Fertile Fergana Valley is Uzbekistan’s agricultural heartland and a visit here allows travellers to appreciate the country’s linguistic, ethnic and cultural diversity.
The Fergana Valley is a depression between the Tian Shan Mountains in the north and the Gissar-Alai range in the south. Some 300km long, up to 70km wide and watered by the Kara Darya and the Naryn rivers, which join to form the Syr Darya, it is the most fertile part of Uzbekistan and hence the country’s agricultural heartland. Agricultural wealth historically gave rise to Silk Road trading towns, fortresses and, most importantly, the Khanate of Kokand, between 1709 and 1876.
For much of the past 100 years it has also been an area that is deeply troubled. Stalin’s border policies divided the valley between Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan; not only are there main international borders here, but also a bewildering number of enclaves and exclaves that are nigh on impossible to administer but are fiercely defended at great financial and human cost. Communal violence has regularly reared its ugly head, for instance between Kyrgyz and Uzbeks in the summer of 2010, often spurred on by governments and other regional players when it suits their political objectives to do so.
Getting to Fergana Valley
The direct route from the Fergana to Tashkent (the A373 road) crosses the Catkalski range (a spur of the Tian Shan Mountains) via the Kamchik Pass (2,268m). This is often closed by snow and fog in winter, and sometimes by mudslides at other times. Buses are not allowed to cross the pass, and when it is closed all traffic has to transit via Tajikistan – hence the significance of the railway tunnel that opened beneath the pass in 2016.