Nothing about the Ferghana Valley is simple. Understanding it, however, is key to understanding Central Asia itself.
Usually, travelers like to hopscotch through the major towns in a day or 3. That’s enough time to get a feel for the place and see the highlights. After that, the urge grows to move on to more spectacular surroundings: Samarkand and Bukhara, the mountains of Kyrgyzstan or the Pamir Highway.
The Ferghana Valley is not spectacular. Its attractions are more subtle, and do not always reveal themselves at first sight. Sure, there are the silk factory of Margilan, the ceramics workshops of Rishton, the knives and skullcaps workshops in Chust, and the colourful monuments in Kokand. Beyond these highlights, though, travel in Ferghana Valley becomes an exploration of overlapping histories; dual lives, languages, identities and loyalties.
Nothing about the Ferghana Valley is simple
In this hot, flat, busy valley, words like qishlak, aryk, chinar (village, irrigation channel, plane tree), bazaar, chaikhana and plov are no longer just fragments of exotic vocabulary. They become a world unto itself.
Of course, its geography is ludicrous. Zigzag borders place most of the Ferghana Valley in Uzbekistan these days, but Osh and Khujand also belong here. Through its diaspora of Ferghanachi, loose ties connect the valley with bazaars in Kabul, Riyadh and Karachi.
When so much of Central Asia seems like a tabula rasa, Ferghana Valley is its palimpsest. If you are the type, you will enjoy scratching away the surface of history (Greeks, Arabs, Persians, Mongols, Turks, Russians, Soviets) and peeling the onion of identity (Kyrgyz, Tajik, Uzbek).
Highlights of Ferghana Valley
If crafts are your thing, the Ferghana Valley is where you ought to be. Margilan is the center of Uzbekistan’s silk weaving industry, and a visit to the factory (to see production) and the bazaar (for shopping) is a must. Rishton is the place where most of Uzbekistan’s stunning ceramics comes from. If you still want more, visit Chust for handmade knives and skullcaps, and Kosonsoy to meet some of the Valley’s best woodworkers.
Kokand is Ferghana Valley’s most attractive city and worth at least a few hours of your time. Ferghana is clean and modern: a good base to visit Margilan and Rishton since those 2 lack decent accommodation options. If Osh is your goal, you can skip Andijan. The 2 are very similar, and Andijan’s famed bazaars are 95% Chinese plastic (like that of Osh).
Namangan, on the other hand, Uzbekistan’s 3rd-biggest city, moves to vibrations that remind more of India, full of colour and dynamism. It’s a culture shock when crossing from neighbouring Kyrgyzstan.
Off the beaten track
If you are the type that likes to stray and wander, you might enjoy the pilgrimage to Shah Fasil Masaar, afterwards relaxing in the hills of the extreme north of the Ferghana Valley. Or you can check out the goings-on in the Ferghana Valley enclaves, especially Shakhimardan.
Nuts about archaeology? You will dig the ruins of Ahsikent and the ancient mummies at Pap.
Find out more about Uzbekistan’s different regions.
- Central Uzbekistan: Bukhara, Samarkand, Khiva and Tashkent. Stay with locals in the Nuratau mountains and Kyzylkum desert.
- Qaraqalpaqstan: Aral Sea, Savitsky museum, and the fortresses of Khorezm.
- The South: Buddhist relics, and a village culture nestled in green uplands to escape the blazing summer heat.