I did not have much time to read about Azerbaijan before my trip, but one thing got my attention – the country is home to about half of the world’s mud volcanoes. ‘What the heck are mud volcanoes?’ I had never heard of them, and had certainly never seen one. So I noted on my itinerary ‘a day trip to visit mud volcanoes’. Our hotel staff was quite useless, and the official rate quoted by the ticket office next to Maiden Tower was too pricey, so we resorted to our ‘random’ tactic and asked a waiter in Art Garden Restaurant whether he knew anything about mud volcanoes. It turned out that he ran a side business as a tour manager. We quickly sorted out all details while the guy came back and forth for our order of food and wine. One of his senior colleagues kept staring at us as if we were suspicious criminals carrying out illegal trade with his little brother. After 2 or 3 such episodes, our guy decided to withdraw and serve other tables instead, presumably to save his own life from those cold deadly stares.

On the day, our driver arrived promptly in a very nice car, and we made it to Gobustan in no time. We first made a stop at Gobustan National Park Museum to learn about rock carvings (petroglyph) and the region’s history. It was amazing to see how these engravings depicting animals and human beings had survived for thousands of years. After a while, we got so good at spotting those rock arts that we even identified a bull’s rear with its head missing.

It was a bit tricky to find the mud volcanoes though. We crawled along unpaved roads, passed old railways, empty oil fields, rusty oil and gas pipelines. No mud volcano was in sight. We made a stop in the middle of nowhere. It was obvious our driver had no clue where to go. Luckily, a taxi approached from the other direction. A few words exchanged between the two drivers, a quick phone call to Tahir, our guy at Art Garden Restaurant, and then we were ‘sold’ for a small fee. Our car was too posh to drive up the unmarked, steep and ragged hill road. The old Lada taxi was perfect, so we said hi to two passengers sitting inside, and squeezed in.

It was fascinating to watch mud volcanoes. They looked like outdoor mud Jacuzzi , with fresh mud oozing down the sides of each volcano. Gusting winds could not drown weird noises made by those active orifices of Mother Earth. We laughed hysterically every time we saw a volcano farted a bubble of gas through its mud bath. Some of the vents even sent out high pitched whistling sounds. Nearby, a small mud lake boiled under the sun. Such a strange natural phenomenon!

Our day ended with a quick trip to Ateshgah (Fire Temple) and Yanar Dag (Fire Mountain). These natural flames gave Azerbaijan its name ‘The Land of Fire’. Thanks to the country’s extensive oil and gas exploitation activities, most of their natural fires have actually died out. Yanar Dag is now its most impressive show. As we left the site, I kept wondering how the fire started (did someone drop a cigarette???), and what nickname we should give to Azerbaijan once it runs out of oil and gas (The Land of Died Fire???).

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Gobustan National Park 

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Rock carvings

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Rocky boulders covering Gobustan National Park

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Driving to the mud volcanoes

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Old pipelines

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An natural fire

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Fresh mud oozing out of a mud volcano

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All mud volcanoes in this area are quite small

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A gas bubble

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Ateshgah (Fire Temple)

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