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Travel Blog Azerbaijan

Travel blog of a short tour through Azerbaijan, overland frm Baku to the border with Georgia.


In the middle of the night I land on the airport of Baku, Azerbaijan. After a short night of sleep, I start exploring this country, I now have visited all the 15 former Soviet republics. First we drive along the coast of the Caspian Sea towards Qubustan. We see the famous nodding donkeys, there are dozens along the coast; symbols of the prosperity of the country. By 1990 oil was discovered and since that time Baku is a center for the oil and gas industry. It was a cosmopolitan city, until it became part of the Soviet empire. After the independence in 1991, Baku slowly became a center for the oil industry again. Something that is evident in the modern cityscape. The many nodding donkeys recall the first oil boom, but are still active, although most oil now is being achieved offshore.  

The landscape is becoming more barren and then we arrive at Qubustan. Here, in a barren, desert-like rocky area you will find petroglyphs from 12,000 years old. The images were made by hunter-gatherers and show a life of a time when the landscape was much greener. I visit the modern built museum, and take a moment to look at the most eastern inscription from the Roman Empire. Afterwards I am going back to Baku to explore the old city. This is the most oriental part of the city. Completely renovated, but definitely worth it to wander through the alleys of the walled old city and visit the palace of the Shirvan Shah’s.  

Then we drive out of town again, to peninsula Absheron to visit the Atesgah Zoroastrian fire temple, built by Parsis from India. The complex reminds you of the time when Zoroastranism was one of the main religions in the region. The current complex was completely renovated, and instead of one fire there now are several ‘eternal’ flames. Another ‘eternal’ flame we find at Yanar Dag, where the flames are coming out of the ground.  Not for nothing Azerbaijan means ‘Land of Fire.  

Back in Baku we explore the modern city and admire the new landmark of the city. Three newly designed buildings to represent three eternal flames and determine the dominant skyline. Especially at night when they are beautifully illuminated in alternating colors. We walk through the mall with its many art nouveau buildings, fountains and parks and stroll along the promenade overlooking the Caspian Sea. It is very busy everywhere and you can see that we are walking around in a prosperous city. After a traditional Azeri meal in an old caravanserai we admire Baku by Night. A beautiful sight; no effort is spared to give a Bright Lights, Big City feeling to this city.  

The next morning we drive to a viewpoint, located at the foot of the three new ‘Flames’.  Here they built a promenade overlooking the city. We see the largest flag in the world fluttering along the coast near the Crystal Palace, which became famous because of the Eurovision Song festival. Behind the promenade are many graves. One row of graves for the 130 fallen soldiers during protests against the Soviet regime in 1990, two other rows for the victims of the war with Armenia over Nagorno-Karabakh. My guide is from Nagorno Karabakh and tells how, as a young girl, she was forced to flee her homeland to build a new life in Baku.

Then it’s time to leave town. Through a desolate landscape we drive towards Shemakhi. Along the way we take a walk to the barren plain and there we see some of the many mud volcanoes. Mud Pools bubbling mud and bumping mud streams constantly and thereby creating a kind of mini-volcanoes.  

Next stop is a rock carved mausoleum of Diri Baba, dedicated to a Sufi saint from the 15th century. The mausoleum consists of two floors and has become a place of pilgrimage, like we experience ourselves . A family comes to slaughter a sheep and pray to heal their sick daughter.   We drive further to Shemakhi and visit its magnificent Friday Mosque. Also this mosque is being renovated. On the outskirts of Shemakhi we visit the Yeddi Gumbza mausoleums, a few beautiful domed mausoleums surrounded by centuries-old gravestones.  

We have lunch in Shemakhi, a small town that used to play an important role in the country. Then we drive slowly to the green hills of the Caucasus mountain range, in search of the ancient mountain village Lahic. A beautiful mountain road through a canyon brings us to this town where they speak Tat, an ancient Persian language. Lahic is known for its coppersmiths and in the streets we also see several coppersmiths at work. The rest of the afternoon I wander through the town with its old houses and some mosques. I stayed in a nice hotel on the outskirts of the village and eat in a garden overlooking the river and mountains.

We woke up early, for a long day towards Sheki. We drive past the mountains and try to find the village Ivanovka. In the middle of vast, rolling cornfields is still a real kolkhoz. This Soviet era dating village is still inhabited by Russians, the 'Molokani'. The adherents of this religion, founded in the 19th century, were exiled to the Caucasus by Tsar Nicholas from Russia. A visit to this village is a step back in time. It seems like you are walking through a Russian village fifty years ago. Picturesque houses under the birch trees, blond children, men with beards, horse-drawn carriage through the village and the village center where they ride in old Volga's and Lada's to do some shopping; a world of difference to the mundane Baku. You should be open to it, but absolutely worth a visit.  

We drive to Gabala, a city with a rich past. This was one of the main cities in the ancient Albania, one of the great empire of the Caucasus (and nothing to do with the modern European Albania). The old Albania was one of the oldest Christian nations in the world. We visit an old Albenian ‘Jotari’ church in the village Nic. This church is the center of the Udi minority, from whom most live in Nic. We also visit the excavations of ancient Gabala, where archealogists from Azerbaijan, but also from South Korea, are working hard to expose the old city.
We drive further through the countryside of Azerbaijan. Not spectacular, but still very nice to see the traditional country life.  Man and women in the fields which stretch as far as the eye is able to see, no fences, ideal for many grassland birds.
Finally we arrive in Sheki, one of highlights of a trip to Azerbaijan. I stay in a charming, old caravanserai and visit the charming little town. On the outskirts of the town is the Khan’s palace, lavishly decorated inside. Not far away is also an old Albenian church.  

Overall a lovely trip through a hardly visited country. While Georgia and Armenia are welcoming more and more tourists, Azerbaijan remains the great unknown country of the Caucasus region. From the foreigners visiting the country, only 1% is tourist, the rest is business traffic. Nevertheless, a visit of a few days, are definitely worth it and a nice addition to a trip to the other two Caucasus countries.

Wim van Ginkel, June 2015