Nakhchivan - Azerbaijan


This is look into the little visited enclave of Nakhchivan - a part of Azerbaijan, seperated from the 'main' part of the country. I had just been on the top of Mt. Ararat in Turkey, and had looked for an interesting place to visit in the vicinity. Many choices - Irak, Iran, Georgia, Armenia - and here...


Travel information

The most common way to Nakhchivan is via air to/from Baku. A new route has started operating from Istanbul this spring, and it is quite cheap – possible cheaper than from Baku. I went through the Turkish corridor between Armenia and Iran – there is a 10 km border between Nakhchivan and Turkey
1 Manat = 1 Euro, so the currency is easy to calculate with.
1 TL (Turkish Lire) = ½ Euro, so this is also easy to calculate...

Visa: Most nationalities need a visa to enter Azerbaijan. You can get a 7 day tourist visa when entering through Baku, but it is not possible at any of the Nakhchivan borders. I applied for visa through the London office - read more here. It is 55£. The problem is the posting of the passport. I cannot buy British stamps on-line (I tried, but the British post sent my money back and said it was not possible). A friend recommended to send a 10£ note with the self adressed envelope - and it worked.

Press the map to see a larger image.


You are the only tourist in Nakhchivan. This may change, but it is also the charm of this place. Natig is the only bureau that can help tourists, and I can recommend their service highly. They can help with the logistics.

Quick facts

teaFavorite car: Lada
Favorite drink: tea, through a sugar cube
Favorite food: Lule barbeque


There are not so many adressing Nakhchivan. The best is the chapter from the Lonely Planet book - you can buy just Azerbaijan chapters if you just need this. A Thorntree reader recommended 'the Mark Elliott Azerbaijan book is about a million times better than the LP. The 4th addition is out and is far more up-to-date and detailed than the LP' (fluffy_bunny)

Friday 3.9. Dogubayazit, Turkey - Nakhchivan, Azerbaijan

It was easy to get onwards to Igdir – at 12:00 I was on a minibus (5TL, 45 minutes). New views of Ararat, but the west side view was blocked by a ridge, so you didn’t see quite as much. From the Igdir side (North West), the view is different, and you can see that the glacier goes much further down here. The Parrot glacier is fully visible.
I did not have a map of Igdir, but walked around a bit. It was 40 degrees, so it was hard to keep on. Saw a couple of hotels, but decided to move on. Looked at a minibus station, and then someone approached me in German and asked if he could help. Super. He lived in Germany and was here in Igdir for 14 days on vacation and to attend a funeral of his cousin. Except for him, it did not seem like any other understood a word of English. He walked with me to the municipal building/square, to Igdir Turizm, and there I waited for a shuttle to the bus station from where the busses departed. When I returned a few days later, I saw this station on the south ring road (south east). I waited for almost 2 hours, and I should have asked directions and taken a taxi there, but the German speaking guy was gone. Hmm, considered a hotel, but then just outside the door, there was a couple of men talking – and Kim Bodnia with gold tooth (like in the movie, 'Pusher' ) suggested that I should take his 'taxi' – only 30$. Yes. First he did have a lot of different errands and we went to a store house and filled up his car with soda's and agriculture seeds. He was probably more of a smuggler type than a taxi driver in a big Toyota. He thought more of it as 'cargo'. He didn’t speak much English, but he often tried to start a conversation – like 'You, Erik, ha, ha', and then gestured like someone drinking – something we drink in Nakhchivan – Arak? He was actually quite nice. He knew everybody at the border, and it was not until then that it became apparent that he was from Nakhchivan where he had family. He drove to Igdir most days. The passport was checked at the Turkish border, the car was then noted. Then passport control and customs for Azerbaijan. It was clear that it was seldom that a westerner came this way. The guy at the passport control could not really understand my Visa – that it was from London, and I didn't live there. The customs guy was a young man who got questions from someone else and then translated the question to me – not unpleasant, maybe even funny. What are you doing here? Tourist. Tourist? There is nothing to see here – we don't have tourists here. Well, it took a while to have all Kim's goods scanned, bribery paid before we could get on. Very beautiful sunset with the Ararat mountains and sun setting behind us. This is the end of the long, thin Turkish corridor - the area where Turkey, Iran, Armenia and Azerbaijan meets within a few square kilometers, so there was police and fences everywhere. I did not see any military, but I'm sure it was there somewhere. Gasoline was 70 cents / .7 Manat where it was 1.30 – 1.60 € in Turkey. The road was perfect and 4 lanes on the Nakhchivan side, with small red-blinking leds in the middle of the road. It started to get dark, and I found out that here we are 2 hours later than on the Turkish side! So when I thought it was early evening at 19:30 – it was 21:30 instead. Ups.
Aliheydar Pashayev, my contact, was at the bus station on the outskirt of the city, and we drove around among beautiful and illuminated buildings – it looked quite overwhelmed. To the Tabriz hotel, one of the top-end hotels in the country. It was a little funny since Aliheydar and the bellboy went up with me to the room on the 11th floor, and the bellboy showed that there was water in the faucet, towels, the shower worked, the hairdryer worked – and lifted the mattress to feel and show that not a single spring had sprung – while Ali translated. Then I discussed the program for the next days with Ali. Ali suggested a program for the next days from morning to evening, where my suggestion was that I was on my own tomorrow. The compromise was that I went with Hassan, the driver and guide, for a couple of hours in the morning, and not paying extra for this. Then we went to have dinner (it was a little late), and we went to the eastern part of town. I was getting very hungry, so I was happy to go. Many of the restaurants here are a little special for us, since they are outdoor and away from other houses, with small gardens and small enclosures with a table and a few chairs, and away from the other tables and guests. Had something similar to Cevapcici (a Balkan dish) – called Lule kebab here.
You quickly notice that Islam is different here. There is no (not that I noticed) calling for prayer from the minarets like in Turkey, and it did not seem like tea was a part of the no-go items during the Ramadan. Very few with headdresses and it seemed quite common with alcohol (beer, vodka, etc.)

Saturday 4.9. Nakhchivan City

Looked out from my 11th floor window, and suddenly the nightly fairytale city was transformed to a more ordinary city. Old Russian-looking facades showed up, though many of them were being renovated.
The waiter at the breakfast buffet correctly guessed that I was from Denmark. On his list, the other 20 listed were from Iran. They come here to drink beer and do some fanning of the hair – there are not that many countries Iranians can enter easily.
Getting a bit of local currency turned out to be no problem – there was an ATM at the entrance of the hotel :-)Tabriz
09:30 to Noah's grave. Beautiful monument with photos and paintings inside the monument. I didn't fully understand the story, but I think the story says that the grave was at this place since it was one of the highest points of the city. A local painter painted the grave in the early nineteen hundreds and it was then rediscovered later and the upper part of the monument was added. Below the hill there was a put-and-take lake with a restaurant – maybe one could have the fish for dinner after catching it. There were different museums and monuments to see, but I had the help from Hassan, my driver, to do a few practical things. The pharmacy for lip-balm (a bit scorched from the high altitude sun) – and postcards. He had a couple of ideas where I could get it, but no. After calling a few places and friends, he got a tip, and we picked up a woman at a mosque and drove to a storage (see the picture below) behind the government building. Here we found a couple of decks in the piles of books and paper. Not particular good postcards – mostly of municipal buildings – but postcards none the less. Also a small booklet about Nakhchivan in English – with the first city map I had seen, except the map from Lonely Planet Armenia-Azerbaijan book – which I (argh!) had forgotten to bring. From the suggestions, the salt mines sounded interesting. 10 km outside the city. It turned out to be an asthma centre drilled into the salt mountain. There is a newly build 5-star hotel just outside – for the relatives (according to Hassan). To enter the mountain, we needed to get approved by a doctor in white gown. He hesitated for a few seconds and then gave us a nod to enter the mountain. It is used for asthmatics as a natural cure – the clients then sleep inside the cave during the night. The smell of salt was very pervasive as soon as you got inside. There was a long path to the 'hotel' inside. It seemed very new and nice. Found it interesting. Lunch (Lule kebab) and I sent Hassan home. Visited the supermarket across the hotel. They seemed to be well stocked with foreign goods with a liking for beer and variants of Vodka. I looked for local goods, but did not find so much. There was a local white wine and a few other things. Went to an internet café (there were several) and had my Where I've Been map updated – it strangely went from 21% of the world to 27% by adding Turkey and Azerbaijan... Relaxing at the hotel, having a cold beer at the 13th floor, writing a couple of postcards. Did a small round, passing by a few monuments, but it was too hot. Sauna at the hotel (this is the vacation and relaxation part of my holiday).
The Azerbaijan news on the TV starts with a map of the country and fire different places (like Nagorno Karabakh) and a English voiceover pronouncing all the Armenian crimes against the country and resolutions declaring Armenia to get out of there. The hate between Azerbaijan and Armenia is very profound.
MominaSunset around 19:30, did some photo taking in the park and the Momina Khatun monument. At 21:00 at the restaurant in the hotel – the 13th floor restaurant with views of all the city. I was the only one here. The waiter was quite funny, and could just a few words in English, like the others. 'Denmark, very good city'. He was very impressed that I had been to Mt. Ararat and liked seeing a few pictures and films on my camera. On a good day, it can be seen all the way here to Nakhchivan city. The menu included: Strange Sandals, Schintzel, Steak mix, Lule barbecue (pulled meat), Internal organs barbecue, To cover with ashes (with potato), Having fruit barbecue (chicken), potato tail babecue. I asked what ‘steak mix’ was, and he went to the kitchen and when he returned he told me: 'It is fantastic!' I had to try this. It turned out to be 2 pork chops (maybe not, but it tasted so), with melted cheese. And it was great. Being a Muslim country, they obviously don't drink much, but they had a few of bottles of Wine in display. A couple of them were from Azerbaijan, though not from Nakhchivan. 'Yeddi Gözal' – it was expensive 25€, and tasted like a sweet port wine.
The hotel elevator needed to be reprogrammed. When I was younger, I thought it would be interesting to write elevator-programs, finding an optimal serving plan for people on all floors. But this elevator was strange. I was on the 11th floor and was going up (to the highest floor, 13). It would then go down to the 1st floor pick up people who were going to the 5th floor – and then return to 11 and 13th floor with me.

Sunday 5.9. Ashabu Kahf Cave – Snake Mountain – Julfa – Ordubad – Nakhchivan City

Hassan picked me up at 9. We changed the hotel to Xayal, which costed 60$ (Tabriz was 120$). Not a hotel to remember, but it was OK. I suggested to Hassan that they should offer a translation service to the Tabriz hotel, to re-translate the menu. He figured out what several of the items could have been – like the ‘to cover with ashes’, would probably be potatoes wrapped up and cooked on hot coal.
The Armenian discussion often comes up, and I had a small 'discussion' with Hassan this time on the way to Ashabu Kahf Cave. A friendly discussion, that is. Hassan thought the Turks should throw out the one million Armenians working there, since they took the jobs from the Turks, where I advocated for there must be a reason that the hire an Armenian instead of a Turk – e.g. they are better qualified, or they would do jobs that the Turks would not do - there are different number mentioned at this link. It says there are about 50.000 Armenians in Turkey, but maybe up to one million who are descendants some way. We talked about the refugees from the small enclaves that the Armenians had occupied, where as there had never been one Armenian on Nakhchivan land – where I mentioned the churches and buildings that the Azeri had leveled in return. He could not accept that – there had never been one Armenian church or building here. It is quite certain what he really believed, but I think much of the history has been deleted or withheld from the people here – at least I found this account very interesting: . My small booklet claimed that there were 99,1% original Azeri here, where the rest were Russians. There are not many countries that can claim the same since people always mix. Armenia is probably the same, but both countries are well famous for moving people forcefully.
Ashabu KahfArriving at the Ashabu Kahf, we were at one of the protruding mountains. Quite beautiful mountains with interesting caves. I like to watch people at these kinds of religious pilgrimage sites. It was not specifically Muslim, but emanates from a legend where some people slept for 309 years in these caves, while a tyrant ruled. The story is somehow mentioned in the Koran – the story about the Seven Sleepers, I read. It has been a pilgrimage site since the 6th century. There were many families here and a nice place for a picnic or a cup of tea. We continued to the Snake Mountain (Ilandag, 2415 m), which also is a photogenic mountain that sticks up from the plains. One of the places I had on my itinary from the beginning. It is difficult to find good pictures on the internet, but we drove very close to it. A local legend says that the cleft on the top was made by Noah's Ark. The mountain looked very steep and impossible to climb [a reader commented that he did it, so it is not]. It is visible from Nakhchivan city. We continued to Julfa – the border town to Iran, next to river separating these two countries. All Nakhchivan trucks go this way to pass through Iran to Azerbaijan, since Armenia (of course) is blocking all through transport the direct way. The story of Julfa (or Culfa) is somewhat interesting. On the Iranian side, there is also a city of the same name, and it used to be Armenian. In 1604, most Armenians were moved to Esfahan in Iran (they were skilled craftsmen), where the neighborhood still exists (we visited here a couple of years ago) with an Armenian churches and Armenian population.
There are actually quite tall mountains on the Iran side of the river, where as it becomes Arizona red rock on the Nakhchivan side. Also it looks like earth plates being parallel pushed up in a 45 degree angle. It would look really good in the sunset. Lunch as usual at an outdoor restaurant, except we got grilled lamb chops instead of Lule kebab (by mistake), but it was quite good. Close by, we came to Ordubad, which is the easternmost town. Ordubad was not really interesting, but it is the 'end of the road', then across the mountains the Armenian corridor (Zangazur) to Iran, which the Russians created in 1918, and thereby seperating Nakhchivan from the rest of Azerbaijan. It seems that at least for this the Russians are blamed and not the Armenians. We quickly visited an underground water canal, the mosque and saw the restoration of an Albanian church (where this is Caucasian Albanian and has nothing to do with the country Albania) and had tea at the square. It was so hot that we returned. On the way we visited an old bridge. I thought it would be the beautiful Mostar-type bridge seen on some pictures, but no, that one was swept away two years ago. stampWe were back at 17:00 and we were just in time to send the postcards before the post office closed. There was no way to figure out that it was the post office, so I'm happy Hassan helped here (it is on the Lonely Planet map, I can see being back). She copied my passport (!) before the postcards could be accepted. It took four weeks before we received them in Denmark. The stamp she used was actually quite interesting – a map of Nakhchivan with several printed strike outs of the prices and years – a collectors item. A quick visit to Yusif Ibn Kusir tomb which also is one of these great 11th century tombs.
Aliheydar came by my hotel a bit later. I got a few cd's from him about Nakhchivan and interesting histories and information - and refused a couple of them with titles like 'Armenian terrorists' that sounded a bit too one-sided. Hassan and I went to the internet café (Fuji at the corner of Ataturk and H. Aliyev Prospect), and were dropped off at a (yes, typical outdoor style) restaurant in walking distance of the new hotel. Lule kebab, plastic chairs, beer – yes, very typical.

Monday 6.9. Nakhchivan City – Van (Turkey)

Walked to the market and the Turkish mosque in the morning and had some great sunrise pictures. After breakfast, Hassan picked me up at 9:30 and were then going to the airport to pick up the tourist taking over the job after me. Another MTP top-50 traveler from Greece (Harry Mitsidis), Hassan had looked up. We did a quick welcome to him and congratulation that in a couple of hours he was the only tourist in the country. Aliheydar and I went with his taxi driver, while the Greek went touring with Hassan. Our driver turned out to be none other than Tommy Lee Jones, though his stomach had gained a bit lately. He was like Kim Bodnia well known at the border. He took out the instrument panel and hooked the trip-counter back up. A few kilometers before the border to Turkey, he entered a backyard (along with many other cars), and had the tank filled – Ali thought he might save about 5%. At the border there was a line of maybe half an hour, but I walked with Ali past the cars and talked to about 10 different people (rising rank) and finally the top chief, who let us in first. No line at the Turkish control. It took 3 hours in total to Igdir. We had a quick lunch, and they drove me all the way to Dogubayazit. I quickly got my luggage from the hotel Nuh and the time was now around 13:00 (remember, we gained 2 hours with the time difference at the border). The last mini-bus to Van for today was at 14:00, so it was fine. It is a long trip to Van – 2:45 hours. I found a (totally crazy) taxi driver who took me to Akdamar Hotel. 100 TL. Fine room and lots of activities going on outside. Only thing was that it was quite warm and there was no ventilation or A/C. Walked, read, Pizza and I finally found a great place to have coffee (this is Tea-country) – great – Simit Sarayi, one block to the right of the hotel.
I woke up around 01:00 in the morning – and there was still many people outside in the street and shops that were open.

Sunday 7.9. Van – Århus

Surprisingly expensive taxi for the 5 km to the airport (22TL) – it had a meter, but I must have been cheated somehow. Hmm.
It was a pleasure to fly out of Van – all guys, rejoice – Angelie Jolie has a part time job here as a security / passport controller in the departure lounge. After take off, Ararat could actually be seen to the north for some time, with it’s peak ‘peaking’ through the high clouds. In Istanbul Ataturk airport at noon, got my luggage, changed to international and checked in with AirBaltic. Continued 15:05 to Riga, arrived 18:00, super quick change of planes, passport control and in the air again 18:35 on time AND (to my surprise), I even got my backpack with me. Impressing. In Copenhagen 19:00 and my train half an hour later – everything on schedule.

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Read the pre-story from the Ararat climb in Turkey here

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