In ancient times, Osh was known as the exact center of the Silk Road. The mountain Salaiman Too in Osh has been a place of pilgramage for centuries and is still a place for prayers.
As you can see in the map below, Osh is at the eastern end of the fertile Fergana Valley, From east to to west, once you reach Osh through the Tian Shan Mountain or Trans Alay Range Mountain passes, we are home free. From Osh you would travel to Andijan, Fergana, Kokand, Khujand (the site of Alexandria Eschate (Alexandria the Farthest) and the Khujand Gates to the Fergana Valley. And on to Samarkind and Bukhara.
Frome west to east, you would need to prepare for mountain ascent in Osh. Because of its favorable geography, for many millenium (See my Civilizations page for a list of the top 25 and more links), Osh has been a transit city where the Great Silk Road entered and left the Feranga Valley.
Osh has survived a number of invasions, most notably from Arabs, Mongols, and Russians. The city was a key prize for their armies and for those of regional khanates and emirates. Its strategic location in the Fergana Valley brought a wide variety of goods from all over the Silk Road.. Osh is still a place where cultures meet, Islam from the west and south, Russia from the north and China to east.
Osh lies on a small plain surrounded by low hills. In the middle of the city, a great rock formation rises and the streets of Osh radiate outward and around the rock. Nearly on top of it is the House of Babur (See my posts here, here and here to learn about the fascinating story of Babur,) the great Central Asian conqueror who eventually took his army as far as India. In the early 16th century, Babur spent time on the rock performing his “Chilla,” or ritual meditation, before he departed for lands to the south. Nearly two millennia before that, foraging parties from the army of Alexander the Great roamed the area. The Khujand Gates form the western boundary of the valley. Alexandria The Farthest is today’s Khujand.
As the region is close to the border with neighboring Uzbekistan, it is in between the conservative, Islamic Fergana Valley in Uzbekistan and the Kyrgyz capital, Bishkek. A decade ago, there were been clashes between ethnic Uzbeks and Kyrgyz in this region (the 2010 riots killed nearly 420 people), but peace has been restored. Oah is a late blooming travel destination.
Osh is different from the Kyrgyz capital, Bishkek. A high mountain range separates it from Bishkek, a far more recent city with a strong Russian influence and contains a large percentage of ethnic Slavic inhabitants. Osh probably never had a large Slavic population. The city is also more religious than Bishkek. There are many impressive mosques in Osh and, especially at night, calls to prayer are sounded throughout the city.
The region is safe and stable, and the people are extremely welcoming and hospitable. In fact, South Kyrgyzstan had far more of a classic Central Asian feel than in the north and you may find a deeper, more immersive experience here than elsewhere in the country.
Osh on the Silk Road
Osh is the second largest city in Kyrgyzstan, located at the eastern end of the Fergana Valley in the south of the country and often referred to as the “capital of the south”.
Osh celebrated its 3,000th anniversary in October, 2000 and is the oldest city in Kyrgyzstan, The ancient Silk Route city continues to occupy a unique place among Central Asia’s ancient towns, The city has an ethnically mixed population of about 255,800 in 2012, comprising Kyrgyz, Uzbeks, Russians, Tajiks, and other smaller ethnic groups. It is about 5 km away from the Uzbekistan border.
Museum Sulaiman Too
Sulaiman Mountain (also known as Taht-I-Suleiman,Sulayman Rock or Sulayman Throne) is the only cultural UNESCO World Heritage Site in the country of Kyrgyzstan. UNESCO also recognizes Silk Roads: the Routes Network of Chang’an-Tianshan Corridor and Western Tien-Shan as World Heritage Sites.
It was once a major place of Muslim and pre-Muslim pilgrimage. The rock rises abruptly from the surrounding plains of the Fergana Valley and is a popular place among locals and visitors, with a splendid view.
According to UNESCO, the mountain is
“the most complete example of a sacred mountain anywhere in Central Asia, worshipped over several millennia”.
UNESCO goes on to say
For more than one and a half millennia, Salaiman was a beacon for travellers revered as a sacred mountain. Its five peaks and slopes contain numerous ancient places of worship and caves with petroglyphs as well as two largely reconstructed 16th century mosques.
One hundred and one sites with petroglyphs representing humans and animals as well as geometrical forms have been indexed in the property so far.
The site numbers 17 places of worship, which are still in use, and many that are not. Dispersed around the mountain peaks they are connected by footpaths. The cult sites are believed to provide cures for barrenness, headaches, and back pain and give the blessing of longevity. Veneration for the mountain blends pre-Islamic and Islamic beliefs. The site is believed to represent the most complete example of a sacred mountain anywhere in Central Asia, worshipped over several millennia.
The site is still a popular place for local Muslims, with stairs leading up to the highest peak where there stands a small mosque originally built by Babur (1483-1530, the founder of the Mughal Dynasty) in 1510. Much of the mosque had been reconstructed in the late 20th century.
Babur (see my blog post) (14 Feb 1483 – 26 Dec 1530), born Zahīr ud-Dīn Muhammad, was the ultimate founder and first Emperor of the Mughal dynasty in the Indian subcontinent. He was a direct descendant of Emperor Tamerlane the Great (Timur) and Genghis Khan himself.
Babur was born in Andijan, today in Uzbekistan and ruled the Fergana Valley from nearby Osh . He pondered his future on Salaiman Mountain atop which he constructed a mosque and concluded that the confines of the Fergana would cramp his aspirations as a descendant of famous conquering warrior princes. He wrote of the Osh:
“There are many sayings about the excellence of Osh. On the southeastern side of the Osh fortress is a well-proportioned mountain called Bara-Koh, where, on its summit, Sultan Mahmud Khan built a pavilion. Farther down, on a spur of the same mountain, I had a porticoed pavilion built in 902 (1496-7)
The original caves of Salaiman Mountain have been extended and lined with gunnite and illuminated with chandeliers and museum provides a history of the people living in Kyrgyzstan over the centuries including the history of the Zoroastrians (See my blog post) who lived here from the third century BCE.
There is plenty of petroglyphs scratched into the rock face. (See my blog post Petroglyphs in Kyrgyzstan for details)
All signage is in Kyrgyz and Russian, so you need to get an English speaking guide to take you around.
From the museum you can walk up a steepish path to the top, where you get a good view over Osh. On the way up, you will see prayer offerings stuck in knitches in the rock.
Museum Salaiman Too History
The museum tells the story of the local people from prehistory through the epic of thee Silk Road to modern times It would not have been fun to meet a bear in this cave in neolithic times.
Osh is undoubtedly one of the oldest cities along the fabled Silk Road and one of Central Asia’s most interesting commercial centers.
The most common answer people in Osh give for believing the city dates back three millennia is the archaeological discovery of a human skull several years ago. Carbon tests showed the skull was some 3,000 years old. For the story of the beginnings of history and the development of pastorialism, agriculture and society see my page Bronze Age in Central Asia.
The museum tells the story of religion through the ages from the perspective of this sacred place starting with the Hall of Shamanism.
Shamanism is a practice that involves a practitioner reaching altered states of consciousness in order to perceive and interact with what they believe to be a spirit world and channel these transcendental energies into this world.
A shaman is someone who is regarded as having access to, and influence in, the world of benevolent and malevolent spirits, who typically enters into a trance state during a ritual, and practices divination and healing.
At the time of the Islamic Conquest, Osh was a Zoroastrian City,. At that time, the people of Osh were Sogdians (see my blog post), under the Sasanian Empire , and the people were part of greater Iran
These peoples have collectively characterized as having been “Zoroastrian” in pre-Islamic times, but in actual hisory, there was an ever-changing mix of local and non-local religious beliefs and practices, drawn largely but not exclusively from an Iranian pool of myths, deities, symbols and rituals.
The Persian-speaking Tajik minorities of Central Asia, who still form the majority of the population in the picturesque Silk Route cities of Samarkand and Bukhara, are living witnesses to the Iranian presence in the heart of Asia which dates back to prehistoric times. To learn more about the predecessor to the three Western Regions, Judaism, Christianity and Islam, and these interesting people click the above links.
At the time of the Islamic Conquest, The Chinese were in charge of Krygyzstan east of the mountains from Osh and the people were Buddhists. The Chinese capital was in Suryam near today’s Tokmok in Chuy Province. The Chinese were fighting the Turks and also battled the Arabs at the time, and alliances were formed a reformed. The Byzantines were also part of global diplomacy and war (diplomacy by other means_ at this time. . (See my posts Protectorate General To Pacifiy the West, Turkic (Göktürks) Khaganate (552 CE –744 CE), Muslim Conquest of Central Asia, Chuy Region and Issyk Kul Region for details.)
Things to Do in Osh
Kurmanjan Datka Statue
Kurmanjan Datka (See my blog post on the heroine of Kyrgystan here) and see the story of the Russian Conquest of Central Asia here) was a Kyrgyz woman and nomadic leader about 100 years ago who is now a national heroine. Not only is there a tall statue of Kurmanjan Datka in the center of Osh city), but the main North-South street that runs the length of the city (parallel with the river) is named after her.
This puts her on par with the ubiquitous Lenin Streets of former Soviet cities of which Osh is no exception to. In fact, Osh is now well regarded as the home of this famous “Queen of the South” who even in black statue form stands tall but remains humble, simply holding a bowl out in service of others. Her statue once stood in the capital, Bishkek, in the days when it was known as Frunze, but when the capital followed suit with other regional cities and disposed of its communist monuments, the great leader was bussed unceremoniously over the mountains to adorn the republic’s second largest city.
This female leader featured on the previous 50-som note also is the star of the 2014 epic Kyrgyz film Kurmanjan Datka (Available for FREE HERE on YouTube with English Subtitles) which is the biggest budgeted Kyrgyz film to date and a world class epic on any scale. Real horse battles, not CGI,. we don’t make epics the way they used to.; Kurmanjan Datka is a modern classic which takes the pretty girl who put herself at risk for justice at the begining of the movie to the creator of a nation (Kyrgyz means forty as in forty tribes) by the end of the movie with much personal sacrifice in between.
Other peoples similar to Kyrgzs are Russian ethniic minorities today, if it were not for the respect Kurmanjan Datka gave to the Russians and the respect the Russians gave to her, Krygyzstan may not have been a independent nation.
Osh New Mosque
The Osh New Mosque is large (by Kyrgyzstan standards). It is a beautiful structure, one of the finest in Kyrgyzstan, but won’t impress if you’re used to seeing more grandiose mosques like those in Istanbul or Uzbekistan. Come here to see some real.
Note that it is a functioning mosque and surrounding cemetery, so be respectful at all times. Do check if you are allowed to enter the building as well as be in appropriate clothing
Osh today remains a great commercial center, with one of the largest bazaars in all of Central Asia. Originally three separate markets that eventually grew into one massive bazaar, there is almost nothing which cannot be purchased in Osh. Fruits, vegetables, meat, dairy products, car parts, radios, televisions, clothing, soap, livestock, and much more are on sale here. The bazaar bustles with activity, innumerable smells filling the air.
Osh is also perhaps the most heterogeneous city in the Fergana Valley, with a mixture of Uzbeks, Tajiks, and Kyrgyz. Everywhere, the square, black skull caps — or tebeteikas — worn by the Uzbeks and Tajiks mingle with the conical caps — or kalpaks — of the Kyrgyz.
Osh is a lively place with the largest and most crowded outdoor market in Central Asia which stretches for kilometers along the both sides of the Ak-Bura River north of town center. There are several small bridges to cross the river. It was a major market along the Silk Road and is now named the Great Silk Road Baazar in reference to its historical importance.
Unlike in many other markets around the world, there is no harassment and the prices are very honest, you will not feel like being ripped off. Everything you could wish for is here, from food products, clothing, household goods, textiles, souvenirs and even a cattle market.. Perfect place to wander around for a few hours and buy souvenirs or dinner and to have a chat with the locals.
It is lots of fun to do a street food crawl, just as you see in Mark Weins Migrationology (YouTube) or The Food Ranger (YouTube Videos. Go there to see the local life and for the delicious food in the eatery near the mid section of the bazaar.
The Plov and Vegetable soup is fantastic!
Seasonal vegetables and fruits look particularly appetizing in summer: juicy red and yellow apples, sappy peaches, sweet grapes, grown under the generous eastern sun, yellow melon and striped watermelons.
There is also a variety of spices and dried fruits and nuts: dried raisins of different grape varieties, apricots, dates, pistachios, walnuts, almonds and peanuts – sold directly from the huge bags.
Delicious fruits from the fertile Feranga Valley are for sale.
Let’s talk about vegetables and bread, Osh is the breadbasket of Krygyzstan, it is warmer with a longer growing seaason than the rest of the country which can be cold wind swpet steppe as early as September.
Jayma Bazaar is a working market designed to meet the local people’s needs, come emerse yourself it a do it yourself culture.
Jayma Bazaar Shopping
This is the place to buy the Krygyz National hat, the Kalpac, the Kyrgyz national instrument, the Komuz and all kinds of textiles and gifts galore from the Silk Road.
Try out the free self-guided audio tour for Jayma bazaar on smartphone app ‘IziTravel’. Downloadable to one’s phone, it guides the visitor thru the maze-like bazaar while providing informative and humorous narrative on the market and highlighted attractions. Awesome way to visit the market with a customized audiotour!!!
Kalpac – Calpack, calpac, kalpac, kalpak, or qalpaq (from Turkish: kalpak Kyrgyz: калпак, is a high-crownedcap (usually made of felt or sheepskin) While it is worn by men in Turkey, Ukraine, the Balkans and throughout Central Asia and the Caucasus, the Kalpac is a symbol os Krygyz men and is a great gift to bring home.
The kalpak is used to keep the head warm in winter and shade out the sun during summer. There are different kalpaks for different seasons, with kalpaks used in winter being thicker and the ones used in summer being thinner but broader for shading purposes.
There are many styles of kalpak. They usually can be folded flat for keeping or carrying when not being worn. The brim can be turned up all the way around. Sometimes there is a cut in the brim so that a two-pointed peak can be formed. Plain white ones are often reserved for festivals and special occasions. Those intended for everyday use may have a black velvet lining. In the Turkic cultures of central Asia, they have a sharp tapering to resemble a mountain, rather than the cyndrical kalpaks of Turkey.
In some languages (Russian and Persian), the word is also used for hubcap (for a car wheel’s hub; see also the Wiktionary entry hubcap).
Textiles are the finest quality
The komuz or qomuz (Kyrgyz: комуз [qoˈmuz]), is an ancient fretless string instrument used in Central Asian music, related to certain other Turkic string instruments and the lute.
It is the best-known national instrument and one of the better-known Kyrgyz national symbols. The komuz is generally made from a single piece of wood (usually apricot or juniper) and has three strings traditionally made out of gut, and often from fishing line in modern times. In the most common tunings the middle string is the highest in pitch. Virtuosos frequently play the komuz in a variety of different positions; over the shoulder, between the knees and upside down. An illustration of a komuz is featured on the reverse of the one-som note.
The komuz can be used either as accompaniment or as a lead instrument and is used in a wide variety of musical styles including aytysh (a song competition between akyns) and the recitation of epics. It is generally played seated, held horizontally and may be strummed or plucked. One piece (“mash botoy”) consists of a simple tune repeated many times, each with a new stroke, as a test of the performer’s skill and creativity. The komuz has many different tunings, and the names of the tunings correspond with various styles of music
351 Lenin Avenue
All the products are natural, souvenirs, bags, accessories made of felt. The jams and honeys are a real treat.. The handiwork in this store and handmade good are very high quality and very practical. Meticulous selections and amazing taste. Most if not all products are made ethnically and are socially/environmentally responsible, there are stories and origins of most items. It’s a great place to shop for yourself and for gifts that bring home.
244 Kurmanjan Datka Street
If you’re looking to buy quality Kyrgyz handicrafts made by local artisans, stop by the Saimaluu Tash Art Gallery. Although many of the designs, fabrics and embroideries are traditional (from both Uzbek and Kyrgyz cultures), they are often displayed and presented in modern and unique ways. In addition to larger wall hangings, weavings and embroideries, there are also many handbags, pillows, dolls, hats, and other smaller items. You’ll want to take them all with you!
The Diary of Young Explorers: The City of Osh, Kyrgyzstan – UNESCO – The Diary of Young Explorers is a collection of travel accounts from Ankur, Giulio, and Caspar, who are documenting their experiences while journeying from Venice, Italy to Xi’an, China. You can read the introduction to their adventure here
The Osh settlement : on the history of Ferghana in the late bronze age / J.A. Zadneprovskij., (I͡Uriĭ Aleksandrovich)Zadneprovskiĭ,
Published in English: Bishkek :State direction Osh-3000,2000.
Salaiman-Too Sacred Mountain – UNESCO World Heritage Site
Things to Do in Osh TripAdvisor
Traveling South Kyrgystan – Wild Junket