There’s very little online information about Batken Province and even less about the practicalities of visiting and living there. So here are a few notes from my travels that can be the skeleton of a research or travel plan.
How to get there:
By far the quickest and easiest way to travel to Batken Province is by air. Otherwise, you can plan on a 12 hour taxi ride from Bishkek to Osh and 4 to 6 hour ride from Osh to Batken (depending on weather conditions). If you do choose to fly, tickets for most domestic airlines are not available online. Instead, you can purchase them at any number of Авиакассы. These travel agencies are omnipresent in Bishkek and Osh. In Isfana and Batken cities they can be found within the main bus station complexes. The below flight information is as of March, 2015.
- Osh: Multiple flights leave daily from Bishkek to Osh and vice versa. They cost $30 to $50 one way and take 35 minutes.
- Batken: There are three flights between Bishkek and Batken that leave every Tuesday, Thursday and Sunday. The trip costs roughly $50 one way and takes an hour.
- Isfana: There is a single flight between Bishkek and Isfana per week, which operates roundtrip every Friday. The trip costs around $50 one way and takes a little over an hour.
You cannot fly from one city within southern Kyrgyzstan to another (i.e. Osh to Isfana or Batken, Batken to Isfana, etc.), so if your work will require visiting multiple cities in southern Kyrgyzstan, be prepared for ground travel. Note that many of these roads are unpaved, and though repairs are underway thanks to Chinese and European investment, progress is slow.
- Osh to Batken – marshrytkas (public minibuses) and taxis leave daily from outside the Osh Philharmonic at the intersection of Lenin and Alisher Navoi streets. A marshrytka costs around 300 Kyrgyz Som (KGS) and drops you off at the Batken bus station. A taxi costs around 600 KGS and, if you tell the driver in advance, takes you to your preferred address in Batken. Both take 4 to 5 hours to reach Batken and tend to leave Osh in the early morning, once seats have filled (anywhere from 7am to 10am). If you want to avoid a long early-morning wait, find your driver a day or two in advance and ask him to pick you up from your hotel/home once the car is already full. This is common practice in KG and is done for no extra charge.
- Batken to Isfana – marshrytkas and taxis leave from the Batken bus station and cost roughly 200 and 500 Kyrgyz Som, respectively. Buy your marshrytka tickets at the cashier’s window rather than from the driver — you’ll have to show your passport. Marshrytkas leave twice daily at around 8am and 1pm. Taxis leave throughout the day, whenever they fill with customers. The ride is about 3 hours and the road is poor.
Where to stay:
- Osh hotels are well covered by TripAdvisor and Booking.com. I stayed at the Hotel Osh Nuru, which was comfortable, clean and felt luxurious for the $20-a-night price tag.
- Batken: Batken City has two hotels: the “Hotel Bai+Kut” (Гостиница Бай+Күт) at 1 Aiipov Street and the “Hotel Altin Beshik” (Алтын Бешик Мейманканасы) at —–. For the Bai+Kut, single rooms start at 800 per night. Singles with Wi-Fi cost a minimum of 1,200 KGS per night and doubles 1,500. This includes breakfast, a personal kettle and TV. For an extra 200 KGS per meal, they will cook you lunch and dinner. The hotel was clean, comfortable and the owners kind. Call: +996-773-73-12-01 for directions, reservations, etc.
The Altin Beshik is the more luxurious of the two, though “luxury” is a stretch in this context. Single rooms start at 1,550 KGS. This includes breakfast, wi-fi, TV, endless tea and coffee and access to the hotel’s conference hall, restaurant and communal spaces. They will cook you lunch and dinner for extra. The Altin Beshik appears to have had support from USAID, which donated the conference center, and boasts a picture of Kyrgyz President Almazbek Atambaev in its courtyard; the administration is multilingual. Of the two Batken hotels, it is certainly the more comfortable. On the downside, it’s located on the outskirts of town, approximately 1km from Batken center.
- Isfana: First off — watch out if you try to use Google Maps or Booking.com to find hotels in Isfana. All of the places they identify are located across the border, in the larger Tajikistani city of Khujand. You cannot cross the Kyrgyz-Tajik border without a visa, so if you book at a hotel in Khujand you will be stuck with no place to sleep. Within Isfana, Kyrgyzstan, there are two hotels. One is called “Sayakat” (Travel) and advertises wi-fi, conference facilities and the capacity to arrange tourist excursions. They can be reached at +996-365-65-02-45 or +996-772-95-07-74, and are located across the street from the Akimiyat (government administration building). The other is simply called “Hotel” and has no phone number or address. “Hotel” is located near Isfana center, across the street from the Маданият Үйү (House of Culture) – locals can likely point you in the right direction if you ask around. I stayed with a host family instead of at either of these, so I can’t say anything about their quality or facilities.