Summer 2001 (9.2)
by Betty Blair
I'll never forget my
first trip up into the Caucasus mountains back in 1995. January
1995 - I might add. As a child, I had grown up surrounded by
mountains in eastern Tennessee. But make no mistake, the Smokey
Mountains should never be confused with the Caucasus which peaks
at three times the height and whose roads are incomparably rugged
and inaccessible. You're on your own when you venture out in
the Caucasus. No road service will come to your rescue in case
But back in 1995, nobody warned me of the hazards of traveling
those majestic mountains in winter. I had trusted the local Azerbaijanis
to know the road conditions when I expressed interest in visiting
Lahij - a remote mountain village known for its copper craftsmen
and a history that dates back to camel caravans. Little did I
know at that time that hospitality would take precedence over
safety - at least my idea of safety.
It was sunny when we started our ascent that morning from the
valley town of Ismayilli, oblivious to the fact that climactic
conditions at higher altitudes could be radically different.
We soon reached places where snow had blanketed the road - not
really so deep - a mere 6 to 8 inches or so, but treacherous
enough for a dirt road that had no guardrails. There were two
jeeps in our convoy - none of the tires had chains. Nor were
the vehicles equipped with passenger seat belts - not that it
would have mattered much had we slid off the road and plunged
down the ravine into the river 300 feet below. Fortunately, the
driver who was from Lahij himself seemed to know every curve
in the perilous road. He boasted that he could have driven it
blindfolded. I'm glad he didn't try. I still detect a few white
hairs from that trip.
We finally arrived safely that afternoon, and the trip turned
out to be one of the most memorable in my life despite my extensive
travels in China, Greece, Iran and the Amazon.
Now six years later,
not much has changed when it comes to exploring Caucausus or
visiting Lahij. Our best advice: Travel at your own risk, but
With this issue, we hope to challenge our readers - Azerbaijani
and foreigner alike - to venture "off the beaten path".
We've tried, as usual, to identify experts whom we think know
the subject best. In this case, we've found foreigners to be
among the most knowledgeable. Admittedly, they have access to
the sturdy vehicles needed to deal with the rigors of the perilous
Perhaps it won't come as a surprise that many Azerbaijanis have
yet to discover the rugged beauty of their own country. During
Soviet times, travel and transportation were limited. Few people
owned private cars, and checkpoints were frequent. Now Azerbaijanis
are free to go wherever they wish, but travel high in the Caucasus
is still very difficult unless you have a strong vehicle.
We should mention that some of the foreigners - nature enthusiasts
- on earlier assignments in Azerbaijan have already left their
footprints and influence on others, such as Roger Thomas, UK's
former Ambassador to Azerbaijan. Elf's Jean-Francois Daganaud
was notorious for taking his four-wheel drive where most others
feared to tread. Mark Elliott deserves immense credit for his
tireless pioneering efforts in documenting some of the most fascinating
sites in his guide, "Azerbaijan and Georgia" (Trailblazer,
In this issue, you'll find suggestions by John Connor, Chevron's
General Manager, for a dozen places where you can get away from
the bustle of the city on single day. He has identified some
of his favorite places for hiking and photographing the serenity
David Puls, a geologist with Exxon, describes the laborious ascent
to the top of Azerbaijan's highest peak at 4,243m (14,002 feet),
Shahdagh (King Mountain), on an expedition led by mountain climbing
expert Elchin Mammad. We think the trip got him hooked.
Napier Shelton spent the last two years pursuing a lifetime hobby
of bird watching. Here with the help of Ornithologist Elchin
Sultanov, he identifies 15 locations for observing the migratory
routes of a wide species of birds. His research is another first
Baltimore Sun journalist Kathy Lally on assignment in Moscow,
recently came to Azerbaijan and visited the villages in the Lerik
region near the southern border shared with Iran to try to unlock
the secrets of longevity of mountain centenarians.
Land mines do present a danger in certain regions. If, and when,
a resolution is ever achieved between Armenians and Azerbaijanis
in their struggle over Nagorno-Karabakh, the landmines will inevitably
leave a dreadful legacy to future generations, especially curious
children. Unfortunately, no maps mark where these maimers and
killers have been buried, thus making identification and deactivation
all the more deadly, time-consuming and expensive.
We hope these pages will encourage you to explore Azerbaijan's
open expansive countryside and marvel at nature's transitions
through all its seasons. We think you'll come away refreshed
with a new perspective of man's place in the grander scheme of
Oh yes, and do try to make it up to Lahij. May we suggest Summer,
not January, as the ideal time to get started.
(9.2) Summer 2001.
© Azerbaijan International 2001. All rights reserved.
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