One of the most common ways of travelling in Kyrgyzstan is to travel by shared taxi. A shared taxi is a taxi, or sometimes a private car, which charges a set rate for each of the four seats. The taxi/car won’t leave for it’s destination until the car is full.
The impressive mountains of Kyrgyzstan mean travelling from Bishkek to Osh in the south of Kyrgyzstan takes a long circuitous route and most people fly. But I was determined to continue travelling overland which meant taking a shared taxi.
The trip, however, did not start well. As soon as I arrived where the shared taxis congregate I was met by eager taxi drivers. I agreed a price and was immediately hustled into the back of a car. Next thing I know the doors were locked! No-one else was inside. I was immediately uneasy.
My uneasiness only increased as I watched the shared taxi guys I’d bargained with go around and start arguments with other taxi drivers nearby. I tried to open the car door and luckily it opened. But it set off an alarm and next thing I know the taxi guys were rushing over. I indicated I wanted the boot open so I could get my backpack. They were trying to indicate I should get back in the car and were not at all interested in opening the boot.
Luckily, again, I could open the boot myself when I tried. So I grabbed my backpack and started walking off. The taxi guys were not happy and followed me gesticulating wildly. While new shared taxi drivers rushed towards me to get my business. I was completely surrounded and quite a bit unnerved.
I kept walking and one of the new taxi drivers indicated a little minivan type car filled with luggage. I went to investigate and when I peered inside I saw two local women sitting inside waiting. I took this as a good sign that firstly locals were prepared to trust this driver and also the car would soon be full and on it’s way. I agreed a price with the new driver and got in to wait.
I waited and waited and waited and waited and waited. Two hours later and the car was finally full and we left. It seemed that some of the other passengers knew each other and there was a real sense of camaraderie between my travel companions. There was a lot of laughter and this helped slowly unwind the bundle of nerves and unease that had grown inside me from my encounter with the shared taxi drivers earlier.
From Bishkek to Osh the drive took close to 11 hours and we crossed two high passes and travelled along some of the windiest roads I’ve ever been on. My tax driver approached the bends in the road like a formula one driver, head on and trying to take the straightest line possible. We hurtled along and sure enough part way through the trip my driver was pulled over by the police for speeding! Speed camera traps were everywhere in Kyrgyzstan but didn’t seem to deter the locals from driving as fast as they possibly could.
My shared taxi arrived in Osh after dark and we were soon stopped at an intersection. Hmm, this was strange I thought and as we sat at the intersection the driver and his friend made call after call. Slowly people would approach the car and pick up various parcels that had been stowed and brought from Bishkek! A better and more efficient than the mail I suppose. Finally all the deliveries had been made and I was dropped at my guesthouse.
The next morning I set out to explore Osh. Osh had long been an important stop on the Silk Road and it’s bazaar is one of the biggest in Central Asia. I discovered the bazaar was a typical Central Asian market with piles of watermelons, spices and nuts, biscuits and sweets, and bread, bread and more bread for sale. Less typically were the young guys playing pool in the middle of the market.
As I explored the market I couldn’t help but feel grateful to have arrived safely after my shared taxi adventures. It was also a little sad to think this old Silk Road hub was to be my final stop in Kyrgyzstan with a new Central Asian country and more adventures waiting.
I stayed at Biy Ordo Guesthouse while in Osh. A good guesthouse/hostel despite it being slightly out of the centre of town. However, minivans pass right by the guesthouse making it extremely easy to get to and from the centre. The guesthouse can also help organise taxis to the border with Uzbekistan.