Breaking new ground – a drive to Kojo-Kelen

Tuesday 7 to Wednesday 8 October

Osh is on the Silk Road and historically important. In the centre of the city is a craggy group of rocks known as Solomon’s Throne. Each of the five peaks is significant, and there have been many notable visitors over the years including Barbur, who later founded the Moghul-Indian dynasty, and the Prophet Mohammed both of whom prayed there. There are also many places with curative and spiritual properties such as the sliding rock which claims to help with fertility. We tried it, but hope it doesn’t work!

There is nearly a 360 degree view of Osh and at night the craggy rocks are lit up with multi coloured lights.

We then found our way to the Osh Bazaar. By now it was raining so a rather damp excursion firstly through the local clothing and footwear section of the market and then to the vegetables. Market stalls are set up wherever there is space. They were covered by umbrellas and sheets of plastic to keep the shoppers dry. Cars seem to have access as they need and we saw quite a few loaded to the gunnels.

Mid afternoon we set out for Kojo-Kenel. The drizzle persisted and as we climbed into the Pamir Alay Mountains it got cooler and mistier.

This was a new adventure for our guide and driver as well, and it seemed that they asked directions of every second person we passed. The road was rough as we followed the river from the Papan Reservoir that provides hydro power, nearly to its source at 2,500m. Our destination was a home stay in Kojo-Kelen. We were given two of the three rooms in the house whilst the family of three generations moved into the kitchen for our 20 hour stay.

Dinner was served on a low table in one of our rooms, plov (rice & chopped meat) was delicious, served with tomato & cucumber salad. We had driven to the next village to buy some beer. The drive was certainly worth it, but returning in the dark on the rough windy roads made it an interesting excursion.

The next morning the drizzle had cleared so Kyuirbek, the 16 year old & youngest son guided us on a 6km hike, firstly to a grotto with a lovely pond and then to a waterfall. It was a steep climb through beautiful scenery of golden autumn birches and craggy rocky ridges.

This is described in Lonely Planet as one of many lovely hikes in Kyrgyzstan, and there is hope that such adventures will create more tourism and dollars for this very poor country. Our driver and guide were impressed by the beauty of our excursion and believed it would be a worthwhile destination. It would certainly attract the very outdoorsy backpackers but probably has a long way to go to attract group tours.

We were so lucky to experience the stunning countryside, meet a local family and have a look around their farm, sleep on the floor in their style and be treated to their food. We shared a drop toilet outhouse and the washing facilities was a sink outside the house, which would be challenging in the coming winter months when the village is snowed in.

It really was pioneering travel without the normal comforts that hotels have to offer.

The area we were in was rich in coal seams however it has not been commercialised as yet and most of the coal that is gathered appears to be for local consumption.

We drove back to Osh in the rain, passing cattle, sheep and goats being moved between pastures, farmhouses with chickens and turkeys, corn crops and apple orchards and the river increasing in size and speed until we reached the reservoir.

Our guide Asel explained that although Muslim is the predominant religion, it certainly isn’t strictly adhered to. In fact in many parts of the country it is combined with Shamanism or the God of Nature, where trees and the earth, rivers and the sky are sacred and worshipped. The grotto we visited on our walk, various sites on Solomon’s Throne and other sites we saw are important to Shamanism.