Well today was the first day since I left Son Kul Lake in Kyrgyzstan that I actually saw clouds and a few drops of rain. It was a refreshing change from the endless heat I have run into the past couple weeks. Anyway, the weather was not going to affect me one way or another as I set off for my full day tour of sights about an hours drive from Baku.
My new driver Mahir and my guide Javid picked me up in the van at 9:30 a.m. and we set off for our first stop of the day, the Qobustan Petroglyph Reserve another UNESCO heritage site. The site features thousands of stone carvings dating back up to 12,000 years. The drive took about 60 km out of the city, along the Caspian Sea past massive oil refineries and drilling rigs (including oil platforms out in the sea visible from the road) that seemed to coexist with several waterfront resorts. Certainly a strange combination.
Anyway, after about an hour of driving, we reached the turnoff to the site, a flat top mountain in the distance that was home to the petroglyphs. Once we made the turn, we drove a short distance before stopping at at what appeared to be a brand new museum where we would spent a bit of time before driving the rest of the way up the mountain.
The museum provided a great overview of the site with descriptions of the most well known petroglyphs we would see as well as some historical perspective on petroglyphs around the world. There were displays about the animals that used to roam the area, the history of mankind in Azerbaijan as well as 3D imagery of what the area looked like thousands of years ago. It was incredibly informative and really well done.
After the museum visit, we drove a few kilometers up the hill before stopping and beginning the hike up the hillside to take in the ancient stone drawings on the face of massive boulders. (It is believed that the carvings were actually within caves, but over the thousands of years since the drawings were made, the caves fell apart leaving the stones exposed.)
It was not long into the hike before I saw the most well known petroglyph at the site high up on a rock, the petroglyph known as dancing people. It was easy to see and incredible to think how long ago the petroglyph had been carved into the stone.
After some photos with the crappy camera, we continued to walk up the path as it took us past more massive stones with petroglyphs including a reed boat, animals, pregnant women, more animals, more dancing humans, and shamen. And what was really interesting is that I would think I saw all the petroglyphs on a boulder, but if I moved a foot or two in either direction, the light would hit the stone face in a different way and I would see an entirely new set of petroglyphs. It was fascinating, and I could have stayed there for hours checking out the various carvings.
Now besides the amazing petroglyphs, the views were pretty spectacular. We were high up on a hillside and when I looked in the opposite direction from the rocks where the petroglyphs were located, I could see all the way down the valley to the Caspian Sea. It made for some spectacular scenery.
So once they dragged me away from the petroglyphs, we drove about 15 kilometers south towards the turnoff to mud volcanoes that sit atop Daşgil Hill. And just an aside, the mud volcanoes really aren’t volcanoes (no seismic activity or lava), but are called volcanoes because they spew mud as they release gases into the air.
Anyway, we reached the turnoff to the site and at the turnoff, we pulled over and Javid and I got into a four wheel drive vehicle with a cab driver who was going to take us up the hill. Now at this point, I had no earthly idea why we had to change cars, but once we hit the turnoff road, I immediately understood. The road was not paved, was bumpy and in parts, went straight up and straight down like a roller coaster. As we drove, the smell of gas permeated the air (we were apparently near the major gas pipe line, oil line and refinery in the area).
We finally reached the top of the hill and everywhere I looked, there were these funny looking little mounds. Rather than stopping at the top, we drove a short distance back down the other side to the largest of the mud volcanoes. We got out and this thing was huge and all I could hear with this burping sound. As I stood there, every couple seconds I would hear a burp and a mud bubble who ooze to the top and pop as gas was released into the air (mostly methane). And thinking about it, it made sense these were here since we were surrounded by oil and gas reserves.
Once we had enough time at the “big guy”, we went back to take a look at the smaller, little mud volcanoe mounds. Each one was a bit different with some just oozing mud while others made a bubbling, gurgling noise as the gas came to the surface and popped. While we were standing there, one mud volcano decided it was time to sort of erupt, with a mud flow pouring out of a hole in the side of the volcano.
Now as we walked around, we had to be careful not to slip in the mud or step in any of the massive mud puddles. Miraculously, I had made it without much mud on my shoes. After I had more than enough pictures, I stopped for one more and this is where I screwed up. Just as I was walking away, another mud volcano decided to spew mud. I caught the perfect picture of the flow and was so excited, I turned around and stepped right into a HUGE mud puddle. My shoe sank right in and when I pulled my foot out, my foot looked like a block of mud. Ugh. I managed to get a lot of it off with a nearby stick, but the shoe was still pretty caked in mud. Fortunately, I brought a pair of sandals with me and since we were not hiking any more for the rest of the day, I could change shoes. (I was dreading the shoe cleanup later on.)
So after the visit, our driver took us back down the hill to Mahir who immediately pulled out tissues to help me clean off my hands while our mud volcano driver poured water on my palms. I grabbed a bag from the car and stuck my shoes in the bag and put my sandals on. What at mess.
Anyway, we began the drive back to Baku and once in the city, we continued on for another half hour to the Abseron Peninsula and the Suraxanı Fire Temple, which had been rebuilt in the 18th-century on the grounds of an ancient Zoroastrian temple. As we pulled into the parking lot, the wind picked up and it was actually a bit chilly. Fortunately, I had brought a sweater so pulled it on as we walked to the brick building.
As we walked through the archway, we entered a large courtyard with a square alter in the center housed in a brick building with a flame burning inside. The courtyard was surrounded by stone cells where former Zoroastrian worshippers lived. The cells are now filled with artifacts and historical information about the origins of the site and the Zoroastrian religion.
As we wandered around, I learned that at one time the original temple had been used something like a caravanserai with traders from the Silk Road stopping to rest (and some to pray) at the temple. There were also displays and explanations about the fire ceremonies and the priests who conducted the ceremonies. All in all, it was a fascinating look at the fire worshippers.
We stopped for a very late lunch where, in addition to some pancake like food filled with meat, I had a drink made from fayxoa (also known as a guavasteen). The fruit is covered in water and sugar and the juices leach out. After some boiling a juice is born. The bottle of the juice we were served, also had the fruit at the bottom of the bottle. First time I have ever had this juice and I must say it was rather tasty.
The last stop of the day was to Yanardagh State Cultural and Natural Reserve aka the “fire mountain”. Before we reached the site, we stopped and bought some figs from a roadside vendor. I was a little mystified by the stop as it was getting late in the day, but I figured out why we stopped when out driver got out of the car and lit a cigarette.
Anyway, we reached the fire mountain, and as it turned out, the fire mountain was similar to the Darveza Gas Crater I had just visited, but on a much, much smaller scale. Apparently, gas seeps from the porous sandstone hillside and in the the 1950s someone accidentally lit the hillside on fire (sounds familiar). Ever since then, the natural gas fire has continuously burned. It was another mistake, which happened to create a tourist attraction.
We watched the fire for a bit, got close enough to warm up and take some pictures, before calling it a day. Our drive back seemed to take far less time that it did to get there. Once we approached old town, Mahir dropped Javid and me near the repair shop to see about the status of my camera. The news was not good. The camera needed a new part and it would take two weeks. Ugh. Looks like it will be a new camera for me. I plan to call the Dubai Panasonic store and see if they have my camera in stock. If they do, I will buy a new camera and have it delivered to my hotel in Dubai for when I arrive in early October. Until then, the crappy camera will have to do.
Once back at my hotel, I spent some time cleaning my muddy shoe before walking down the street to find a cab to see the light show on the “flame towers. The trip turned out to be entirely worth it. While I stood and watched, the towers lit up with people golfing, people waving the Azerbaijan flag, the colours of the Azerbaijan flag, flames, and a variety of blue colours that appeared to be water. It was spectacular and free, except for the 15 manat cab fare … about $6.
Once back in old town, I stopped for a bite to eat before calling it a night. I was leaving Baku tomorrow, but could easily stay for many more days. What a wonderful city!