Getting to the Border from Osh
When I was trying to find out about the Dostyk border crossing from Kyrgyzstan to Uzbekistan, I ended up with a lot of conflicting and outdated information. If you go back a few years ago, it seems that this border was known for strictly adhering to rules and searching everyone passing through it thoroughly. They also had customs and immigration forms to fill out and you had to declare all foreign currency and medicines. These systems may have been in place because of tensions in the area at the time, but seeing as the situation is calm now, in 2019, things are quite different!
I started my journey in Osh, in the Fergana region of Kyrgyzstan. I waited at a bus stop on the side of Lenin Street for the 138 Mashrutka to Dostyk. Inside the van, there was a board with the Cyrillic for Dostyk, ‘Достук’ written on it. The road was good until we were a little out of the city, then it was bad, then it was good again. The whole trip took about 20 minutes.
On the Kyrgyz Side
The Mashrutka dropped us off in a carpark that was about a 50 metre walk from the border. on the right-hand side of the road, there was a huge line of money changers. Most had the same rates but I found one that had a slightly lower rate than the rest and changed my leftover Kyrgyz Som there. Right near all the money changers were a couple of fenced-in lanes that represented the start of the immigration area. At the end of the lanes were gates where we had to wait for an officer. It felt a bit like we were cattle being herded. When an officer came and opened the gate, I was ushered to the left-hand side after he looked at the front of my passport, while everyone else was ushered to the right.
I felt a bit self-conscious walking down an empty lane while the lane next to me, that was full of mostly women, was not moving. None of the people waiting seemed too worried about it though. I guess foreigners don’t come through that border often, so they’re happy to let them through? My lane took me straight into the immigration building where there was a huge line of mainly men. I only spotted 3 other women.
When an old woman with a cane came into the room, everyone moved so she could go to the front of the line, which was nice. Then another 2 women with a brood of children ranging from toddlers to teenagers came in. All the men stepped aside for them too. As there were only 2 officers processing a huge amount of people and there seemed to be a lot of people jumping the line, I started thinking that I might be spending a very long time in that building.
Once I got closer to the desks, I noticed that the men were all going to the right-hand desk and letting the women and children that had passed us before go through the left-hand desk. The women were busy not paying attention, so I slipped in front of them and was out of the building 2 minutes later. It was great to finally be back out in the fresh air.
On the Uzbek Side
On the Uzbek side, they also had the cattle gate thing happening. There was a tourist lane and as I was the only tourist, I went straight to the gate. An officer came and opened the gate as soon as he saw me walk up, then some local women snuck through the tourist lane after me. The officer was really nice and smiley and asked to see my passport. He told me to follow the path in front of me which went straight into the immigration building. The women that came through behind me were ushered into cattle lanes to the right.
In the building, I walked straight up to a processing desk. The guy on the other side wasn’t as smiley as the first guy, but still very nice. He stamped me in and handed back my passport with smile and said, “Goodbye and goodluck”. Then came the customs check. I put my stuff the conveyor belt then picked it up at the other end. The officers were busy searching other people’s bag, so I started to walk outside. I then heard someone call out to me. I thought they wanted to manually check my bag, but when I turned around, the man just said, “Hello, welcome”.
I was expecting to be mobbed by drivers trying to get me in their taxis upon exiting the building, but that didn’t happen. A few guys approached me asking where I was going and then the negotiation started. I was heading to the town of Fergana, about 100km from the border. The first guy suggested 100,000 Som/US$11, so I replied with 30,000 Som/US$3.50. He then went to 35,000 Som/US$4, but I wouldn’t budge from 30,000. That guy gave up, but another nearby guy motioned that he would accept 30,000 and I should go with him.
I put my stuff in the car and he advised that we needed 3 more people. I thought this would take a while, but 5 minutes later, he told me to jump in the car and we were off. One of the guys in the back of the car said, “Welcome to Uzbekistan” and asked the usual questions.
The whole process, from arriving at the Kyrgyz side via Mashrutka at 7pm, to passing through to the Uzbek side and leaving in the shared taxi took about 30 minutes. By 7:35pm I was happily on my way to my next adventure in the Fergana Valley of Uzbekistan.