Wednesday, 7 December 2011

Pick your own pomegranates - Şəki, Azerbaijan

Needing to continue west to Georgia, we had time for one sight seeing trip in Azerbaijan, so we headed to Azerbaijan's top tourist town of Şəki. Jo offered to drive the 'work car', so we loaded our bags into a Red Cross Land Cruiser and hit the road. Driving along the back roads James suddenly shouted 'POMEGRANATES'. Jo pulled over and James jumped out and disappeared into the bushes. For the last couple of years James has become obsessed with pomegranates; there are worse vices but it did nearly jeopardise the trip. Feeding the habit in the UK virtually bankrupt us. Here in Azerbaijan, however, pomegranates are plentiful and the spiny bushes grow everywhere. This was the first pomegranate forest that James had seen and we lost him for a good half an hour as he picked the fruit.

Out of Baku, Azerbaijan is a completely different country. The roads are bad and villages ramshackled. There are very few women seen in public; this was noticeable even after spending so many months in Central Asia. Jo and I were often the only women in the Chaicanas, but the men who served us were very polite and helpful, and I found Azerbaijan to be a warm and friendly place.

The main attraction in Şəki is the Khan's Palace, an attractive, modest sized wooden building. Its unique beauty is only revealed once inside. The light streams through the most intricate and colourful stained-glassed windows, casting multi-coloured reflections around the room. We stayed in the caravanseri just down the road from the palace. A traditional caravanseri building and, although the rooms were not luxuriously furnished, the setting, a construction of sweeping arches around a lushly vegetated courtyard garden, was stunning.

We went out for dinner that evening to an obscure restaurant where we were seated inside a bizarre Swiss-style wendy house, which itself was inside the restaurant. That night in the caravanseri our sleep was disturbed when the room above us had major plumbing issues. Water poured through the ceiling of our bathroom. I was too tired to get up and do anything about it, and it eventually stopped.

The following day Jo drove us up the road, via a pretty Albanian church, so we could catch a bus to Georgia. We established at the bus station that there was a direct bus to Tbilisi but, after we had waved Jo off, the cashier decided that there wasn't one. We ended up getting a series of dilapidated buses to the closest town to the border from where we got a taxi. Driving up to the the border, the taxi slowly filling with fumes as it struggled on the gentle incline, the countryside rolling passed looked remarkably familiar. I told the taxi driver that it looked like England. This, he thought, was the funniest thing he had ever heard. He dropped us outside the border post still chuckling to himself and shaking his head.

Beautiful stain glassed windows at the Khan's Palace, Şəki

The exterior of the Khan's Palace

Our our room for the night at the caravanseri

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