I was just tired of looking for a suitable destination for my summer backpacking plans. Either the flights were too expensive or it was the complicated visa procedures that just kept me stuck in my dormitory in Antalya.
Just then, a friend from Azerbaijan told me about Nakhchivan. It was strange that despite living in Turkey for almost four years, I had never known about the fact that Turkey shares a border with an Azerbaijan territory. Nakhchivan is in the autonomous Republic of Azerbaijan, although having no direct land connection to Azerbaijan.
An Azerbaijan e-visa entitles you to enter Nakhchivan as well. Without any further planning, I applied for my visa. I received it in just under two days. Next, I bought my bus tickets. The journey from Antalya to Nakhchivan is more than 24 hours, so I chose to break it into two. I stopped over at Kayseri for a day, continuing the next day, towards the Turkey-Nakhchivan border.
My ride till the border was pretty much bearable. But the formalities at the border were quite tiresome. I felt that the security at the land border was stricter than it is at airports. I had to get on and off the bus a number of times to present my passport and visa. The language of Nakhchivan is Azeri, which is quite similar to the Turkish language. My fluency in Turkish helped me get through the ordeal at the border. It also made me wonder as to how other foreigners, who’re not familiar with the language, manage the barrier. I’d notice later that there were in fact not a lot of non-Turkish speaking tourists in Nakhchivan.
I finally got done with all the formalities in the afternoon. I had managed to find a nice host on CouchSurfing, who came to pick me up to take me to her house, where I was staying during my vacation. Within the initial few moments that I spent with my hosts, I got a clear idea about Azeri hospitality, magnificently described by Alexandre Dumas: “If you knock on any door in Azerbaijan, or anywhere in the Caucasus, say that you’re a foreigner and have no place to spend the night, the owner of the house will immediately give you his largest room. He and his family will move to the small room. Moreover, during the week, two weeks or month that you stay in his house he will take care of you and will not let you want for anything.”
After lunch and resting for a little while, we decided to head out to explore the city, our first destination being the tomb of Noah. According to legend, there are a couple of places in the world which claim to have the tomb of Noah. Nakhchivan is one of those. The main structure dates back to the eighth century, although the current mausoleum was built some 13 years ago.
Nakhchivan itself is often translated as “the resting place of Noah”, “the place where Noah appeared” and “place of descent”, a reference to the descent of Noah’s Ark on the adjacent Mount Ararat. According to an Armenian legend, Nakhchivan was founded by Noah.
We stayed at the tomb till sunset and then headed towards the newly inaugurated Saat Meydani – Clock Tower Square. A charming place consisting of arcades, fountains, restaurants, bars, and hotels. The place was delightfully illuminated. I later learnt that it often serves as a venue for concerts. We spent the rest of the evening there just roaming around.
Next day, we visited the famous Ashab-i-Kahf. You might be familiar with the parable about a group of believers who, in order to escape from persecution at the hands of the then ruler of the land, had taken shelter in a cave. The incident has been narrated in the Surah Al-Kahf in the Holy Quran. According to some legends, that cave is in Nakhchivan. Just like the case of Noah’s tomb, there are some other caves around the world, with similar claims.
According to the people in Nakhchivan, these were a total of seven people (also known as the seven sleepers), and the cave has imprints of their bodies on the walls since according to the legend, they slept for some 300 years in the same position. As the legend goes; when they woke up, they sent one of them to the city to get something to eat, unaware that 300 years had passed. When he gave money to the seller in exchange for food, the seller got shocked to see such an old coin. Suspicious of the buyer’s intentions, the seller took him to the then king of the land. He then narrated the entire story of their escape in front of the king.
According to some legends, the ‘seven sleepers’ died before the king visited the cave, and according to some they died after having a conversation with the king.
The place is considered holy by the locals. A small mosque has also been constructed at the site. Just outside the mosque, is a small hut which contains a black stone. People in Nakhchivan believe that this stone fell from the sky.
There are some stairs in front of the mosque, that lead to another popular cave in the area. People sit and pray in that cave for hours, as according to a widespread belief your prayers will get answered instantaneously if a drop of water from the walls of the cave lands on your head. An interesting part of the site has seven stones stacked in a pile. I thought that they could be a depiction of the seven sleepers but the locals weren’t sure.
The place was peaceful and beautiful. The most interesting part was the location of the caves which made it possible for me to enjoy the panoramic view of layers of mountains far away.
On my third and final day, I visited the city centre, my favourite place being the Flag Square. Almost all cities in Azerbaijan have a flag square, consisting of a flag hoisted high in the middle of a park or square, as the name suggests. Nakhchivan flag square is an emblem of elegance and style and an ideal place to look over the entire city due to its location. On a good day, one can see as far as Iran.
Had the weather been clearer, it could have been a perfect place to see the sunset.
But I can’t complain. This spontaneous trip to Nakhchivan gave me unforgettable memories and stories, that will be with me for a long time to come.