Friday, April 17, 2015

Seeing the Sights of Osh.

Having a bit of fun trying on a traditional Kyrgyz men's hat :-)

By the time we crossed the border into Kyrgyzstan and drove to the heart of Osh, it was lunchtime so are first destination was a restaurant.  By the clock on my cellphone, it was barely noon but what we hadn't realized was that we crossed another time zone when we went from Uzbekistan to Kyrgyzstan.  It was actually close to 1p.


The first thing we did notice was that our driver was sitting on the right hand side of the car and driving on the right hand side of the road.  According to Liyla, both right and left hand side steering wheels can be found in Kyrgyzstan although some government officials want to band the right hand steering vehicles, particularly those that are used in the commercial transport of people, as data has shown that the accident ratio of such vehicles is twice as high as of vehicles with a left hand steering wheel.  The UN has raised concerns about road traffic safety in the country.  Glad I'm not driving!

For lunch,  Lilya took us to a place that serves Turkish cuisine. 

In Osh, just outside our restaurant.

It must have still been early for lunch.  The restaurant was empty except for us.  The moment we entered, we were surrounded by very friendly servers.  I immediately noticed their conservative dress which was dramatically different from the modern t-shirt and jeans ensemble that Lilya had on.  I also noticed their Asian faces. Once again, I fit in :-)

Just inside the front entrance was a small cafeteria style service line.   It reminded me of the lokantası my brother and I ate at when we were in Istanbul.

With Lilya's help, we selected a few dishes to have.  The portions were very generous.


After ordering, we made our way to the main dining room where both Lilya and Melis joined us for lunch.  I much prefer eating with our guide and driver than without them!

Lilya and Melis.

Pat waiting for her lunch to be brought to the table.

As we waited for our food, a waitress brought over two pots of tea (one green, the other black) and for Turkish tea cups.


It was a very familiar sight - I could be anywhere in Turkey!


We ordered a few stewed dishes....


....and a Kyrgyz style Turkish döner kebab to share.  It was Turkish food done Kyrgyz style and it was quite delicious - a much welcomed change from the plov, shashlyk and lagman that has been the heart of our Uzbek meals.  However, I do have to say that I prefer Uzbek non to any of the bread that I've had in the other countries we've visited so far.


It was a nice relaxing lunch and Lilya was beginning to warm up to us as we were to her.  She would be our guide for the next few days so it's good that we all get along!

After lunch, we began our sightseeing of Osh.  We would only have a few hours here as by late afternoon, we would be catching a flight to Bishkek.  There is no rest for the Central Asian traveler :-)

We started with a visit to Sulayman Mountain (also known as Sulayman Throne) which is known as Sulayman-Too Sacred Mountain to the Kyrgyz.  The five peak range, with its slopes, serves as the backdrop to the city of Osh.

The mountain, which is named after the legendary king, Solomon, is considered to be sacred by many different peoples and veneration for the sacred mountain blends pre-Islamic and Islamic beliefs. 

The mountain has been a Muslim place of pilgrimage for centuries, supposedly because the Prophet Mohammed once prayed here and because the mountain contains a shrine that supposedly marks the grave of Sulayman (Solomon), a prophet in the Qur'an.

The mountain also had a cult value for fire-worshippers.  Legend has it that Zoroaster, the founding prophet of Zoroastrism and lived and created his creed in a cave on Sulayman-Too.

Within Sulayman-Too are be found numerous ancient places of worship, including some 101 cult worship sites with petroglyphs representing humans and animals as well as geometrical forms that have also been identified. The cult sites are believed to provide cures for barrenness, headaches, and back pain and give the blessing of longevity.

All of the various sites are dispersed around the mountain peaks but are connected by footpaths.


Sulayman-Too is the only UNESCO World Heritage sit in the country and according to UNESCO, is "the most complete example of a sacred mountain anywhere in Central Asia, worshipped over several millennia".  

Sulayman-Too is also home to the National Historical and Archaeological Museum Complex displays archaeological findings from the area and its history. The lower slope of the mountain is surrounded by a cemetery.

Melis dropped us off alongside the parking lot.  We crossed the road and made our way up, on a well paved path.



The ground was blanketed with greenery.  Everything is so lush here thanks to the spring rains.  Wild flowers were blooming all over the place. 




The green hills, the flowers in bloom - it was a pretty sight and although it was an overcast day, it was actually a very pleasant day for what I would describe as a stroll through a city park.


We spotted a lone man climbing up one of the slopes, towards one of the peaks.  Lilya suggested he may be heading to a cult site to pray.See the dot in white?  That's the guy.

Our nice wide, paved path soon gave way to a narrow, concrete sidewalk.  As we made our way up the mountain, we stopped to take in views of Osh.  Pretty landscape but not a very pretty looking city.


Osh may be the country's second largest city but it's still a city in need.  From above, I could easily get a glimpse of the ramshackled homes that line the neigborhood streets, many of which could do with some asphalt.


On the way up, we also saw a large sculpture of two large clasped hands.  If I remember correctly, the sculpture is known as the Water Gate.  It represents friendship and unity and marks the western entrance to the mountain.


We crossed paths with a Kyrgyz man who was making his way down the mountain.  He had on a traditional Kyrgyz men's hat which caught my attention.  Lilya stopped him so I could get a better look at it.  She explained to me that the *every day* hat is plain i.e., with no designs.  The fact that he was wearing an embroidered hat meant he was coming to the mountain for a special occasion or perhaps just to pray.  He spoke no English but through Lilya, he asked if I wanted to try it on.  Of course I did!  Before I put it on my head, I took a closer look at it.  It was all handmade - the rough stitching told me so.  Inside, it was lined with plain cotton.  It didn't fit me well but I didn't care.  After Pat snapped the photo, I quickly took off the hat and thanked the man for letting me try it on.  I have to say, I do love seeing a man with a hat on! :-)


From the path, high above Osh, we could also look down on Kyrgyzstan`s largest mosque which formally opened in June 2010 on the second anniversary of ethnic clashes in the country that killed more than 400 people and left tens of thousands displaced.  The mosque has a maximum capacity of 20,000 people and was built using money raised by local citizens, as well as with financial support from the governments of Turkey and Saudi Arabia.  In accordance with conservative Islamic practices, only men are allowed inside the mosque.



The path we were on led us to the  National Historical and Archaeological Museum Complex which was established 1949 as Osh Regional Museum. The museum is actually carved out of the the mountain so it's also simply referred to as the Cave Museum.  Pat wasn't too keen on its glass and concrete, bonnet looking entrance.  It does stick out visually but perhaps that's what the Soviets intended when they built the museum.

The museum's collections include more than 33,000 pieces of archaeological and ethnographic artifacts, works of handicraft, paintings, sculptures and graphics.


Inside, we were indeed in a cave - the architects did not plaster over the rock to create smooth wall.  It was a very unique place.


We entered in on the ground floor and took a quick look at the exhibits there before heading up to the second floor.


Flanking the steps were displays of taxidermied animals that I presumed roam the region.


The second floor was fronted by the glass of the bonnet looking entrance.   There weren't all that many displays here.  The most interesting one was the bit of original petroglyph, dating back to who knows when.


Also on the second floor was a display of ancient water pitchers.  It looked like they had been placed on a platform that looked to me to be the foundation for a yurt.  Yurts are an integral part of Kyrgyzstan's nomadic culture.


 Outside the museum entrance, we paused on the plaza to take in another view of Osh.  This time, we could see one of the cemeteries situated on Sulayman-Too.


I had to snap the photo of another hat wearing Kyrgyz man walking by below us.  He had the plain version on.  The embroidered one is much nicer.


From the museum, we continued on the path, heading towards the summit of one of the peaks.



As we wound our way up the hill, we passed by several caves that are said to cure everything from body ailments to promoting fertility.  There are no signs marking any of the caves so I guess you just have to know which cave cures what.  After all, you don't want to accidentally end up at the fertility cave thinking you were at the *mend body joints* cave.




Supposedly, there's also a *wishing tree" where people tie ribbons of materials around its branches in exchange for a wish or good luck.  I don't remember seeing it on our walk.

Our nice concrete path soon gave way to unpaved, uneven path.  We still had quite a ways to go to reach the summit of the highest peak of Sulayman-Too.  When Lilya asked if we wanted to proceed further, we weren't sure.  We asked what was at the top and she replied that there was a small mosque there but that women are not allowed inside.  Of course, we would a good view of Osh from there as well.  Thinking for a few seconds, I replied I wasn't keen on going further as I was sure there other places to go and things to see.  Pat agreed so we turned around.

The Kyrgyz flag marks the summit.

What we missed out on was the small mosque built by Babur.  Known as Dom Babura (*Babur's Room*), the small building is a 1989 reconstruction of a historic prayer-room whose tradition dates back to 1497, when 14-year-old Zahiruddin Babur of Fergana built himself a little prayer-retreat here.  When Babur claimed fame as the founder of the Mughal Empire, Babur's place of worship became a highly revered place of worship and subsequently, the mosque was built.

At the base of the mountain, we stopped to take a look at the sculpture known as the Fire Gate, presumably in recognition of the mountains influence on Zoroastrian worship.


Just behind the Fire Gate is a domed archway that marks the western entrance to Sulayman-Too.


The walk to our next destination took us along a high wrought iron fence.


Incorporated into the fence where silhouettes of images that you could clearly identify with other countries.  According to Lilya, these the countries that Kyrgyzstan had friendly relations with.  So, where are the silhouettes of the White House, the Capitol building or the Washington Monument?

India

Japan.

China.
There was also one section of fence that pays homage to the ibex which is ingenious to Kyrgyzstan.


Looking back, through zoom lens, I could see the Kyrgyz flag and platform.


Our walk took us to another very small building - the mausoleum of Asaf ibn Burhiya.  Built in the 18th centurie, the mausoleum was named after the King Solomon’s vizier who is entombed here.  It is also a popular pilgrimage site for Muslims.  The gate was locked so we couldn't enter inside.  Too bad.  Not that we hadn't already visited enough mausoleums but it would have been interesting to see a Kyrgyz one.




After this, our visit to Sulayman-Too was over.  We made our way back to the parking lot where we met back up with Melis.  Next, we headed to the bazaar.  We love our bazaars!

Oddly enough, the name Osh Bazaar actually refers to bazaar in Bishkek and not Osh.  In Osh, the bazaar is known as Jayma Bazaar.  The more you know.

Jayma Bazaar is is considered to be one of Central Asia's largest markets.  I think that qualification would depend on who you ask - the Uzbeks might challenge that distinction.  In any event, the market has been in operation for well over 2,000 years, since the time when Osh was a major trading center on the Silk Road.

Like so many other ancient city markets, this one sells everything imaginable - from food to household goods to clothing and textiles and even animals.  Of course, to cater to the tourists that come here, there are plenty of shops offering up souvenirs for sale.

The streets leading to the bazaar were narrow and congested with people, vehicles and just things in general. Melis took his time and care to get us to our drop off point.  We left the car and plunged into what looked like I imagine a city would look like the day after Armageddon.  It was organized chaos and I loved it!!

Like so many other ancient city markets, Jayma Bazaar is a labyrinth of narrow lanes - everything and everyone is crammed into a small space.

Lilya led the way but I kept close to her heels as I did not want to get separated from her.  I am like a kid in a candy store when it comes to places like this.  I find everything so interesting even if it's just a vegetable peeler.  Somehow, even things that I use on a daily basis seem to be so much more exotic when you see them in the context of an environment like this!  Call me weird.



As we walked through the clothing and household goods sections, Lilya pointed out that most of the goods come from China.  We told her that *Made in China* was a common brand back in the US as well.



Eventually, we made our way to the produce market. 

Spices

The plant market.

Plant seeds

We're in the land where tulips originated from and it's spring so it was no surprise to see tulips for sale.  Sadly, as I hoped we would be able to see tulips blooming in the wild, these might be the only ones I do get to see.  Pretty, aren't they?



There is no such thing as Central Asian cuisine without bread.  The Kyrgyz are as proud of their bread tradition.



Lilya decided to buy a loaf though she said she can get it cheaper in Bishkek, where she lives.

While the women shop the men play pool? :-)

Spices and juniper stems which are used for incense.

Chilis!  Kyrgyz love spicy food.


I think these are leeks??  You would think the cook would know but I actually no clue.

Onions and yellow carrots - two of the key ingredients for plov.

Jars of preserves.


Rhubarb.

Lamb for sale.

Dried fruits and nuts.

More of those chalky cheese balls.  Very much and acquired taste!

Peanuts.  Kyrgyz love to eat them boiled.....as do I!

Honey.

Raisins.  Just about the only thing I WILL NOT eat. 

Sweets.

An unexpected sight.  Chinese rice noodles!

Cured meat.   Have no idea what it is.

Blood sausages.  I love blood sausages!


More Korean preserved veggies and chili sauce.  I love how they sell single servings in the plastic tubes.

We didn't spend much time in the market as most of what we saw here was similar to what we had seen in the other markets we've visited on this trip.

Somehow, I don't know how, we managed to meet back up with Melis.  I think it took a phone call between him and Lilya to figure out where he had to drive to to pick us up.  We patiently waited for him to arrive.

Next, we headed into the heart of the city to visit a church.  It's a Russian Orthodox church that, like so many other churches in the region,  only resumed services after Kyrgyzstan gained independence from the Soviet Union.  Luckily, both Pat and I had brought our headscarves along as Lilya asked us to cover our heads. Unfortunately, the church doors were locked so we could not go inside so we just a some photos and left.


Maybe someone can read this sign and tell me the name of the church.

From here, we drove to where Osh's government operates.  Melis parked the car and we stepped out to the view of one of Osh's government administration buildings. 


The building is situated on one side of a plaza and faces one of the few statues of Lenin still anywhere standing in Central Asia.




Next to where the government building and Lenin statue stand is a small park that is obviously still under construction.  From what I could make and the bits and pieces of information that Lilya was giving to us, this place is intended to be a memorial park dedicated to the country's national heroes.



Today, the park looked and felt like a construction site.  I'm sure it'll be nice once it's all done up.





We had a late afternoon flight to Bishkek to catch so we ended our day in Osh with an early dinner at another local restaurant that obviously caters to tourists as the menu was in English.





I wasn't all that hungry so I just opted for a bowl of pelmeni in soup.  You can't go wrong with dumplings.  I had some apple juice to accompany my bowl of Russian comfort food.


Melis dropped us off at the airport.  We thanked him for his service and gave him a tip before saying goodbye.  We followed Lilya into the terminal where she got us checked in.  She came on the flight with us so all three of us headed to the departure lounge to wait for our plane.  She's definitely warmed up to us and we're starting to share laughs with each other.  We even feel comfortable enough to ask her odd questions like why do they have separate toilets for men and women if everyone has to use a squat toilet?  Yes, that's the sort of question that pops into my mind every now and again.  I will end the posting with that question for you to ponder on.

Our plane arrived on time and we joined the mob to board - we are well accustomed to the fact that the concept of a line does not exist in Central Asia.  When we land, we'll be in Bishkek!

Our trip through Kyrgyzstan continues.

Goodbye from Osh!