Perched in the mountains at the end of the Fergana Valley, on the border with Uzbekistan, Osh is one of the Silk Roads’ oldest and most famous market towns and is Kyrgyzstan's most ancient city – dating back some 3,000 years. The city’s historical success a center of trade can, in part, be explained by its position along Kyrgyzstan’s borders with Uzbekistan and Tajikistan: a border that is largely impenetrable due to its mountainous terrain.
For traders along the Silk Roads, Osh was a crossroads and an important center of production in its own right. For us, Osh was an oasis at the end of a long drive through the Fergana Valley; a chance to rest, resupply and immerse ourselves in this multicultural traveler’s haven.
Heralded as a charmed and cultured place, rich in fruit and nut forests, Osh flourished during the most prosperous periods of the Silk Road being used. Sulaiman-Too Mountain (a UNESCO World Heritage Site) dominates Osh. Here one can find the ‘throne of Solomon’ and atop which an ancient mosque was built by the Central Asian emperor Babur. While Osh has not been immune to conflict and tragedy, being razed to the ground several times, including by Genghis Khan, the city remains a vibrant town and a center of trade in the region. Today, the city blends Soviet architecture with older Kyrgyz buildings and tree-lined boulevards, filled out by small wooden houses which resemble those in Uzbekistan’s Fergana Valley.
At the same place along the banks of the Syr-Darya river, in the center of Osh, one can find the city of Osh’s famous bazaar, exactly where it would have first been held over 2,000 years ago. Filled with tin structures and cavernous stalls, the height of the buildings in the market is much lower than the structures making up the surrounding town. Such characteristics allow one to look out over the market and admire the city – just as one would have done throughout the city’s past. A walk through the narrow maze of the bazaar’s alleyways is a unique experience: while the smells and sights of goods may overwhelm the senses, the marketplace is surprisingly quiet and calm.
As we meandered through the Osh bazaar we sought to stock up on foods and replace some of our now-fading electrical kit and clothes; we were not disappointed. The market has almost everything the tired traveler seeks and remains the vibrant center of Osh, with locals selling goods, catching up with their neighbors, mending items, and even just simply relaxing, playing ping-pong or billiards. We were able to sample some of the local delicacies and yet again deploy our fast-developing bargaining skills.
Of particular interest to us was the diversity of the people in the Osh bazaar. Traders from around Kyrgyzstan, Russia, Uzbekistan and China, facilitated by the multiple train stations in the surrounding area, congregate here to sell their wares. Meanwhile, visitors from around the world wind their way through the bustling stalls. The mix of languages, foods, and goods in the Osh bazaar offers a perfect sense of the seamless integration of cultures that takes place along the Silk Roads just as it has for generations past.
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