Backwater Cosmopolitan

Before this trip, the only time I had spent in Osh were the five days around the elections in October of last year. Although I have been reading about this city for over a decade, only now am I getting to know it on a personal level.

Osh has roughly five hundred thousand residents, less than half than that of Bishkek. The infrastructure here is crumbling, most things close at 9:00 pm, and while walking along the icy streets one often gets the feeling of being in an oversized village. At the same time, this is a city with a deep history whose roots reach across the region and south to Persia and India. Bishkek, meanwhile, was little more than a Russian military outpost just 150 years ago.

The day before I left Bishkek, I went to the national history (Lenin) museum on Ala-Too Square. I hadn’t visited it in over ten years. I was impressed with how it had been taken care of, and with many of the exhibits, even though they seem to not have changed since perestroika. Just today, I explored Osh’s main museum as well. While the collection in Osh is less extensive, it speaks to a long tradition of religious and cultural patrimony that often seems absent in the capital. I found myself wishing I could take some of the books on display back to my guesthouse for further reading.

In addition, Mt. Sulayman, a UNESCO world heritage site and holy mountain since ancient times, looms over the city looking like an enormous camel’s back. It’s easy to imagine the streets here filled with hawkers and pilgrims before the concrete houses and Soviet monuments remade the city in right angles.

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