With a remarkable five-headed crag leaping out of the very town centre, Kyrgyzstan's second city certainly has a highly distinctive visual focus. While there's little of architectural note to show for 3000 years of history, Osh's (Ош) sprawling bazaar and hospitable citizens provide an atmosphere that is far more archetypically Central Asian than you will find in Bishkek.
The primary jumping-off point for a visit to the Saimaluu-Tash petroglyph site, sleepy Kazarman's (Казарман) setting is an attractive, wide, mountain-edged valley. Around 20 minutes' walk north of the Soviet-era culture centre, Dom Kulturi, a series of sandy riverside cliffs, is best appreciated from the Kara-Suu bridge.
Platoons of vast, ever-snowy mountains march along the southern flank of the Alay Valley (Долина Алай), whose considerable width (up to 30km) makes the scene especially memorable – at least when the clouds lift off the peaks that surround the valley. Visitors en route to China via Irkeshtam or to Tajikistan via Bordöbo get a taste of the scenery from Sary-Tash.
The inviting location of somnolent Toktogul (Токтогул) on the northern shore of the eponymous reservoir calls to travellers looking for a relaxing few days on the way between Kyrgyzstan's north and south, though with a mind for adventure it's possible to arrange hikes and horse treks through the mountains that surround the town.
If you're transiting between Osh and Kazarman or Arslanbob, you'll probably need to change vehicles in the leafy, laid-back spa-town of Jalal-Abad (Джалал-Абад). Although it's Kyrgyzstan’s third-largest city, there are no real sights in the city itself; CBT can offer details on villages nearby.
While its sights don't add up to much, the predominantly Uzbek town of Uzgen (Узген; Өзгөн) makes a good brief stop if you're driving the main road to/from Osh. The busy bazaar has an un-touristed charm and is fronted by a pair of majolica-pattern tiled towers, which might be mid-20th-century but still dream Silk Road dreams.
Osh's southern horizon is distantly pierced with dramatic mountains, and you can see these peaks much closer by heading for Kojo-Kelen (Коджо-Келен). Around the little red-earth village you'll find two impressive canyons, a 50m waterfall, dust-red cliffs, a pilgrim grotto and one of Southern Kyrgyzstan's most picturesque areas of wind-eroded stone formations.
The largest of seven lakes in the Unesco-recognised Sary-Chelek (Сары-Челек) Biosphere Reserve is widely considered among Kyrgyzstanis as one of the most beautiful places in the country, but a remote location and poor public transit connections see most international visitors giving it a pass.