Updated: Aug 16
I went back to Uzbekistan in June 2023, about 1.5 years later!
This time, I only went for a short trip. Mainly, it was to visit my friend. I stayed two nights in Tashkent, before making my way to Kyrgyzstan, a country that's been high on my list for a while now. Kyrgyzstan is any nature lover's dream!
The short time I had in Uzbekistan was spent eating local cuisine and catching up, not so much exploring the city. It was very hot out as well, so I preferred to be indoors.
I checked in to my hotel in Tashkent, where I would meet the rest of the group before we depart for Kyrgyzstan. I booked a tour with Islamic Travels for the week. I was the first to arrive, as they were coming from Khiva and the flight was set to arrive late at night, since the trip to Kyrgyzstan was an extension to their trip in Uzbekistan.
After breakfast, we headed to the train station and made our way to Kokand.
Here are some important things to note about Kyrgyzstan:
The time zone is 1 hour ahead of Uzbekistan.
The Uzbek sim card will not work, but if it does, it will be treated as roaming.
Customs may ask to inspect your luggage.
You can change money at the border, but it will be helpful to have some Uzbek som.
The train ride to Kokand, from Tashkent took approximately 4 hours. However, we came across very scenic landscapes along the way, which made the journey more pleasant. Kokand is an important trading centre. It is located on the western side of the Fergana Valley. Upon arrival, we briefly visited the Palace of Khudayar Khan (we were running behind on time, so we couldn't go inside) and the Juma Mosque.
We then continued over to Margilan, once an important stop on the Silk Road.
There, we visited Chillakhona, a place where Imam Burhan Uddin (Muslim scholar/author) wrote the book titled "Al-Hidayah" in 13 years.
The first two books he wrote in 90 volumes, but they were burnt when Tartars attacked Transoxiana. His 3rd booked survived (Al Hidayah) and it is a summary of his 90 volumes in 4.
Along the way, we also stopped by the Yodgorlik Silk Factory. Though we reached near closing time, we managed to get a tour of the factory and see how silk is made. The experience was pretty cool, especially after seeing the different designs and patterns possible, by just using your imagination. The techniques we saw are ones that have been passed down from generation to generation.
The border crossing was an interesting process, since I have never crossed a border into another country by land before. Near the border in Uzbekistan, I found a few stalls, where people would sell snacks. There were also a lot of people who were staying by the border. The process was fairly quick, though we had to go through 2-3 different people before we were allowed through. Additionally, they checked the passports at least 5 times along the way.
The next morning, we started our day by visiting a mosque once again It is located on top of a small mountain (called Sulaiman Too) and was originally built a Mughal emperor in 1510. We continued south through the Alay Mountains to the village of Sary Tash.
En route, we encountered some issues with the van and had to stop for a few hours and wait for it to be fixed. As we were in the middle of the mountains, with a breathtaking view, I didn't mind it. We eventually crossed the Taldyk Pass and continued our journey to Tulpar Kol. There, you can find a lake at the base of the Lenin Peak, one of the highest mountains in the Pamir range.
The next morning, I woke up to horses waiting for our group at the camp. After a delicious breakfast spread, we packed our luggage in the vans and hopped on a horse for our hour-long ride along the mountains. This was the highlight of my trip. The horseback riding was also very cheap, costing less than $17 USD (1500 KGS) for more than an hour.
We traversed the Alay Valley and visited the village of Arslanbob, located in the Jalalabad region. We came back to the city (Osh) for dinner and that is where I decided to part ways with the group.
I found the journey from place-to-place to be very long and thus, the days weren't too productive, because we didn't get as much opportunity to make the most of the time, since most of it was spent on the road. Personally, I'd prefer to DIY my own roadtrip through Kyrgyzstan, rather than group travel (specifically for this destination, not necessarily for all destinations, as there some places I'd prefer in a group), so that I can go at my own pace.
I decided to leave at this point as I felt exhausted and bored from the long hours on the road. I had nothing against the group, but perhaps if I had gotten a SIM card, it would have been different. I spent a lot of time sleeping and I felt like I wasn't accomplishing much. I did enjoy the short time I had in Kyrgyzstan and was debating whether or not I should leave. At that point, I took the decision to spend a night in Osh, before booking a flight to Bishkek.
The group was expected to eventually make their way to Bishkek, but first had plans to stop at the Walnut Forest, the Toktogul Reservoir and the Suusamyr Valley. At this point, I knew the ride would be very long and knowing that the washroom was a huge issue (especially since they were very hard to find and/or they were dirty, or one of the hole-in-the-ground). This was also another reason why I thought it'd be better to do my own thing. From Osh, the guide was kind enough to book a taxi (via Yandex GO) for me, to the airport.
Did I know what I was doing at this point? Absolutely not! I got to the airport late at night and by then, most flights were already gone for the night. There was one flight left to Bishkek, but because of the language barrier, it was hard to get a seat on that. The ticketing agent told me the flight was full, while another agent directed me somewhere else in the airport (I wasn't sure where exactly they meant, until later, when I realized they told me to go to the counter where they were checking in).
Alas, I bought a ticket for the first flight out the next day, that would take me to Bishkek. The ticket cost me less than $50 CAD. I was a little worried as it was with an airline (TezJet) I have never heard of before. After doing research, I learned it was one of the airlines banned from the EU, but soon learned that all of Kyrgyzstan's national airlines are banned.
I looked up some hotel options, but because the flight was early morning, I decided to stay the night at the airport. I found the airport to be quite nice, as it was the first time that I had come across an airport that looked like it was in the middle of town. Nearby, there were lots of restaurants, houses and even a mosque, steps away from the terminal. Outside the terminal, there was an area that was blocked off to cars and with lots of benches.
I ended up at the mosque to complete my prayers for the day and then decided to stay there for the night. I only managed to get a 30 minute nap, but at least I was able to relax and enjoy the peace, compared to the noise at the airport, since many people were spending the night.
I arrived in Bishkek a little too late to catch the flight to Istanbul (due to a delay from my original flight), so I had no choice but to spend the night. At this point, I was exhausted, so I just booked a hotel and ordered a taxi. I spent most of the day sleeping and recovering. In the afternoon, I didn't feel like exploring much of the city, but I did go out for a walk and to find some food. I stopped by the grocery store along the way as well, where I met some Indian expats. They were happy to find someone else who speaks English.
My thoughts while wandering the streets of Bishkek was that I felt like I was in Russia. The buildings I came across had a similar design to the pictures of the ones I have seen in Russia.
Kyrgyzstan overall, is an affordable country. Food is cheap and a full meal cost me less than $5 USD, including dessert. The food is the same as Uzbek cuisine, though there are some dishes that are different.
Though I left Kyrgyzstan earlier than planned, I actually enjoyed my time here and fell in love with the beauty of the country, as well as the friendliness of the locals. There were some challenges I faced, especially the language barrier and finding a clean washroom, but other than that, I would love to come back for a visit.
I love the wildness, the remoteness, the way you don't come across many tourists and the natural beauty!
Is Kyrgyzstan on your list? Let me know!