Azerbaijan is home to one of the world’s strangest looking natural phenomena, mud volcanoes. Perched on the top of a bare, dusty hillside some sixty kilometres south of Baku, stand a couple of dozen or so mini-volcanoes that fart bubbles of gas through cold, liquid mud-piles. It doesn’t sound impressive but watching these flatulent, human sounding orifices was hypnotic.
”] The grey mud-piles are shape of good-sized termite mounds but on top, there are vents and craters oozing liquid mud. Every now and then a gaseous bubble gloops or pops up to the surface, sending a stream of cold mud-lava down the outside to congeal in the hot sun. Some of the vents send out whistling sounds or belches into the air.
The track to the top of Dasgil hill is unmarked, so rutted and steep that Masud our driver in his BMW taxi could only make it half way. Although apparently the most popular excursion from Baku by foreign visitors he had never been there, took the wrong route and had to ask several local people for directions. Masud was fascinated by this strange sight laughing at the strange sounds made by the earth.
From the top of the hill, you can see across the broad coastal plain and out to the Caspian. It is a sever but beautiful landscape with dry hills and ragged shrubs clinging to dusty hillsides. Dotted here and there are the remains of industrial workings. Some of them are new but many others date from the Soviet era when the country was raped for it’s rich mineral reserves. On our way down we noticed old oil spillages staining the ground with no attempt made to clean them up. Old pipelines lay abandoned and broken and in the distance, lines of derelict railway rolling stock rusted in abandoned sidings but none of this could detract from the fact that Azerbaijan is a beautiful country. It may be polluted but the Caspian still shimmers azure blue under the sun.
On our way back to Baku, we stopped at the visitor centre outside the grim Soviet style community of Qobustan, home of the prehistoric people that left their mark in the form rock carvings high in the rocky hills behind the town.
12,000 years ago the Caspian was some 80 meters higher than today, so that the caves and rock niches where these troglodytes lived were then at the water’s edge. Images of animals, fertility symbols, reed boats and hunting scenes cover the site, some 6,000 in total. The human figures are long and attenuated. Many of the female forms are shown heavily pregnant, with small heads, sloping shoulders and no arms. They reminded me of the famous fertility figurines found in France, dating back 25,000 years.
Thor Heyerdahl visited the site in the late 1980’s and 90’s and became convinced of a link between the figures and similar engravings in Norway. He thought that perhaps the first Norwegians had emigrated there from Azerbaijan… I was reminded of Jean Aule’s book Clan of The Cave Bear, the story of a prehistoric woman who makes her way [over several novels] from the shore of the Black Sea to what is now southern France.
On the Southern edge of Baku, we looked down onto the forest of 1930’s nodding donkeys that were featured in the opening of Bond movie, The World Is Not Enough. Our guide book says however, that there are plans to clear them all away in the near future so Jason, if you want to see another classic Bond location, you had better get over here soon!