With a population of over 500 000 people, Namangan is Uzbekistan’s third-biggest city. Lacking the big draws of Uzbekistan’s more famous names, it offers instead a colourful and hectic atmosphere that is unique in the region; it is quite the shocker if you just crossed the border from quiet Kyrgyzstan. Besides large-scale textile manufacturing, big investors like Coca-Cola and Nestle have built up the area’s food industry in recent years, and the city continues to grow at a rapid pace.
The Ferghana Valley is known as the most religious part of Uzbekistan and Namangan is doubly so. Some women dress and behave differently here, and men’s religious fervour made the area a hotbed for opposition against the government.
Beyond the city, the mountains that form the border with Kyrgyzstan give birth to cool creeks passing through dusty villages, giving some oxygen to the ramshackle tea houses that are built over them. Slow travelers looking for a different side to Uzbekistan will find the Namangan area is just what they were looking for.
Things to see and do
Bazaar and Babur Park
The Chorsu bazaar is Uzbekistan’s largest inner-city bazaar, overflowing with vegetables from the wider Ferghana Valley and blocked off by a perennial traffic jam of Damas minibuses. Like any good bazaar, it is at the heart of a whole ecosystem of interlinked trade and services that occupies the surrounding streets.
Walk west from the bazaar and you come to the Navoiy theatre, built in 1932 in neoclassical style. This is the Babur Park, a fun family hangout with lots of kids’ entertainment and some actual trees with leaves that provide shade. In the southeastern corner, the Kino Uzbekistan and the Palace of Youth are 2 more examples of Stalinist neoclassical building.
Across the street from the pond, the Regional history museum has gotten new displays, but the frameworks at the root of the museum are still the same outdated Soviet notions that will arouse little interest from visitors.
Mosques and mausoleums
Built in 1912, the pentagonal Molla Qirgiz mosque and madrasa adjacent to the bazaar shows a modern take on the medieval majolica that adorns Samarkand and Bukhara. In the 1990s, the madrasa became a center of radical Salafism. After a series of high-profile attacks by the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan under Juma Namangani, the group was driven out of the country to Afghanistan, where it became an important partner of the Taliban. The madrasa was turned into a space for crafts workshops, while the ideological line in the mosque was reformed into something more amenable to Uzbekistan’s ruling family.
Heading south from the bazaar on Kozadalik street you find the Khoja Amin Qabri mausoleum (OSM). The 16th-118th century mausoleum features impressive terracotta works and interior ornaments.
The city’s biggest mosques are located east of the bazaar. The Otavalikhon mosque (OSM / Gmaps) has a beautiful, big dome and also houses an art gallery, while the Shayx-Eshon mosque (OSM) is fronted by 2 elegant minarets.
Afsonalar Vodiysi entertainment and aquapark
Surrounded by the tiny thirsty conifers that are obligatory in new developments in Uzbekistan, the “Valley of Legends” (Gmaps) has a rollercoaster, a luna park and an aquapark with slides, next to an amphitheatre, a shopping mall and a big new mosque.
If you just want to cool off, nearer the centre you can find a basic outdoor swimming pool (Gmaps).
If your kids need even more entertainment, there is still the Kamalot park a few blocks west of Afsonalar (Gmaps).
Chust & Kosonsoy
The Ferghana Valley comes alive in the towns of Chust and Kosonsoy, renowned for their knive and skullcap makers (Chust) and woodworkers (Kosonsoy). Besides this, it offers a chance to see a traditional part of the valley where tourists don’t come very often.
You will have seen the bottles for sale by this point. Mineral water bubbles up at Chortoq, but there are also hot water springs for bathing. A large sanatorium has been built on top of the springs where you can peruse the baths and take advantage of a host of other cures.
Before there was Namangan, there was Aksikent (Gmaps). The city fortress was seen as impregnable, and only Genghis Khan was able to conquer the city in its long history that stretches back to Greek times. In the end, it was an earthquake in 1620 that finished off Aksikent, at which point Namangan took over the role of regional capital.
Now it is a large archaeological site with little in the way of markings, so use your imagination.
The nearby border crossing with Kyrgyzstan is not necessarily the best way to get to Namangan anymore – read the latest at Uzbekistan border crossings. Shared taxis from everywhere in the Ferghana Valley and directly from Tashkent are the best way to get to Namangan.
Namangan also has an airport that connects with Tashkent and several cities in Russia.
Accommodation has been a long-standing issue in Namangan. A couple of brand new hotels have brought improvements. Solo backpackers still have nowhere to go (Orzu is your best option, very basic but the shower works), but everyone else can get a nice room for a low price.
We haven’t been able to visit since the new buildings went up, but judging from the pictures and the online reviews, there are all of a sudden perhaps 5 decent options now: