In the heart of Central Asia’s cultural melting pot, Fergana Valley, tourism operators are working to make local culture more accessible to travellers.
Destination Osh, an organization of local tourism stakeholders in Kyrgyzstan’s second-largest city and traditional cultural heart, has used feedback from tourists in the 2017 season to hone new tour experiences. They are designed to immerse visitors in local culture and expose them to the diversity of the region’s food, people, and traditions.
A free city walking tour introduces visitors to the layout of Osh, tracing more than 3000 years of history from ancient prayer halls of the Mughal Dynasty founders, to towering statues of Lenin and bustling Silk Road bazaars. Extending this further takes guests up Suleiman Too mountain, a five-peaked crag looming above the city whose slopes have been a pilgrimage site for centuries.
Food lovers will appreciate a range of new activities focused on the regions’s diverse cuisine – from cooking classes making favorites like lepyoshka bread and samsa meatpies in Southern Kyrgyzstan’s iconic tandoor ovens, to an Osh Foodie Tour that samples four of Osh’s most distinctive foods. This tour also discusses the many ethnic groups that have populated the Fergana Valley over more than three millennia of inhabitation and the cultural legacies each of these groups has impressed upon the region.
One of the organization’s most popular offerings is the Osh Plov Journey, accompanying local guide Atabek to his family home for a crash course on making plov, a flavourful rice-and-meat dish of murky origins but claimed as the cultural heritage of several of Fergana’s ethnic groups, but at its best when cooked with rice from the fields of nearby Uzgen.
The initiative, promoting cultural exploration in an area long known as a traveler hub for tourists heading into China or the Pamir Highway, is the result of a partnership between Discover Kyrgyzstan to encourage growth in the tourism sector, with support by the USAID Business Growth Initiative.
By Stephen Lioy