Village on the Way to Bashkend, Azerbaijan, 2009

When I went deeply into Azerbaijan, the mountains were the biggest surprise. The idea to take photos in every province of the world has its benefits. For one thing, it is sure to take you off the tourist track.

November 19, 2009
Daşkäsän, Azerbaijan via Ağstafa, Qazax, Agstafa, Tovuz, Şämkir, Gädäbäy, Şämkir, Goygol and Daşkäsän Rayons

Today was a fabulous day, for I took time to take photos of the rock outcropping in Qazax Rayon and the time to get close to the large lake in Shamkir Rayon. Then I drove into the mountains in an attempt to get to Bashkend. (The status of Bashkend was unclear. The Internet says it is part of Armenia, but the local people say they speak Azerbaijani and it is not off-limits.)

RETROSPECTIVE… After waking in my dingy hotel room, I drove by instinct towards the rock outcropping that I’d chosen as my first stop for the day. The most efficient route was not obvious. It was a long way across a riverbed, and I drove like mad through the mud to make it across, glad when I successfully ended up on the other side. Shortly beyond that, I got a good view of the rock mountain and photographed it.

I made my way back along a main road, stopping to take photos of white mountains and a shepherd in the fore-ground. I made my way back through Agstafa. I took a photo of a beautiful tree. Its leaves shone green and gold, twinkling in the wind.

In Tovuz, I stopped to eat lunch along the road, and I took photos of the eggs and beef in the little frying pan that they brought to the table. I asked about going to Bashkend. I was advised to go via Shamkir, as it was an hour faster. As I passed through Shamkir, I became fascinated by a large lake in the distance. Cliffs of stratified clay of different hues dropped down to its shores. At a T in the road, I went left instinctively. Once out of town, as the road went closer to the lake, I came to a place with a good view, then stopped and photographed it. There was still direct sunlight on the opposite shore. I wanted to go swimming, but I reasoned that would really interfere with my quest to go to Bashkend.

I drove back towards the main road. On the outskirts of the town, I came to a group of turkeys. I stopped and took photos of them from my open window. To my amazement, the turkeys jumped up on my hood. There were three of four turkeys on the hood of my car making a ruckus. They jumped off before I could get a good photo.

I stopped again as three boys were kicking a dead wolf, which had been flattened by the wheels of a large truck. Lying next to the wolf were two geese who’d had their necks bitten. It was unclear how all three animals ended up dead on the roadside. One of the boys kicked the wolf. It seemed they were angry because it had killed the geese.

I continued east in daylight to the town of Shamkir, through it, then up windy roads towards the province of Kedabak. The sky turned cloudy as I rose far above the Shamkir Valley. When I came to Gadabay, the first town in Kedabak, I stopped to take photos of mountain women in their colorful dress. To my delight, they were not negative at all, but rather very friendly.

I raced down the road, trying to suppress my impulse to take more photographs so that I could arrive to see Bashkend before complete dark. I asked again for directions and was told to continue. The next thing I knew I was at a border post of the army at a bridge. I was questioned, they took my passport, then told me to follow them across the bridge. A soldier got in the front passenger seat of my car. When he saw my cam-era, he reported it. His superior confiscated my camera. We went across the bridge. Then we were told to go back. On the other side of the bridge I was told to park.

I felt very uncomfortable that they had taken my camera. I called Yorhan at the car rental and gave the phone to the soldier. Yorhan explained, presumably, that I had rented the car from him in Baku and that I was an American tourist (that is, harmless!). Some tense moments went by. A man came who spoke decent English. He questioned me but was also reassuring. Later, I was told to check to make sure I had all my things, as a courtesy. I was free to leave. I turned around and drove back.

I stopped by a restaurant but there was only one guy and his assistant. The guy seemed too lazy to want to cook and changed his story from having kebab to not having kebab. I made some insult to him, which I figured he could not understand, but – human nature being what it is – he did, and he in turn sent off some equally bad vibrations my way and insults I could not understand. I drove into Gadabay. I stopped at a place to eat. I was given a private room to eat in. Later, the family entered my room. When I took a photo of them, they were delighted.

Now it was my goal to retrace my steps to Shamkir, drive east to Ganca, then south into the mountainous region of Dagestan, then to spend the night there. I stopped infrequently. I wound up the road to the main town of Dashkesan. When I got there, it was probably about 1am. There was absolutely, I mean absolutely, no life there at all. There was one hotel, but the door was locked. There was, however, a phone number. I called the number. A man answered, then, seeming to know what to do, hung up. A few minutes later a heavy-set man loped his way to the front door from the inside. I asked to see the room. It was minimal but it would do.

November 20, 2009
In the morning, an amazingly long string of white peaks – the Caucasus Mountains – could be seen from the village of Dashkesan. I wrote, “I walked over to see the grand vista of mountains in Dashkesan.” The food was another pleasant surprise.