Going by car from Baku to Sheki is an experience. From the modern, exclusive Baku through poor rural areas where the locals are Selling honey, fruit and nuts along the road, to the old Silk road center Sheki gives many different views of Azerbaijan
First i visited Shaki, it was founded near 2600 years ago. There were a lot of huge barrows and necrologies, ancient fortresses and settlements, towers and mosques, old beautiful Albanian churches, tomb of the famouus Haji Murat.
You have to taste PAKHLAVA - very delicious!!!
I stopped at Karvan Saray...it is a hotel with a restaurant, built as old Muslim Palace...the price is from 14$ for person (if you are not alone and take the room with smb else they make discount)...
Also i visited Lahij...It is an old city - the land of craftspeople with ancient history, considerable culture and natural amenities. It is surrounded with Great Caucasus mountains from four sides...There are many waterfalls, old mosques, bridges, paved streets, bath-houses built in 18 century...You will meet a lot of tinkers, carpetmakers, sock weavers, chasers etc...
Missions for work do not permit to have a lot of free time, but when being in Azerbaijan, the people were so friendly that they invited me quite often to discover places around Baku, and the furthest one was a journey in the north of Azerbaijan : Kuba.
A lot of nice sceneries, rivers, canyons and nice typical houses were discovered along this journey.
I really hope to go once back in Azerbaijan and discover the probably hundred other nice place in the mountains that could be discovered, especially if you can have a good car and take some small roads!
Just outside Baku you can find bubbling mud volcanoes and a place called Yanar Dag where a small rock outcrop is permanently on fire due to gas seepage from the rocks.
If you're interested in Geology or Physical Geography, these are a must-see at some point.
Some days later after my vacation in Baku, i went to Nabran. It is a district between a big beautiful forest with rich flora and fauna and Caspian Seaside. I lived in 'Sport Line' camp (rest in which was offered and organized by Travelazerbaijan company), in the big tent (two rooms) and had triple feed (breakfast, dinner, supper) from natural foodstuffs. There were: a football field, a disco-bar, a cafe, a canteen, a shower cubicles with cold/hot water round the clock.
In the afternoon i was swimming in the sea and was taking sunbath, in the evening i was walking in the forest, enjoying fresh air, at night i was dancing with all campers in discotheque, playing different sport games.
The Zoroastrain Fire Temple (Atasgah) at Suraxani, outside Baku, is a must see.
Built on the site of a natural gas vent believed to have been sacred to the Zoroastrians since the 6th century AD, the Atashgah Temple, also known as the Temple of the Fire worshippers, has been a centre of worship for thousands of years.
Second reason - you get to see the oilfields and the grim landscape which surrounds them
For further info, can visit my Suraxani page.
Capital of the former Sheki Khanate, the town developed into an important trade, political and cultural centre in the medieval times. The ancient part of the town was declared UNESCO architectural reserve, and hosts, among others, a magnificent Khan’s palace and an old kersanseray turned into a well reputed hotel.
Very nice town with unspoiled flavour, all in a beautiful region.
For further info, cand visit my Sheki page.
Sumqayit remains today a fine example of a grim, Soviet-style industrial city. It's worth seeing if only to grasp the staggering damage to the environment wreaked by the Soviet authorities. The impact on the health of the population was also dramatic and once Sumqayit held records for infant mortality (a visit to the children's cemetery will illustrate this dramatically).
For further info, can visit my Sumgayit page.
Its vaguely exotic name hides a city at the crossroad of international energy trade. And although hundreds of miles east to Ankara, Baku is still in Europe from many points of view - from expensive shops to chique cafes and restaurants.
A unique mix of Shahs, Soviets and Oil, Baku is the where both Alfred Nobel and Calouste Gulbenkian made fortunes exporting oil via a Rotschild financed railroad to Batumi. Baroque and art-nouveau palaces, with exuberant gardens, ceremonial staircases and Italian frescoes testify today for this old-times glory.
For more tips, can visit my Baku page.
Fountain Square in Downtown Baku is a load of fun, it's full of cool looking people, young, old, fashionistas, boulevardiers, students who go down and snoop each other out. It's a beautiful spot that's close to boutiques, pubs, and all sorts of historical stuff, it's not far from the waterfront and people don't approach you but they're very friendly when you talk to them.
If you only make one trip out of Baku, make it a long one and head north west to Sheki...it is beautiful and well worth the uncomfortably long bus trip to get there. I was concerned when we first left Baku, passing Shixov Beach and its oil rigs, as we seemed to be heading straight for Iran and maybe i was on the wrong bus. After some time, the bus turned inland, across barren desert, and eventually signs for Sheki appeared.
Sheki was once the capital of it's own khanate, and is a very old town spread out in a valley, surrounded on three sides by green hills. The old part of Sheki extends along a stream as far as the Shah's palace....there are several alleyways leading off this main street, full of old houses, some run down, most still lived in, and all very beautiful. The Palace itself is quite small, and unexpectedly colourful...(see picture in travelogues) and is the main 'tourist sight' in Sheki. Next door are a couple of museums, which no doubt would be very interesting if you could actually see anything....electricity is a big problem here, although one, housed in a former church, is quite a picturesque building. They are both heavily overstaffed...I was the only visitor that day, yet in each I had 4 guides accompany me in the pitch black...they opened curtains to let some light get in, but it was still too dark to see anything, and they spoke too quickly for me too. Despite the language barrier they were extremely friendly (one of them was outraged that I offered money for the tour). Sheki is beginning to be discovered by expats from Baku, although it was summer weekend when I visited and it was just me and two Russian families who accompanied me on a tour of the palace. Unfortunately this was conducted solely in Russian, until the guide realised I wasn't Russian, then he proceeded to give me a private tour in a mixture of Turkish and English, with the odd word of Georgian thrown in for good measure...the embarrassing thing was that he wouldn't accept anything extra for this private tour.
Sheki is probably the most visited place by tourists in Azerbaijan after Baku. Khan Sarayi (The Khanate Palace in the town of Shaki located in the foothills of the Caucasus in northwestern Azerbaijan near Georgian border) is the symbol of Sheki. One of the most striking architectural features of the residence is its wooden framed stained glass windows known as "shabaka." Shabaka is a combination of hundreds of hand-crafted pieces of wood (platino and poplar trees) so carefully crafted that they fit together firmly without the use of a single nail. For a closer look at how shabaka is made, there is a local workshop adjacent to the palace. Inside the Palace of the Khans, you'll find murals painted on the walls. Some depict romantic, pastoral scenes of gazelle hunting, as well as pictures based on stories told by the 12th century Middle Eastern poet Nizami. In the wife's quarters, the walls are painted with flowers; in the khan's rooms, depictions of battle cover the walls. The palace has a beautiful garden and has been recently renovated by the World Bank. It's on Unesco's world heritage list!
Kish river is about 15 mins driving away from the town of Sheki on the way to Kish village. It's a nice river dividing the village into 2. On the side nearest to sheki there is an old Albanian church. On the other side of the river there is a resort place called "Gelersen Gorersen". You have to be on 4WD to cross the river or hire one of the old Russian jeeps :) Be especially careful if it has been raining - the river can become ferocius. Make sure to walk along the river and explore the forest!
Chirag Gala is about 3 hours to the north of Baku, between the regions of Devechi and Siyezen. Chirag means "light/lamp" in Azeri. Built in the 6th century, it is very well preserved. Chirag Gala's main purpose was like a communication tower. There were similar fortresses all over the region. If there was an enemy threat or emergency, they would make a huge fire (as a signal) to be seen from the other towers. Although on top of the mountain, nowadays it's easy to get to Chirag gala. Drive up the road until you reach a small chaykhana (teahouse) and from there just follow the path all the way to the castle. The flying ants on the top of the tower will be very annoying but they are harmless. The view, however, will be breathtaking!
Besh Barmag means "Five Fingers" in Azeri. Actually if you look at the top of the mountain, that's what you are going to see! This mountain has a special meaning for the nation as there is a mosque at the foothill and a holy place on the way to the top of it. Hiking there is great and it's only 1.5 hours away from Baku. There is also some stalls, street vendors and a public toilet there as most of the vehicles stop by Besh Barmag to donate money to the mosque. We call it "nazir" and there is a nazir box by almost every mosque in the country.
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