Saturday, 29 June 2013

A winter in Osh - Kyrgyzstan

For over 2,000 years Osh has been a landmark of Central Asia.  Alexander the Great passed through on his way towards India and it was a key trading centre on the Silk Road. It is also one of the few cities left from the old days that retains its statue of Lenin in the central square.

Osh is a gateway to the Pamir Highway that leads to Kherog in Tajikistan and then finally on to Dushambe. It is an epic journey.

I have since been back many times but that first winter in the early 90's was a real shock after Africa. The cold and wind chill ensured every field trip required careful planning.

The old order had departed back to the Russian Federation taking its expertise and Kyrgyzstan existed in a surreal twilight zone, quite unsure of what was going to happen next. 

People made the best of a difficult time. Dances were held in the Hotel Osh. The heating had failed and in that sub zero freezer, people danced dressed in thick fur coats and hats. Stalls out in the snow sold shashliks and plov and champanski and beer. Soft drinks and beer were hopeless as they froze in the bottle before you could swallow them. Some local vodkas were drinkable, but many tasted suspiciously of diluted diesel.

Above Osh is the Sulayman Mountain, Kyrgyzstan's only world heritage site. A mosque on the top was built by Babur a decendant of Tamerlane. Streams of ribbons attached to branches mark the way to the top, left to invoke prayers and wishes, particularly by women hoping for children.

On top of the Sulayman Mountain
Osh Market is one of the biggest in Central Asia and that winter it was encased in thick ice which made staying upright virtually impossible.

The crowd was so dense it was also virtually impossible to fall over, so when you began to slide it was a human version of pin ball as with increasing speed you bounced off the Kyrgyz around you until someone would grab hold until you regained your balance. Most fruit were  seasonally available and non existent in winter. The pickled variety for winter consumption left a lot to be desired.
Bus stop in the shape of the national hat
When spring arrived the city was transformed into a carpet of blossom. The snows finally melted and travel into the surrounding mountains was at last possible.