Visiting the Fergana Valley

Off-Road with the Foreign Service


James Talalay is a photographer and Foreign Service family member currently based in Tashkent. He had a chance to tag along with his wife, FSO Sarah Talalay, on an outreach trip to some of the cities of the Fergana Valley. See more of James Talalay’s work at


Advertising signs on the Kuraminskiy Khrebet mountain range.

The Fergana Valley is about 250 kilometers southeast of the capital, Tashkent, and is the economic engine and most densely populated area of Uzbekistan. The journey to the valley is a four-hour drive through a pass in the Kuraminskiy Khrebet mountain range. Once in the desolate, mostly bare mountains, the view is unadulterated nature—except at a certain section. Though billboards are banned there, this giant “Hollywood” signage is okay.

A school meeting room in the city of Fergana.

Outreach meant a lot of meetings at schools and universities, with big welcomes, marches to a fancy meeting room, and many people in attendance. A bit of chatter, a lot of untouched food. Then, the finale: the grand exchange of gifts, including vases and plates, spices, textiles, and heavy books. The background in these rooms is impressive; it is typically an elaborate, heavily carved frieze depicting triumphant work and Uzbekistan’s official seal.

Butchers in their shop in Namangan.

Western-style groceries are making inroads throughout the country, at least in the bigger cities and new developments. But in many old neighborhoods, it’s still local, open markets, bazaars, and back-alley affairs for buying food. A quick pop into a house reveals a butcher shop.

Diorama of a cotton crop, Fergana Regional Museum of Local Lore in Namangan.

A major agricultural crop developed during Soviet times, cotton is king in Uzbekistan. School kids can learn about this important export at the museum, right next to dioramas of local animals. Until recently, children helped harvest the cotton.

A “love” apartment in Fergana.

We toured a few prospective apartments for incoming Fulbright grantees. One apartment was curious with a small, empty kitchen. Snacks and drinks had been left on the table. The local realtor casually mentioned the apartment was also available on a shorter-term basis. We understood. The artwork in the bedroom set the theme.

Amusement park ride in Babur Park in Namangan.

Uzbekistan is a young country, full of kids. Every green space seems to feature an amusement park. The Silk Road fantasy comes alive in this car-ride attraction. The tree trunks are painted white for insect control.

Makeshift prayer area in an empty shopping stall.

And then it was time to head back to Tashkent. In the Kuraminskiy Khrebet mountain range we made a quick stop for a drink and a stretch at a rest area, which revealed this humble makeshift prayer space.