This past Sunday (December 7th) I was lucky to see Qobustan (also spelled Gobustan), a UNESCO World Heritage Site of ancient petroglyphs (“petroglyph” is the formal, academic word for “rock carving”). Qobustan is about an hour drive south-west of the city and, of course, we went on the one drizzly day of the week, but the outing was already postponed a few times so we pressed onward!
Okay, fast-fact history lesson of Qobustan: 1) The site is significant for multiple fields: geology, archaeology/anthropology, history, biology, nerds in general. So I was right at home. 2) The cliff side and accompanying boulders suggest that the area was at once completely submerged by the Caspian Sea, and had a much wetter environment than today. Hence the area was able to support diverse species of flora and fauna. 3) Humans are included in this, and the oldest petroglyphs are dated to the Mesolithic Age, roughly 10,000 BCE (or about 12,000 years ago). 4) The continuity of the human presence in this area is amazing – there is evidence from 10,000 BCE, through Roman occupation (Latin inscriptions), through the Middle Ages (Persian inscriptions). This website explains it well: Window To Baku – Gobustan. 5) Archaeologists and other researchers continually work on the site and new discoveries are made regularly. From the first excavations in the 1930s to today, over 6,000 petroglyphs have been documented.
Even though we only saw a handful of the 6,000 rock carvings, the trip was well worth it – the ticket fee was only 2 manat (or $2.50 to see the petroglyphs and tour the museum), and I think our guide was about 10 manat. As I mentioned, it was a rainy day; reminded me of the day trip I took to Hattuşa about two years ago.
We had access to only a few sites and got through them after an hour. Sooo, now what? “Would you like to go to the mud volcanoes?” Oh, right…I’ve heard about those. “They’re just a few kilometers away; for 20 manat we can take you in a jeep to see them – your car won’t be able to get through the mud.” Huh, good point. Well, since we’re here, let’s go for it!
So we drove back down the mountain and waited for the jeep in the museum parking lot. But nothing arrived. After a while we asked our tour guide and he pointed to this vehicle:
How – how is this high enough to go through mud?! But the Qobustan site people insisted that this would get the job done. Alright, who am I but a crazy foreigner who knows nothing about the area? We’re here, let’s do it and see what happens. We piled in the car and a police officer drove about 20 minutes on smooth freeway before turning onto a mud road.
We were actually getting through the terrain pretty well; I was impressed. But we came to the first steep hill and that’s when we ran into trouble.
Our “jeep” wasn’t going anywhere but downhill.
Somehow it was decided that we would attempt to walk to the mud volcanoes. I looked at my boots – the only pair I brought with me from home – and sighed. Hayley, get over it, what if you never come here again? Fine, fine! I stepped out of the car and immediately sank into the goop:
We sludged through the road and got to a flatland area that wasn’t as bad. But still gross. We followed our police guide, who I assumed knew a way to walk to the mud volcanoes…
At one point he asked if we could climb up this hill. On a non-rainy day I think it totally would have been possible.
We pressed onward but he walked faster and we soon lost sight of him.
I started laughing maniacally – I mean, where else would I expect to get stuck in the mud? Where else would I expect to follow and be abandoned by a police officer through muddy flatlands that destroyed my only pair of boots? No where but Azerbaijan! (Although I could see Turkey pulling a similar trick.)
We ended our fiasco soon after this point and insisted that he take us back to Qobustan.
I think we ended up paying 5 manat for his time (it seemed like he was roped into taking us to see the volcanoes), but no 20 manat was given for the tour. We concluded with a walk-through of the museum – which is beautiful (and relatively new, only 3 years old). Artefacts are very well displayed in both English and Azerbaijani (no Russian interestingly enough):
So, it was an interesting day full of learning and a muddy blunder. And really, that part was a COMPLETE waste of our time…but it sure does make an interesting story (at least I hope!), and does add to my “tangled web of human experience”:
Plus, now I have an excuse to go boot shopping.
Until next time… (: