We started cycling at noon today, and with a slight hang-over. Though the swim in the Caspian in the morning was good.
Before going to Baku proper we wanted to do some sightseeing on the Abseron peninsula on which both Sumqayit and Baku are located. The peninsula is rich in natural oil and gas reserves. There are two places that were of particular interest to us. The first was Yanar Dag, where gas streams out from the earth. It was ignited accidentally by a shepherd’s cigarette in the 1950’s, they say, and has been burning ever since. The place is now labeled “State Historic Culture and Natural Preserve” and an entrance fee of 2 manat is charged. The guards made up for that by inviting us to a glass of tea.
The second sight is called Ashtagah, the fire temple. It was built by Indian Shiva devotees in the 18th century, but was sacred to Zoroastrians for much longer. It is also located at a natural gas vent, however that reserve has run dry and is now connected to Baku’s main gas supply.
The ride from Yanar Dag to Ashtagah led us through the semi-desert of the Abseron peninsula, with oil fields and the ubiquitous nodding-donkey oil pumps everywhere, oil ‘lakes’, salt lakes and decrepit settlements. Quite an uninviting place.
We reached Baku from the east, on a crowded highway. The city is entirely different from all the other Azerbaijani cities I’ve seen so far. It is an actual city. Huge buildings, many in a neo-Persian style.
The hostel we’re now in is tucked away in the Old Town, awesomely located in a backyard off a tiny alley. Guess who’s here? Heather and Stuart, the cycling couple I’d met briefly in Akhalsopeli a week or so ago.