Enclaves and exclaves in the Ferghana Valley divided between Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan and Tajikistan are volatile. Violent border clashes are common because of growing populations, a lack of resources and a lack of clarity over who owns what.
Since the change of power in Uzbekistan in 2016, some progress has been made in delineating the border, opening border crossings and land swaps. At the same time, it became clear that there is still a very long way to go before this issue is resolved. In the meantime, people continue getting wounded or even killed with depressing regularity.
In the past, there were worries that you might accidentally end up in such an enclave and get into trouble with border guards. These days, that is no longer a problem. Roads have been re-routed and you won’t suddenly stumble into Uzbekistan or Tajikistan if you stay on the main road out of Osh.
More interesting these days is trying to get into these enclaves. Previously, few would consider it, since it would require several expensive multi-entry visas. But these days, a lot of travelers get to travel visa-free in Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan. The enclaves are interesting destinations for border fanatics, conflict researchers and landscape enthusiasts.
Where are the enclaves?
Central Asia has 7 enclaves (they are also all exclaves, if you want to get technical). Tajikistan has 3 exclaves within Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan:
Uzbekistan has 4 exclaves within Kyrgyzstan:
Sarvan, Kaygarach, Qalacha and Jangyy-Ayyl are really tiny and not of particular interest. Vorukh, Sokh and Shohimardon warrant a closer look. All 3 are located in Batken province, at the edge of Kyrgyzstan’s lower jaw.
Shohimardon (we are using the Uzbek name; the Russian name Shakhimardan is still more common) is a popular resort and place of pilgrimage for locals. The surrounding mountains are picturesque and cool in summer, ideal to escape the stifling heat on the plains. If you are a sanatorium-fan like us: Shohimardon has several.
Pilgrims believe that Ali, fourth caliph and son-in-law of Muhammed himself, was buried here (everybody else believes he is buried in Najaf, Iraq). The old shrine was destroyed in the 1920s by Soviet zealots. A new shrine was built on the same place in 1993.
It should be an interesting destination for travelers. Visa restrictions have largely been lifted and the enclave does not suffer from the conflicts that burden Sokh and Vorukh. But we haven’t heard of anyone doing it so far.
We do have a forum thread on visiting Shohimardon. Chime in if you have news. In the meantime, you can watch a sentimental love story shot in the area in 1984: The Bride of Vodil (Russian language, no subtitles – Youtube / Odnoklassniki)
We keep updates about the situation in Vorukh in our Isfara travel guide. In short: it’s a beautiful place, but the situation is tense, and you may or may not need a permit to get in.
Together with Kokand, Sokh was one of the centres of the Basmachi uprising from 1918 to 1924. At that time Sokh was still directly connected with Uzbekistan. In 1955 Moscow annexed most of the northern section to the then Soviet republic of Kyrgyzstan. Since then, Sokh has been an exclave within Kyrgyzstan.
We are not sure how easy or difficult it is to get into Sokh for a foreigner. The Economist says it’s not possible to go directly via Rishton, so you should try via Kyrgyzstan. No further info so far.
Fun fact: despite being a part of Uzbekistani territory and being surrounded by Kyrgyzstan, the population of Sokh is mostly Tajik.