"Uzbekistan's Golden Valley" Fergana by TheWanderingCamel
Fergana Travel Guide: 32 reviews and 117 photos
Things were very tense in the Ferghana Valley then. Violent civil unrest had brought the Uzbek military out in force, not the sort of situation to go wandering into as a tourist so we took it off our itinerary and said we'd come another time. That time came this year and three days in the Valley was the first stage of a journey around Uzbekistan that took us from Tashkent to Khiva.
Separated from the rest of the country by the Chatkal mountains, a spur of the Tien Shan range, and surrounded by other Tien Shan spurs, the valley is only 300kms long and 170km wide, a tiny area compared to the rest of the country, and yet fully one-third of the population lives here, making it the most densely populated region of all Central Asia, and it is the country's foodbowl. It is also the centre of Uzbekistan's valuable silk industry, a major cotton- (Uzbekistan's white gold) growing region and its other resources include oil and gas, gold and copper. Add to these riches a wealth of natural flora and fauna and the centuries-long traditions of master craftsmen and you can see why, from ancient times, it earned the name The Golden Valley.
For all that the valley is named Ferghana, the city that carries that name is the administrative centre of the region, and it was where we stayed, most of our time was spent visiting the surrounding towns of Kokand, Margilan and Rishtan - or, to use their Uzbek names - Qo'qon, Marg'ilon and Rishton.
Each town has its own attractions -
Kokand was the seat of the powerful Kokand khanate, which together with the Khanates of Bukhara and Khiva, constituted the Central Asian region known as Turkistan for the centuries prior to the Russian takeover. A royal palace, a museum and a museum are the main sights here.
You can't go anywhere in Uzbekistan without seeing the blue and green ceramics that come from Rishtan. The vast majority of it is mass-produced in the Rishtan Art Ceramics Factory - tours available. We went instead to the family-run workshop of master ceramicist Rustam Usamov.
Silk is Margilan's industry - two huge factories employ thousands of workers but we visited a traditional silk factory where most of the work is done by hand and the few machines used are over 100 years old.
History and handicrafts were not the things to occupy our time in the Feghana Valley. Margilan's bazaar is as vibrant and lively as any in Uzbekistan, with mountains of melons and the most tactile hand-turned fruitwood rolling pins just some of the things that caught my eye. A walk down Ferghana's shady main street brought us to the city's park, complete with the inevitable statue of a mediaeval scholar and parading wedding party. A long lunch beside a river, chaikhana tea-breaks and al fresco dinners under a full moon at our hotel gave us plenty of time to relax and, when it came time to leave and head back to Tashkent, the 300+ kilometre drive took us past miles and miles of irrigated cotton fields, orchards and vineyards, through the the mountains and the spectacular scenery of the Ankhangaran River valley to our rendezvous with the bus that was to take us on the next stage of our journey, Samarkand.
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Written Nov 22, 2009
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