The Fergana valley is the “bread basket” of Uzbekistan. Access to the valley is through a narrow mountain pass, that is also a corridor between Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan. Beyond the pass, the valley opens out into a fertile plain that grows most of the country’s fruit and vegetables.
It has been like this for centuries. Persimmons, quinces, apricots, pomegranates, peaches, lemons, apples, pears, and all sorts of nuts are grown here. Cotton is widespread, and Uzbek cotton is one of the best in the world. Camel trains from China came down from the Tian Sian mountains laden with silk and spices to trade with caravans coming out of the Uzbek and Turkmenistan deserts. There were numerous markets and bazaars to exchange both goods and news.
Nowadays, many of the towns in the valley have been rebuilt following destruction by waves of different invaders and the occasional earthquake. Most recently the Soviets rebuilt many of the cities as a soft demonstration of their power and influence. Little of the history of the bazaars remain, nor the skills of silk making and ceramics that the area was renown for in the past. With the advent of independence, and then the development of the tourist industry, handicraft centres have flourished. These centres are used to demonstrate the old skills of silk making and ceramics that otherwise might be lost.
The centres are designed for tourists. Nevertheless, they do provide a very authentic feel as to how silk is manufactured – the complexity and skill needed to take the thread from a moth’s cocoon and turn it into a beautiful dress or a hard-wearing carpet. We have seen buildings in China and Central Asia, that purport to be hundreds of years old, but have been renovated and restored to within an inch of their life – and certainly don’t feel authentic. But the centres that are intended to demonstrate the old skills do feel real – this was what it was really like – the way it was. Having spent ten days in the major Silk Road cities it was a useful contrast to see the rural life, and experience some of the old skills. As always, this description is the less for the absence of photographs. They will be uploaded when we return to the UK, but meanwhile you are going to have to make do with this offering. Photos now uploaded!
This offering is also probably the last post of any substance – as we are returning to Tashkent from Fergana and then the following day onto Moscow (transit stop only) and then to London. In total a trip over 3 weeks, thousands of kilometres, archeology over 2,500 years, and enough history and culture to last a good few years. That’s leaving aside the yurts and walking in the Kyrgyz mountains – an experience which was truly unique. Worth the effort? Definitely.