Gobustan

Baku side trips: Gobustan and mud volcanoes (Azerbaijan, intermediate level)

  Early in the morning, we departed from Baku where we spent our first day in Azerbaijan for Gobustan to see a Unesco World Heritage Site – national park famous for its Rock Art and nearby mud volcanoes. First you have to reach the bus station at the 20th of January street (by marshrutka nr. 29). Then take a bus to Gobustan and ask the bus driver to stop you there; this trip takes less than an hour. The bus stops in the middle of nowhere, but you will be immediately met by numerous taxi drivers. Our taxi driver wanted 45 manats to get us to both Gobustan and volcanoes, but we bargained it to 25 (how naïve we were!). Unfortunately, taxi is the only way to get to the destination. You might try to get to Gobustan by hitch-hiking, but don’t hope to get to mud volcanoes in such a way, there is hardly any road and these are only tourists who go there.

Some people go on foot, but it will take several hours: consider the heat!

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There had been signs “Danger” next to volcanoes before, but the taxi drivers got rid of them not to scare tourists. Don’t come up to the craters: some people fell down and drowned there. You won’t find anybody around, only desert.
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Average volcano:
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The mud gurgles actively, and, as the taxi driver said, in winter it is especially dangerous.
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There is a mud lake next to the volcanoes with a rope designated to tie any insane person who would want to take a swim in the lake to keep him from drowning. Although it hadn’t always helped, as the driver said. The lake gurgles intensively as well.
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We enjoyed this part a lot, though we hadn’t wanted to go there before. Then we went to Gobustan itself, the place where a great number of petroglyphs is concentrated (about 6000!). Thor Heyerdahl, by the way, came to the conclusion that these pictures are unique and resemble only Norvegian petroglyphs, which means that Azerbaijani and Scandinavians might have common origin – which is of course arguable. By the way, next to the rocks with pictures there is an excellent museum which explains a lot about the history, archeology, and geology of the place (e.g. the formation of mud volcanos).
The carvings on the rocks are indeed impressive, often large and accurate. Not everyone can do the same even and steady picture with a pencil (we can’t for sure). It is also fun to look at the stones searching for the drawings. The taxi driver said he found a new one every time he went there. Unfortunately, the photos cannot capture how large some drawings are:
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Gavaldash is a big stone, and a musical instrument at the same time:

The driver also offered a ride to the beach (“all inclusive”), but the beach was very dirty. Then he drove us back to the bus stop. Thinking that he was nice to us, we decided to pay 30 euros (we didn’t enough manats with us, and euro is almost equal to manat) instead of 25. We had 2 banknotes of 20 euros, he gave 5 euros back, claiming that he did not have enough change, and left the spot immediately. This was the first and (we suppose) the last time we were fooled during the trip. Taxi driver:
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Please, hire another one and be alert. It’s a pity when you want to be nice to the person and he behaves like that. Also, his price was initially quite high, bargain.
On the bus stop we took marshrutka nr. 195 to the 20th of January, and then the bus nr. 120 to the railway station. Advised by Lonely Planet (again, don’t trust it), we went to café QOC at 28 May str., 50. The portions were small and not that good.
Then we had a short walk to say bye to Baku.
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After getting out backpacks back from the luggage office, we were ready to take a night train to Shaki. We had bought the tickets on the Internet in advance, and printed the electronic tickets at the cashier’s desk at the railway station an hour before the trip, as recommended. When we reached the train, we found out that our names on the tickets were written in hieroglyphs – it must have been a problem of coding or something like that. The chief of the train refused to let us in, saying: “What’s the trouble, you’ll take another train tomorrow”. But we insisted, saying that their computer problem was not our fault, and the ticket still showed our passport numbers. The crowd gathered around, they were talking, calling somebody, and arguing, and finally, the chief kindly let us in.
The train was old Soviet, but clean, and the personnel – nice.
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Next morning we woke up in Shaki.