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We were all excited to get on the road in the morning, since it meant a hotel and our first proper shower in almost a week. The truck rolled through hours of farmland, continuing West towards the city of Osh , the second largest city in Kyrgyzstan and one of the oldest, with roots back to the 8th century Silk Road . Driving into Osh was like stepping into another world. After a week of yurts, tiny towns and farms, we were back among busses and traffic. Even more interesting was how people’s faces and dress had changed. Osh is home to a very large Uzbek population, a culture much different than the Kyrgyz. Mixed among the typical Kyrgyz men in felt hats were Uzbek men in Muslim caps, women in headscarves and rows of gold teeth. The city has experienced its share of racial tension, most recently a series of riots in the 90’s. If the ‘stans is the meeting point of north meets south meets east meets west, Osh is its very center.

And in the center of Osh lies Sulayman Mountain. This rocky hill is the only site in Kyrgyzstan on UNESCO's world heritage list and a Muslim pilgrimage site for centuries. It is said to form the shape of a reclining woman, our local guide told us it’s tradition for women to slide down a polished section of rock once for each child they hope to bear. My immediate reaction was to wonder if I could ensure myself against fertility by clambering up the slide backwards?

Mid day we pulled into our hotel just outside the city center and enjoyed a blissful shower. We were given the option of climbing up the hill to visit the pilgrimage site, or wandering off to the legendary bazaar on our own. Myself and a few girls from the group decided to head to the bazaar, deciding against the walk up the hill in the 100+ degree heat. We hopped in a local “taxi” which we gathered was just a friend of the front desk attendant, and sped off through the city to the base of the mountain. For some reason every taxi driver in central Asia assumes if you’re young and western you’d prefer it if the taxi had the ambience of a disco, with blaring dance music and everyone chain smoking inside the car.

Word's cutest puppy - resident of our hotel

At the bazaar we wandered aimlessly for a good few hours. It’s one of the largest in central Asia , and it was easy to get lost in the endless labyrinth of booths that we only loosely clustered in categories. We found the main meat section, spices, fruit, scarves, shoes and rugs. We wandered outside the bazaar and back inside, only able to use the looming mountain as a compass. It was really a fantastic place, so long as you didn’t need to find something specific in a hurry. My favorite moment was coming around a corner and realizing the sound had changed. It took me a moment to realize it was because suddenly you only heard women’s voices. We had blundered into the jewelry department, populated by rows of women on benches displaying their wares in little fold-out displays and chatting busily with their neighbors.

We decided to walk back to the hotel, in hopes of taking in more of the city sites and stopping at a craft shop mentioned in the Lonely Planet. The Lonely Planet quickly became known as the “Lonely Liar” on this trip, and it’s map and description of Osh proved no exception with mislabeled streets and widely differing price ranges. The craft shop no longer existed and looked to be slated for demolition. But we did enjoy a leisurely walk home, stopping for delicious kabobs in a restaurant in a park, chatting with locals and watching groups of men washing their cars and women washing their rugs in a local river.

We returned to the hotel and jumped in another disco taxi to spend an hour checking email at an internet café. Upon leaving it decided to poor rain and we ran to a local restaurant for dinner. The roof leaked horribly and we had to arrange ourselves around buckets and streams of water, but it was a fun way to spend our last evening in Kyrgyzstan . We returned to the hotel were we rid ourselves of our last bits of Kyrgyz money on vodka and juice, ensuring we’d all be a bit fuzzy for the dreaded border crossing into Uzbekistan in the morning.
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May 2017

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