Back home … temporarily
Tashkent (Uzbekistan) to Bishkek (Kyrgyzstan), April 2013

The Fergana Valley in the eastern part of Uzbekistan is probably not the most beautiful part of the country. But still we decided to spend some time over here. The ministry of foreign affairs in The Netherlands advised traveller not to travel to this part of the country, because of ethnic tensions. But if you have to believe all they say, there aren’t a lot of countries left in the world where you can go. We are always wondering if the Dutch government is also warning people against travelling to some parts of Amsterdam, because these parts of the city are definitely much more dangerous than travelling in the Fergana Valley. Probably not. Because it would not only be politically incorrect, but it would also mean that they admit that they don’t have the situation under control in their own capital. So we went, and we had a great time (see also the photo impression about the Fergana Valley).

Like we said, the Fergana Valley is definitely not the most beautiful part of the country. It is flat and consists mainly of agricultural fields. The Fergana Valley is indeed a valley, but you never really get the feeling that you are in a valley. The valley is too big, which means that you rarely see the mountains that surround the valley. The town Kokand is historically seen the most interesting place in the valley. Some old medressas survived, but the palace of the Khan eventually made the biggest impression on us. Fergana City is in our opinion the most comfortable place to stay in the valley. It has some good places to stay, nice places to eat or drink tea, and a great park to mingle with the locals. Fergana City can be used as a base for visits to other places in the valley. In Fergana City we also met a group of young students who invited us to join their English debating class. It was a great experience to exchange opinions, information and ideas with a group of 25 Uzbek teenagers. We discussed many subjects, from local traditions and food, to living together before marriage and finding a partner for life. One of the best excursions you can make from Fergana City is a visit to the Kumtepa Bazaar in nearby Margilon. This huge local bazaar, which is especially active on Sunday, is a perfect way to get a feeling about how traditional bazaar life in this part of the world. People from many ethnic groups, of which most still use traditional cloths, come to the market to buy or sell products. Some people argue that this is the best market in Central Asia, also due to the fact that not many foreigners make it this far.

Debating club in Fergana

Our third destination in the Fergana Valley was Andijon. The recent history of this town is horrifying. Andijon is seen as the most spiritual (Islamic) city in the country, and when in 2005 the national government was of the opinion that the city was spiritualizing too much, they arrested a dozen of the religious leaders. Many people went to the streets to demand for their release, and as a result the government used excessive violence to stop the protests. Some people say that almost a thousand people lost their lives. The western world ‘demanded’ for a independent investigation, but Uzbekistan’s powerful president, who doesn’t like democracy or foreign interference, did not comply with this demand. The west decided to boycott Uzbekistan for a while, but eventually lifted all sanctions. Travellers to Andijon aren’t probably noticing any of these fairly recent problems. It seems that there are still some tensions under the surface, but they are unnoticeable for us. It is peaceful now, and let’s hope it will stay this way. Andijon also has a great market. It is called Jahon Bazaar and is located in the outskirts of town.

A short ride took us from Andijon to the Kyrgyz border. For the first time in several months, we didn’t need a pre-arranged visa to enter a country. Kyrgyzstan wants to attract more tourists and for this reason they decided to make it easier to visit the country. Most nationalities can nowadays stay for 60 days without a visa. The formalities at the border went smooth, and an hour later we were in Kyrgyzstan, on our way to nearby Osh. Osh is Kyrgyzstan’s Silk Road city and is a great place to spend a few days (see also the article about Osh). But also the recent history of the second biggest city in Kyrgyzstan isn’t that rosy. This part of Kyrgyzstan inhabits different ethnic groups. The biggest groups are the Uzbeks and the Kyrgyz. It seems that there is some tension between these major groups, and once in a while this leads to violence, like in 1990 and more recent in 2010, when hundreds of people lost their lives. Most people say that it is the result of border politics during the Soviet times. Joseph Stalin redrew the borders in this region several times, just to minimize the power of ethnic groups. The Fergana Valley is nowadays divided between two countries; Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan. Osh is also part of the Fergana Valley, but is located in Kyrgyzstan. This means that many Uzbeks, who nowadays live in Kyrgyzstan, are ethnically still focussed on the Uzbek part of the Fergana Valley. When we were in Osh the situation was quiet again, but you never know what the future will bring.

Local produce for sale in Andijon
On our way north to Bishkek, where we wanted to arrange our Tajik visa, we brought a visit to the small mountain village Arslanbob (see also our article about Arslanbob). This is a great destination to experience traditional village life. Bishkek is so much different from the south part of Kyrgyzstan. The Kyrgyz capital, with a lot of Russian influence, is a leafy and comfortable city. Most travellers spent some time here to arrange onward visas. It seems to be the best place in the region. However, the travellers who tried to get an Iranian, Chinese or Azerbaijan visa had some hard times. In the guesthouse where we stayed in Bishkek, we also met an adventurous French couple who were on their way with a Toyota Land Cruiser to Kamchatka. The jeep was prepared for travelling in extreme climates (up to -55 degrees Celsius). See also their website (in French only): We talked with them about travelling by jeep and they made us very enthusiastic. Of course, we will never travel the way they do, but the freedom that a car gives you is fantastic. And as you probably know, we have a Land Cruiser in The Netherlands. So we decided to go home. Not for a long time, but just to pick up our Land Cruiser. To be continued.
Waiting for the shared taxi to fill up in Andijon on our way to the border with Kyrgyzstan
Female merchants on Osh's bazaar in Kyrgyzstan
Sunday is the busiest day on Osh's bazaar
Central square in Arslanbob from where all transport leaves

Hiking possibilities are great in the Arslanbob area

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