It was time to say goodbye to lovely Baku and begin my tour of some other areas of Azerbaijan. It was bittersweet to leave. I cannot stress enough how much I enjoyed Baku. The city is simply a gorgeous, fun and over the top awesome place to visit. I would jump at the chance to visit the city again. And just to make sure I did not lose the memories, I took a few more pictures of the old town area near my hotel before Javid and Mahir arrived.
With my luggage loaded in the car, we drove out of the city in beautiful sunny skies and headed northwest to our first stop of the day the Diri Baba mausoleum of Sheikh Diri Baba located in Qobustan. It took about an hour and a half to reach the site and the drive took us through rolling semi-desert hills and some rain showers. In fact, we went from sea level to about 800 meters and the temperature dropped from 26 Celsius (around 79) to 16 Celsius (about 60 degrees). Yikes! We actually had to stop so we could pull out jackets from our bags.
Anyway, once in Qobustan, we drove by an ancient cemetery with graves dating to the 16th, 17th and 18th centuries (I know my sister would be jealous) to reach the ancient mausoleum built into the rocks high above the ground.
The Diri Baba mausoleum was built in the 15th century and appears to hang from the rocks. A two story staircase led to the entrance to the mausoleum and from there, we climbed through a VERY narrow staircase on VERY narrow stairs to the inner chamber. Legend has it that the sheikh’s body is perfectly preserved despite no embalming methods used. (No idea if this is true.). The legend surrounding the body has made the site a pilgrimage site for the faithful from all over the world.
There was an additional staircase that was just as narrow, with even steeper steps that led to the top of the mausoleum and the rocks on which the mausoleum was built. We climbed to the top and the views were spectacular, if a little chilly.
We climbed back down and continued our drive north to Shemakha to see two sites: the rebuilt Juma Mosque and the Seven Domes Mausoleum. Now the Juma mosque was the first mosque I visited on my trip through the “Stans” and now the Caucuses where I was required to wear a headscarf. Not a problem for me since I once spent 16 days in Iran wearing a headscarf just surprising that it was the first.
Anyway, the mosque was originally constructed in 743 AD, but was virtually destroyed in earthquakes in 1859 and 1902. The mosque was then set on fire in 1918 during the conflict with Armenia. The mosque was rebuilt in 2013. The Juma Mosque is important because it is believed to be the first mosque in the Caucasus after the mosque in Derbent.
Once I donned the headscarf, we walked into the mosque, which can house up to 3,000 people. Like all mosques, the prayer room was divided into a women’s side and a men’s side. The mihrab (which provides the direction to Mecca) was really gorgeous with elaborate colours. Much different than most mihrabs.
After the visit to the mosque, we drove down the road and up to the highest point in Shemakha to see the Seven Domes Mausoleum. Now this might have been my favourite site of the day. And while the site is named the Seven Domes Mausoleum, there are actually only three in tact domed buildings at the mausoleum, one partially destroyed dome and three that no longer exist. The mausoleum dates to the beginning of the 18th century and was built for the family of Mustafa khan, the last khan of Shamakhi.
The mausoleum was surrounded by another ancient cemetery and sits perched near the edge of a cliff overlooking Shemakha. We wandered around the site and were able to peak into the remaining three domed buildings at the site. I immediately figured out which “dome” housed the body of the khan because the room had the most elaborate headstones with beautiful colours and gorgeous carvings. In addition, there were only three headstones in the dome, whereas the other two domes held many more headstones that were not nearly so “pretty”.
As we were admiring the view down to the town below, the call to prayer echoed out from the Juma Mosque below, and I have to say the muzzein calling the prayer had a fantastic voice. He could have been an opera singer. Simply beautiful to listen to as we stood on the hillside.
We finally left the Seven Domes Mausoleum and began the drive to the little village of Lahic, a village in the Caucus Mountains. At this point, we had been driving through the lowlands of the Caucus Mountains, but now we began to drive up into the “real” mountains. In addition, the desert lowlands gave way to fog, more greenery, lots of farmlands (including vineyards), and cows, cows, cows.
When we turned off the main road to head even further into the mountains to Lahic, the road became very narrow and very windy. We passed numerous small little villages with women selling produce and these flat squares of dried fruit that were hanging on clotheslines. A river also came into view and higher and higher rock faces making it feel canyon like as we drove.
At one point, we pulled over so I could see the Zarnava Suspension Bridge that extended from the road across the river. I did not intend to walk across, but before I knew it, I was headed across with Javid following close behind. I was about half way across the very wobbling bridge when the rain and wind picked up making it a rather cold crossing.
When I was about half way across, some local fellow decided to cross from the direction we were heading. The bridge was extremely narrow, and I actually had to turn sideways as the guy almost ran past me causing the bridge to bounce up and down. Fortunately, I lived to tell about it so I clearly survived the walk across the river and back. (Actually, it was a lot of fun!)
Once we finished the lovely little suspension bridge walk, we made a quick stop at a roadside shop for some tea. I was freezing after the walk and a little wet so Javid thought I should have some tea. Never one to turn down tea, I sat in the van and watched the young man bring out a kettle, put it on the open fire and make me some tea. And like Turkey, they serve tea here in little hourglass shaped glass tea cups. The tea was a little strong, but certainly warmed me up.
After the tea break, we arrived in the little town of Lahic Because the little town is so isolated the locals culture and way of life has been preserved. The locals even speak in their own dialect (derived from the Persian Farsi language), Many of the locals head into the mountains each summer to collect plants and flowers, dry them and then create medicinal teas. The locals also grow much of their own produce and are known for their handicrafts, including copper products that feature intricate designs.
Once we parked, we walked down Lahıc’s main street, an uneven cobblestone street made of local river-stones. (I saw a lot of them on my walk across the river.). As we walked, the sun came out and really made the little town shine. The street was lined with lovely old stone buildings and timber layers with wooden balconies. While we wandered the street, we stopped and looked in little shops. I even got a hug from a local woman. She spoke no English, but was as nice as could be and wanted her picture taken with me so I obliged.
Now as luck would have it, I ventured into a little copper shop where a young woman immediately latched on to me and wanted to sell me everything in the store. It only took a couple minutes before she showed me what I was looking for … a Christmas ornament! Yep. The young woman had made some copper bells and painted them in different colours. I liked two of them, but the one I really liked was dated 2017. I needed 2018. I put it down and wandered around, decided I didn’t want to buy and left the store (much to the young lady’s disappointment).
We then walked down a side street to take a look at the mosque, we spoke to some village elders and then turned back. As we walked, we passed a number of taps that provide residents with access to the water from natural springs that run under the town.
As we reached the end of the little town I was rethinking my decision about the bells. The more I thought about it, the more I realized I really should buy the bells. I just had this feeling that I was not going to find anything like them anywhere else in Azerbaijan, and I have long ago learned that you should never hesitate to buy if you think it is a unique item. And handmade copper bell Christmas ornament was really unique. So we took the two minute walk back to the shop and as soon as the lady saw me she broke into a big smile.
I picked up the one bell dated 2018 that had little holly berrys painted on the bell and said I would buy that one, but really wanted the other one dated 2017. Javid translated to the woman and she smiled nodded, took the bell and asked for three minutes. She pulled out a cloth, an engraving pen and some gold paint and in a couple minutes she turned the 7 into an 8. I was thrilled and told her to take a bow because she was a superstar. Javid translated, and she started to laugh. However, I was serious. The hand made bell with Lahic 2018 painted on it was gorgeous and to be able to transform the 7 into an 8 in no time flat was amazing.
And the gal wasn’t finished. She convinced me to buy a pair of little hand knit wool slipper socks I can wear around my house. Once I agreed to the slippers, the woman wanted me to buy another pair for my “husband”. I had to disappoint her with “no husband” to which she said “friend then”. This woman was a super saleswoman, but I drew the line. Nevertheless, she was happy, I was thrilled and we ended it with a hug and a picture.
We finally left Lahic and made a quick stop for an early dinner (we had missed lunch) before driving to Gabala where I would spend the night. The drive was surprisingly short after our dinner stop and took us through a beautiful forest and past a myriad of produce stands before reaching my hotel for the night just before 6:00 p.m. It had been a very long day and it was time for a rest.