Outside of a few well-known places, Southern Kyrgyzstan is still terra incognita to the traveling community.
Osh & Kyrgyz Ferghana Valley
Wrapped around the borders of Uzbekistan and Tajikistan, the Kyrgyz part of the Ferghana Valley is the antithesis of Kyrgyzstan’s brand image: hot, flat, and not a yurt in sight. There is still a large Uzbek population living here (although their relative number is declining). Farmers and traders rather than shepherds, their culture is at odds with Kyrgyz identity.
The capital of southern Kyrgyzstan is Osh. It is a provincial town, and its big bazaar is not as interesting as some make it out to be. It is, however, a city with a certain, un-immediate charm, and an interesting history, both recent and ancient.
North of Osh
North of Osh lie 2 cities of minor interest: Jalalabad has hot springs and a sanatorium, while Uzgen holds an ancient minaret and mausoleum worth a stop-over.
A bit higher still, edging into the mountains bordering the valley, lies Arslanbob. If there is something like a tourist trail in Kyrgyzstan, Arslanbob is definitely on it, and deservedly so: it is a wonderful place.
Located at the edge of the biggest walnut forest in the world, Arslanbob has good hiking and ski touring opportunities. But perhaps its biggest asset is its homestay network, delighting visitors with the Uzbek village hospitality so difficult to sample in Uzbekistan itself because of restrictive laws.
Batken province, the western tail-end of Kyrgyzstan, is known either as “that place you need to go through to get to Tajikistan”, or, “where they have those mad enclaves“.
There is, however, something to see. You can try spotting lynx, brown bears and maral in Surmatash and Sarkent national parks. Chyragdan, Djan-Chakty, Khaidarken and Sulyukta are the names of botanical reserves protecting rare species of tulip. Finding the endemic Aigul flower has become an expat rite of passage in Kyrgyzstan.
Alay, Trans-Alay and Pamir-Alay: all terms to describe the landscape where the Pamir and Tien Shan meet. High, remote, forbidding mountains that separate Kyrgyzstan from China and Tajikistan.
The Alay range has world-class climbing opportunities everywhere you look, but Peak Lenin, at 7134 m, is the logical focal point. At the foot of the mountain, the Achik Tash base camp services climbers going up. Achik Tash is also the main start-off point for any organised trekking or horse riding tours in the Alay range.
Birdwatchers, botanists and zoologists will delight as well; the wild nature of the Alay region means this is a haven for rare species of plants and animals.
To get across the mountains to Naryn, you need to take the road between Jalalabad and Naryn. Although its surfaces are terrible, it still ranks as one of the best drives in Kyrgyzstan. The views are wonderful.
The road north towards Bishkek is the other main scenic drive in Kyrgyzstan.
China, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan
South is Tajikistan. Turn south off the road to China to head straight into the high Pamirs. West from Osh lies the hot and muggy Sughd region of Khujand. It is the quickest way to the Fann mountains and Dushanbe.
More of Kyrgyzstan
- Issyk-Kul region: Issyk-Kul and the mountains surrounding it have everything you need for a great outdoor holiday with a cultural touch.
- The North: Bishkek and the mountains around. No one goes to Talas (yet).
- The Center: A huge mountainous area. Song Kul is the star attraction. Beyond, much more mountains, lakes, yurts and jailoos.