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Phespirit goes to Azerbaijan
Baku     June 2008

AROUND AZERBAIJAN

Map of Azerbaijan

1 Qobustan

Qobustan is set amid a tangle of rocky hills, plains and boulders. It is a favourite destination for tourists day-tripping from Baku, but Phespirit and his guide had the place to themselves. Its top three sights are:

  • 12,000 year-old Stone Age petroglyphs;
  • 2,000 year-old Roman graffiti;
  • small natural 'volcanoes' of burbling grey liquid mud.

Equally impressive, but grander in scale, is the view from the high plateau behind the Qobustan Petroglyph Reserve museum. It can be reached by means of a rickety near-vertical metal ladder bolted to the face of the rock. Ascending the ladder makes the view from the top quite literally breath-taking.

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2 Sahil

After leaving Qobustan, Phespirit detoured into Sahil for lunch. He dined at a seafront restaurant with individual chalet-type rooms for private meals. A strange arrangement, but one supported by good food and good service, so all was well.

If only Phespirit could remember the name of the place.

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3 Baku

It's a bit of a cliché to describe anywhere as a 'place of contrasts', but Phespirit will try to get away with observing the following:

  • the contrast between Baku's old walled city and the surge of modern developments that surround it;
  • between the perception of Islam as a conservative religion, and the easy-going open manner of city folk in Baku;
  • the hectic rate of economic growth, powered by oil and gas revenue, compared with the leisurely pace of ordinary life.

Promenading pedestrians by the Caspian Sea seemed to have all the time in the world, yet the same could not be said for the city's motorists. Phespirit has been to many places where crossing the roads is a fraught business - and Baku is up there with the worst of them. At best its zebra-crossings are merely suggested places for dashing out into the merciless traffic.

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4 Suraxanı

The fire temple at Suraxanı is arguably Azerbaijan's most famous man-made structure. Its allure lies in its uniqueness, although its star has sadly faded in the modern era.

The small temple sits at the centre of a modest caravanserai. The compound once offered shelter to fire-worshipping pilgrims. Now it shelters the temple itself from chaotic urban encroachment and a blackened field of pumpjacks extending along the seaward side.

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5 Yanar Dağ

Phespirit likes a nice roaring fire. There's a permanent one fuelled by natural gas vents in the hillside at Yanar Dağ.

If he didn't know any better he would have assumed it was simply a patch of dry grass set aflame by a discarded cigarette. Knowing it to be a natural phenomenon, however, immediately transforms it into a compelling source of wonderment.

There's nothing else for it but to stand transfixed.

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  1. Qobustan
  2. Sahil
  3. Baku
  4. Suraxanı
  5. Yanar Dağ
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images 1
images 2
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Qobustan Sahil Baku Suraxanı Yanar Dağ