From Baku, it’s only a short drive to two of Azerbaijan’s most iconic attractions: the Ateshgah Fire Temple and Yanar Dağ – the Burning Mountain. Azerbaijan is not called Odlar Yurdu “The Land of Fire” for nothing.
There’s a number of companies that offer half-day trips from Baku at reasonable prices and the experience is well worth the effort. We first made our way to the Ateshgah Fire Temple located in a town called Suraxanı at the Eastern end of the Absheron Peninsula. It is likely people have been coming to the site to worship for centuries but most of what remains today was built in the 17th and 18th centuries. It has been a holy site for Zoroastrians, Hindus and Sikhs who used the temple in different ways. The Zoroastrians came to pray and did so outside. Religious Indian visitors came to die and undertook their prayers inside. In 1969 the eternal flame ceased to burn from gasses escaping naturally – a result of the oil exploration in the surrounding region – so today the temple is supplied by piped in gas.
Next, we made the short journey Westwards to Yanar Dağ, the Burning Mountain. This is a natural gas fire which burns continuously on a hillside on the Absheron Peninsula even when it’s raining or snowing. Like with the Ateshgah, because of the amount of oil occurring naturally underground in this region a lot of natural gas is released through fissures in the rock which once lit provide a continuous fire. Although this site doesn’t have the heritage the Ateshgah does, I found it more impressive because it is still supplied naturally, the fire is fairly large, the heat is intense and you can get really near to it. There are various archaeological remains also on display at the Burning Mountain and on the hill above the fire are panoramic views over the towns and villages of Absheron towards the Caspian Sea.
The area between these two sites and Baku are quite surreal. Oil wells and associated rusting machinery are scattered across the area often right next to shepherds with their sheep, men selling trees by the roadside and people living quite happily in little villages. It’s quite a contrast. The oil wells are increasingly being fenced in but it’s quite an experience driving through a field of unattended nodding donkeys just working by themselves with the smell of oil in the air.
This was a great excursion from Baku and well worth the money. It was made all the better by the great Azerbaijani music our driver was playing. A personal favourite of mine was 1001 Gecə (1001 nights) by Ayah (link to the video: here). On the way back he allowed us to stop at the Aliyev Centre (Heydər Əliyev Mərkəzi) an incredible piece of modern design, the work of British-Iraqi architect Zaha Hadid.
It was a great way to fill half a day and I would actually consider doing this excursion again which is not something I’d normally do. I had such a good time in Baku, in general, I think I will be heading back that way quite soon. My Baku highlights are on their way soon but you can already read about my experiences with vegetarian Azerbaijani food in Baku here.