Fergana (Fargʻona in Uzbek) was built by Tsarist forces at the heart of the Fergana valley, at the end of the 19th century. Although there are no clear tourist highlights, its central location and good choice of hotels and restaurants makes Fergana the best place to base yourself if you are planning day trips to nearby Rishtan, Kokand and Margilan.
On top of that, with its wide, tree-lined boulevards and Tsarist-era buildings, and Russian spoken frequently on the streets, the city has a distinctly different feel from the rest of the region. A bit removed from the tourist trail, you can participate in Fergana’s daily life at the bazaar and the central park, and delve into history at stately edifices from colonial times.
During the Russian conquest of Central Asia, general Mikhail Skobelev established a regional capital in Fergana on a swamp adjacent to the historic city of Margilon, known first as New Margilan. Skobelev drained the swamp, planned wide thoroughfares, and planted the sycamore (chinor) trees which would later become the symbol of the city. Skobelev’s trees can still be seen on streets to the north and west of the central park, but the trees to the south and east of the center were cut down in the mid-2000s, much to the dismay of local residents (and anyone trying to walk Fergana between May and October).
With the establishment of Fergana as the regional Russian Tsarist capital, Russians settlers started to immigrate. During Soviet times, Stalinist policies of forced migration brought Koreans, Tatars and Poles to Fergana. A small community of Volga Germans settled in neighboring Kirgily after the second World War.
After the breakup of the Soviet Union, most of these ethnic groups have emigrated. However, a sizable population of ethnic Russians remains, a few ethnic Koreans still sell kimchee at the bazaar, and once a week on Thursday a lone Volga German plays piano at Pub #1 restaurant and bar.
Things to see and do
This teeming complex is where most local people do their weekly shopping. Shopping is synonymous with the bazaar in Uzbek culture, so much so that the word for shopping is bazar qilmoq, or, ‘to do bazaar’. Prices for produce can be cheaper at the bazaar, but discounts require bargaining and buying in bulk.
The bazaar runs from Usmona Yusupova street in the east to Yoshik street in the west, and at its widest point, from Dodho street in the south to Tadbirkolar street in the north. It’s split into 2 main sections: the food section, to the west of Hamza Hakimzade street, and the clothing section, to the east of Hamza Hakimzade. Don’t miss the bakery, situated on the west side of the food bazaar near the fruit vendors. Here you’ll see bakers pull out the round Uzbek bread on long paddles from flaming tadir ovens.
The food bazaar is worth a trip if only to enjoy the pungency of the smells. There’s the fresh baked bread of the bakery, the ripening fruit, the vinegar and dill of the kimchee and pickles, the fresh greens section, overflowing in the spring with basil, dill, and parsley, and the sharp sting of cumin. Goods are stocked by hand-drawn carts, the pilots yelling Bosh! Bosh! to clear a path through the crowds.
The clothing section sells mostly Chinese manufactured shoes, jeans, shirts, and suits. Although there is a section of local atlas and adras, if you are looking to buy silk, your first port of call should be the fabric bazaar in Margilon, the Fergana clothing bazaar is for your everyday school and office wear.
Russian colonial architecture
Examples of Russian colonial architecture exist in varying states of repair around town. One of the finest is General Skobelev’s mansion at the southern end of the central park (Gmaps). Although it maintains much of its original exterior, the architectural unity is disrupted by large green corrugated metal panels on the roof, ostensibly used to hide vents.
Other examples of colonial architecture are the former women’s school located in the middle of the park, and the brick office of the rector of Fergana State University.
Fergana State University
The campus’ oldest and most ornate building (Gmaps) houses the offices of the rector and administrators, and is a beautiful example of colonial Russian brickwork. Upstairs a tiny museum deals with political oppression (pre-independence oppression, that is); tours are available upon request from the staff at the university.
Like all regional museums in Central Asia, Fergana’s city museum (Gmaps) is not a must. Exhibits follow the classic chronological Soviet scheme . First comes geography: a topographic map, a diorama of the valley’s flora and fauna, and samples of the valley’s mineral resources. We then get the story of the Russian conquest, with Skobelev’s original office furniture intact, and it finishes off with pictures of President Mirziyoyev meeting various foreign dignitaries, and a showcase of the technology and industry of modern Uzbekistan.
There is some English signage, which while not perfect, can communicate the general idea of the exhibits. Guides are available in Russian and Uzbek.
The city park
The city park (Gmaps) covers an expansive swath of the center of the city. One part has been renovated and is now exposed to the elements, a statue of the medieval astronomer Al-Ferghani overlooking an empty square. Fortunately, the noisy amusement area, with rickety roller coasters, shooting galleries, and shell-game hustling teenagers is still shaded by old trees.
The canal promenade behind Al Ferghani’s flowing robe is a popular rendezvous for amorous couples. Test your nerves riding the Ferris wheel on the west side of the park and be rewarded with a commanding vista stretching towards the Alay mountains of Kyrgyzstan. Around New Year, a ‘New Year tree’ is erected in the fountain of the park’s center, decorated with lights and ornaments, and enjoyed by promenading families.
The most efficient way to get around the valley is by shared taxi. With the exception of the taxis to Tashkent, which are caught on the road leading out of town, local taxis can be caught from in and around the bazaar, with each regional location having a different corner where taxis will congregate.
Walk around and say the city you want to go to, and drivers will point you to the right place. For a seat in a shared taxi, a general rule of thumb is about 15000 – 25000 som for one hour, but be prepared to bargain. You are not guaranteed the front seat, as that seat is often reserved for the oldest, and usually male, traveler, but use your foreigner privilege – you are a guest, and you can break the rules of Uzbek patriarchy.
Taxi stands for:
- Tashkent: 70000 som, 5 hours (Gmaps)
- Rishtan: 15000 som, 30 minutes (Gmaps)
- Kokand: 25000 som, 1 hour (Gmaps)
- Namangan: 25000 som, 1 hour (Gmaps)
- Andijon: 25000 som, 75 minutes (Gmaps)
- Kyrgyz border: 50000 som, 2 hours (Gmaps)
Although Fergana has 2 train stations, these only serve freight. The nearest passenger train station is in Margilon, a 20 minute (12000 som) taxi ride away. The train line starts in Andijon, making stops in Margilon, Kokand, Pop and Tashkent. An economy class ticket from Margilon to Tashkent costs around 70 000 som if purchased online, and 55 000 som if purchased at the train ticket office in the bazaar (Gmaps).
Fergana has an international airport with flights to half a dozen cities in Russia (Flightradar overview), as well as several flights per week connect with Tashkent for ~$30.
There is a good choice of accommodation in Fergana these days, with even hostel beds available now for budget travelers. The apartment rental industry is still fledgling, but sure to boom in the next few years. The map below is centered on the bazaar where you can eat, shop and find transport.
For a long time, Valentina’s was the only budget place in town, but although her personality and breakfasts are still irrepressible, her apartment is cramped and in need of an update. Newer hotels offer better value for money.
The best place in town is Sakura Inn: it is impeccably clean, well-designed, with a top location close to public transport and the bazaar, and free breakfast. Status House offers almost the same standards, is a tiny bit further away from the center, but also a bit cheaper.
Minimalist is a pleasant option, but only in winter: it lacks aircon.
Mid-range / high-end
If you are looking for more luxury and privacy, Asia Hotel has the best offer in town, at very reasonable prices. The large breakfast buffet is varied and tasty. Amenities include indoor and outdoor pools, a sauna and gym. The rooms are large, clean and smell fresh. The staff is sadly a bit suppressed in their typically buoyant hospitality in an effort to convey luxury, but Donyor the manager speaks English well, and can help arrange tours.
The Grand Fergana is new since 2019. Rooms are spacious and modern, but the location is not ideal, and there is no swimming pool.
Due to its historical diversity, Fergana is the only place in the valley where food goes beyond the narrow confines of modern Uzbek cuisine. Alcohol is easier to find than in the more conservative cities of Namangan and Andijon, and during the summer, nearly every street boasts a shashlik (grilled meat) restaurant with draft beer and outdoor seating. In the winter many of these shut down, and the dining culture moves indoors to the cozy private rooms of the chaikhana.
Traktir (Gmaps) has great ambiance, reliable wifi, cozy wood-paneling and English-language menus. It serves pizza, pastas, steak, burgers, salads, and most importantly, beer on tap. Emirates (Gmaps) serves up high quality and consistent Turkish food in a clean and open restaurant. A welcome respite from oily Uzbek cuisine, most of the food is either grilled or baked.
The rest of Fergana’s restaurants serve Uzbek food. Ohu (Gmaps) is the stand-out in this category.
The basement of the Taj Mahal hotel (Gmaps) houses Fergana’s most lively nightclub. Expect loud music, mirrors, and disco balls; come to dance and not to talk. The most crowded nights are Friday and Saturday, and most patrons are male. Closes at 11.
Fergana’s after-hours night club, Seoul (Gmaps) will serve alcohol until people stop buying, which during Uzbek holidays can be until dawn. Weekends often host live singers of Uzbek and Russian pop songs. Private karaoke rooms available.