I have not once felt threatened or uncomfortable. I see a working city that is thriving, even while healing.
So all of that being said, Osh is still everything I said that it is in this blog. I love it, and I want nobody to worry about me, yes, I know who you know who you are…
Travel Stories from Osh…
This morning I pooped in a cornfield. Fact.
I realize I dropped a term a few paragraphs back, which may not resonate: jegeet. A jegeet is a male youth, say between the ages of 16 and 30. Jegeet is a term to normally negatively refer to a dude who is too cool for school and maybe even hassles you. If a Western woman gets called out to in this country, it’s normally from a jegeet. I few days ago I had one call out “BOOBIES”. Ok. I also passed one who pulled out “I like Sex”. Good for you, most people think sex is pretty ok. Jegeets in groups can bring bad news, but just one is normally manageable with a simple sneer and hair toss. Though granted it can really piss you off depending…
When Erik and I were having a couple beers at the river bar, some locals at the table next to us called us over and we sat with them, me drinking beer, the rest of them, Erik included shooting vodka and cognac. Ick! Turned out they were police. Not the militia, the police. Which we didn’t know there was a difference. Erik tried asking where their headquarters in Bishkek was. They said that was a secret. May or may not have drank with the Kyrgyz Secret Service.
The cat, Geeta, and her 3 kittens, Ron, Harry and Hermione, are all doing well. Though inexplicably, Geeta decided to move them from their comfortable nest in the crawl space, outside and deep into the rubbish heap. So now they are true garbage cats. I still love them though, and picking fleas off of them makes me feel productive. Today my ata was asking me if I knew anybody who wanted a cat, and I said “Yeah ME!”
Speaking of rubbish heaps, I ended up at a dump during one of my first weeks here. I was with my counterpart in a town outside of Osh for a health event, in which a bunch of old ladies were picking up garbage and generally berating passersby that they should also be cleaning up the garbage. Well once the city was moderately cleaner, the lady organizing it asked if I would go and take pictures of them burning the trash. Now, this is not the time or the place to debate the ethics surrounding trash burning (just FYI, that’s the main way people get rid of trash here, no municipal pick up in KG!). So I said yes, I can do that.
45 minutes later, after bumping along a non-road in a truck older than Stalin, we got out to a dump. Didn’t end up burning the garbage because they didn’t want to light the whole place up. I did get to see a dead cow though. So the trip wasn’t a total waste.
Being in Osh we get a good amount of visitors. Just in the past couple of weeks several volunteers have come down, and we get to have a real reason to go out for dinner! Even better when volunteers come with family from America…guess who pays?
As the days turn a bit cooler I get to wear different clothes!! I’m actually right now wearing tights, a cardigan, and wool socks. The socks are probably overkill, but it’s chilly in my room!
Well I think that is all from me from the great City of Osh. I’m leaving Osh in a couple of days for a two-week cross-Kyrgyzstan adventure. I’ve decided to see more of the country before winter sets in, so I’m heading to [intlink id=”1016″ type=”post”]Toktogul[/intlink], [intlink id=”1018″ type=”post”]Talas[/intlink], Bishkek, and Karakol before attending a training in Cholpon-Ata. So look forward to notes from the road!
Interested in more Kyrgyzstan travel? Well check out more travel blogs from the 4th highest country on earth: [intlink id=”50″ type=”category”]Kyrgyzstan![/intlink]