Day 156 – 22.10.2016
Tbilisi, Georgia to Sheki, Azerbaijan

We left Tbilisi around 9.00 am today on our way to Azerbaijan border about 160 kms from Tbilisi. We arrived at around 12.30 to the border, after a few checks on the Georgian side our passports were stamped with the exit stamps and we were allowed to move ahead to the Azerbaijan side. A few metres away, we could see a huge gate closed with two guards at it. They asked us to wait and one guard came to us, checked our passports, kept searching for two more people in the car as we had handed over four passports to him. We had to tell him that the four passports belonged to two of us only with some Visas in the old passport. He then noted some things on a small chit of paper including our names and then, he let us move ahead. A few metres away were a few cabins with a bunch of security officials who guided us to park our car. One official approached us, requested to open the car and asked us to get two of our bags out for scanning. Once scanned, they were satisfied. The other officer requested to get insurance and pay road tax at USD 20 each. Once done, they checked our visas and let us out. There was one more gate crossing where we were requested for the bar code for opening the gate. This bar code was on the receipt issued for Road Tax. We were out of the border in about a total of forty-five minutes, happy on our way to Sheki.

We stopped on the way to have a bite, got a nice clean up for our car and then moved on. The temperature was around 7deg and we were feeling quite cold, but pleasantly happy to have successfully cleared the border.

We reached Sheki at around 5.00 pm and we just relaxed at the hotel until we leave for Baku the next day.

Day 157 & 158 – 23.10.2016 & 24.10.2016
Baku, Azerbaijan

Today, we drove for about 5 hours (292 kms) from Sheki to Baku. Baku is the capital and largest city of Azerbaijan and on the Caspian Sea located 28 metres (92 ft) below sea level, which makes it the lowest lying national capital in the world and also the largest city in the world located below sea level. It is located on the southern shore of the Absheron Peninsula, alongside the Bay of Baku. Baku’s population is estimated at five million people. It is also known as “the Land of Fire”.

In recent years, Baku has become an important venue for international events. It hosted the 57th Eurovision Song Contest in 2012, the 2015 European Games, the 2016 European Grand Prix and will host UEFA Euro 2020.

The city is renowned for its harsh winds, which is reflected in another of its nicknames, the “City of Winds”

The New Manat is the currency of Azerbaijan and the currency code is AZN, and the currency symbol is ман.

Once we reached the hotel, checked in and after a few moments rest, we asked a taxi driver to drop us to the city centre. He dropped us to the Seaside Boulevard which was such a long one, with beautiful landscaping all around. One of the streets opposite the Boulevard was a walking street with shops, cafes, on both the sides. After strolling around for sometime, we took a cab back to the hotel. We had dinner at the hotel.

We booked a cab for the next day to show us around Baku, so we would not waste time searching for places. We paid 100 manat to him from 10 am to 6 pm.

From the time Azerbaijan gained its independence from the Soviet Union in 1991 and with the petroleum boom in the country, the region has been developing fast as a major tourist centre. New construction projects along with improved technology are seen in Baku providing a wonderful blend of contemporary services & entertainment with classic Azerbaijani culture & history.

The Maiden Tower known locally as Giz Galasi, is located in the Old City, Baku, in Azerbaijan, and was built in the 12th century as part of the walled city. It is one of the most dominant architectural pieces, due to its vague design and the stories that surround it. Said to be built in the 12th century originally on the shore of Caspian Sea (later due to land reclamation, the tower is no more near the Caspian Sea), it was supposed to serve as a watch tower. But the construction and architecture, points the needle to nearly 2,500 years back.

Taza Pir Mosque whose construction began in 1905 and was finished by 1914. The mihrab and dome of the mosque are made of marble, while decorative elements of the mosque, the tops of minarets and labels are made of gold.

We visited the National museum of Azerbaijan literature named after Nizami Ganjavi with an entrance fee of 10 Manat. We had to deposit our cameras, phones, jackets etc and out shoe sleeves for our shoes. We were then escorted by an English speaking guide, who provided us with a lot of interesting information. This museum was established in 1939, with one of the greatest and richest treasuries of Azerbaijani culture. The building where the museum is located was built in 1850, as a one-storeyed caravanserais. In 1915, the building was given to “Metropol” hotel and the second storey was rebuilt. On November 1, 1939, a memorial museum named after Nizami was created in this building in connection with the 800th anniversary of the Persian poet Nizami Ganjavi.

We drove down to Azerbaijan Carpet Museum which displays Azerbaijani carpets and rug items of various weaving techniques and materials from various periods with largest collection of Azerbaijani carpets in the world. Unfortunately they are closed on Monday hence we could not see the displayed carpets, but had to satisfy ourselves with photographs of the beautiful building.

The Heydar Aliyev Center is a 619,000-square-foot building complex, noted for its distinctive architecture and flowing, curved style that eschews sharp angles. The center is named in honour of Heydar Aliyev, the leader of Soviet-era Azerbaijan from 1969 to 1982, and president of Azerbaijan from October 1993 to October 2003.

National Flag Square is another large city square off Neftchiler Avenue with a flag measuring 70 by 35 metres (230 by 115 feet) flies on a pole 162 m (531 ft) high. The square covers 150 acres overall.

We walked towards the Fountains Square, a public square meant for public gatherings, especially after business hours and during the weekend. The square has many boutiques, restaurants, shops, hotels and passage. We were informed that “Fountains Square” salad has been named after the square.

From all over the city we could see the TV Tower, a freestanding concrete telecommunications tower which was built in 1996, in Baku, with a height of 310 metres (1017 ft). It is the tallest structure in Azerbaijan and the tallest reinforced concrete building in Caucasus. The tower has become one of the most prominent landmarks of Baku, often in the establishing shot of films set in the city.

On the way, the driver showed us Baku National Stadium which is a 69,870-seat stadium, designed and constructed to meet international standards. In June 2015 the stadium served as the main venue for the European Games, hosting the opening and closing ceremonies, and the athletic games. We were told that they would be hosting a quarterfinal and three of the group games for Euro 2020.

The Baku Atashgah also called the “Fire Temple of Baku” is a castle-like religious temple in Surakhani. Based on Persian and Indian inscriptions, temple was used as a Hindu and Zoroastrian place of worship. “Atash” is the Persian word for fire. The pentagonal complex, which has a courtyard surrounded by cells for monks and a tetrapillar-altar in the middle, was built during the 17th and 18th centuries. It was abandoned after 1883 when oil and gas plants were established in the vicinity, ending the flow of natural gas to the temple and extinguishing the holy fire.

The Baku Ateshgah was a pilgrimage and philosophical centre of Zoroastrians from Northwestern Indian Subcontinent, who were involved in trade with the Caspian area via the famous “Grand Trunk Road”.

Yanar Dag meaning “burning mountain” is a natural gas fire which blazes continuously on a hillside on the Absheron Peninsula on the Caspian Sea near Baku, . Flames jet into the air 3 metres from a thin, porous sandstone layer.

Unlike mud volcanoes, the Yanar Dag flame burns fairly steadily, as it involves a steady seep of gas from the subsurface. There is no seepage of mud or liquid, which distinguishes it from the nearby mud volcanoes of Lökbatan or Gobustan.

The numerous links to fire in the folklore and icons of Azerbaijan are attributed to a connection to the ancient Iranian religion of Zoroastrianism, which first appeared in this region over 2,000 years ago. This created a cult of fire worshipers in Azerbaijan before Islamic rule.

Day 159 – 25.10.2016
Baku to Lankaran

We left at around 9.30 pm after a lovely breakfast at Grand Europe Hotel, served by some lovely staff at the restaurant. We felt really good to have such nice people providing customer service. After we got out of Baku, we were driving on patchy roads, pot-holes, mucky road with rain all the way. Did not get out of the car during the 3.5 hours drive to Lankaran. We had lunch and then, we just relaxed with heavy rains outside.

Lankaran had quite a few good places to be visited, but the rain disrupted all our plans. Part of Lankaran is located on the Caspian Sea with black sand having amazing healing properties. This city is an interesting place for relaxation at any time of the year with clean air and beautiful nature, combined with abundance of hospitality from local people. It was our bad luck that it has been raining continuously since last 10 days.

We had checked into Khan Lankaran Hotel, a small boutique hotel. The people around were very nice and were providing good service to us. We had some local Kebabs and bread with some lovely local red wine, after which we went back to our room.

Tomorrow, we have to cross the border to Iran, so we decided to take it easy. We relaxed at the hotel taking advantage of the rainy weather.