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October 20, 2002

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'Osh is older than Rome,' say the Kyrgyz. King Solomon or Alexander the Great may have shopped at Osh's bazaar. Even today it's an old Silk Road standout. Mountain roads from China, Russia, and Tajikistan cross through here on their way to Europe. Osh is a demographic kaleidoscope: Tajiks in tupis (black embroidered skull caps) and tapans (heavy quilted coats), Turkic or Mongolian Uzbeks in flowing robes, blond haired Slavs, and of course, Kyrgyz in their kolpaks, the conical teepee-style felt hats, they all shop at the rough-and-ready stalls of Osh bazaar. Atop Solomon's throne, a barren mountain of rock that dominates Osh's skyline, we enjoyed the view with Muslim pilgrims. They've come to see Babur's house, built by that Zahiruddin Babur, a descendent of Genghis Khan and Tamurlane, who conquered India and founded the Mughal empire. Born in 1483 in the Fergana Valley, Babur founded an Indian dynasty that lasted until the British came in 1857. He may never have left if not forced to do so by local competitors, an indication of how tough politics must have been in this part of the world. (And if he hadn't left to plant Islam in India, would Pakistan and Bangladesh exist today?)
Osh's bazarre bazaar
Roadrunner for sale.
It was a day of dining with local people. Our first family we met on the streets of Osh. A grandmother and her two daughters took us to their home for an afternoon tea session of practicing English and Russian. Then we crossed the border into Uzbekistan, an easy crossing where the border guards questioned us about the price of cars in America. We hitched a ride with a man who took us to his well decked home, pomegranate orchard, cows, and fat sheep,, before dropping us off in Fergana. We learned it's a good idea to change money before entering Uzbekistan because the Uzbek government rate is two-thirds the free market rate..