The frontier of the Georgia with Azerbaijan.
The atmosphere of the early morning journey, until then fluid and pleasant, deteriorates. We hurried along the long, uneven corridor endowed with repeated steps that separates the two customs.
We entered the Azeri building behind a group of passengers who were following a marshukta a little faster than ours. As we wait for the military to process their entry, two men appear in soiled country garb.
They came aboard a lorry that was transporting cows and they add to the atmosphere of the room without appeal or aggravation. The officers pass us in front of us. It is, thus, gifted by that aroma of Georgian livestock that we submit to its intense scrutiny.
“Uhmmm… Portuguese. We've played with you several times already. They always beat us but once we almost managed… Well… we see here that they were in Armenia a few days ago. Why did you go to Armenia? Have you been to Nagorno Karabakh?” the only official who spoke English asks us. "If they are, they better tell us now!"
We hadn't gone. We explained as patiently and innocently as possible what we had done in Armenia. That doesn't stop us from opening our backpacks and rummaging through them, concentrating on finding incriminating documents, programs and travel maps.
They do it in vain but to the despair of the other passengers in our marshukta and of others that had meanwhile accumulated.
Finally, they grant us entry to Azerbaijan there.
In full Azerbaijan. And on the way to Sheki
We return to marshukta and we continued our journey to Zaqatala. In this city, we negotiated the last trip to Sheki. An hour and a half later, we are already looking for the home of Ilgar Agayev, with the driver making up a few more manats (Azerbaijani currency) because the house is halfway from the center and the irregular cobblestone damages its suspension.
We head down a narrow alley that ends at a gate. We open it and pass into a picturesque yard, adorned by a persimmon and other trees. Two women come down the steps of the house and give us a shy welcome, under the curious eyes of some family members.
We installed ourselves in the room they had reserved for us. We immediately noticed a huge Azeri rug covering much of the wall. Ilgar arrives.
We share tea and talk about their aspirations and plans for tourism in Sheki. However, Ilgar apologizes but he has to go.
The afternoon is already halfway through. Shortly after the host leaves, we make our way to the village. We start by taking a look at the Khan's Summer Palace.
Sheki's Times of Silk, Faust and Soviet Union
It was built at the end of the 1910th century, at a time when the production and processing of silk in Sheki, and its income, reached impressive figures, around ten million rubles in XNUMX.
Despite the prosperity, Sheki stood at a crossroads of power. His successive khans sought the security that only the Russian empire could guarantee in the form of a protectorate. Only the spell turned against the sorcerer.
The khanato was abolished and the area annexed by a Russian Caucasian province, the Caspian Oblast.
Around 1922, it was already part of the TransCaucasus Socialist Soviet Federative Republic who soon joined the USSR
Today, the town's most impressive historical monument, the palace is just the surviving structure of a much larger complex protected by the walls of the Sheki fortress.
It even included a winter palace, Khan's family residences, and servants' quarters.
What's left, above all, the curious position of the building with a look of “One Thousand and One Nights”, set between two huge plane trees with golden crowns, so imposing that they seem to rise above the mountains behind.
Abdullah, Elvia and the Good Youth Disposition of Azerbaijan
We dedicate some time to him and his glorious past. Then we exit outside the walls through a gate at the top of the slope. As soon as we cross it, we bump into Abdulah Axundov and Elvia Xamedov, two young friends apparently dressed in the same Azeri inspiration.
Abdullah wore a square shirt under a black leather jacket and black jeans. Elvia wore a red shirt under a blower in dark blue satin and trousers similar to the fellow's. The duo enjoyed a break from their studies.
I wanted to take advantage of this benefit and register the party. Okay, when we found out, we were photographing them next to a Lada garnet and against the walls. It didn't take long to realize that they weren't the only ones in the neighborhood with such a lot of entertainment.
Two hundred meters below, three other free-time partners, also dressed predominantly in black, enjoyed the event.
As we approach them on the way to the centre, they join us and open their own private session, led by Mahmud who, covered in his flat cap, rehearses successive comic poses that lead his companions to tears.
Football Expert's Lada Taxi (Portuguese) Vassif Davudov
From there, we were ready to take a look at an Albanian church from the XNUMXth or XNUMXth century, surrounded by more persimmon trees. We take a bus first, then a Lada taxi driven by a young man who drops us off at the door.
On the way back, as the sun sets, we walk through the narrow streets of that village until another Lada stops and offers us a ride.
It was already followed by Vassif Davudov, a mathematics teacher who had two of his children in one of the classes he taught and who spoke a little Turkish, English, French and Russian.
Well, the fact that Vassif is passionate about football and even Portuguese football did not surprise us.
What disarmed us was when he began to proudly unwind the names of smaller clubs in our championships. “Santa Clara, Leixões… ah, wait for the name of the other… Paços de Ferreira!”.
Ilgar had recommended that we have dinner at a friend's restaurant. It was half hidden in an alley off the main road so we had trouble finding it.
The Smoky Male Den at Café Bahar of Sheki
When we finally found Café Bahar, we found a dreary, smoky establishment, frequented only by men who smoked and drank tea from small saucers deeper than usual.
Unaccustomed to outsiders, they are startled by the entrance of a couple who, in ethnic terms, they had difficulty understanding. We ignored its strangeness and the total inability of the young people employed to speak a language other than Azeri.
We settle in, eat two consistent traditional soups (piti e pepper) accompanied by compositet, a gooseberry-colored mixed fruit juice. Around ten-thirty, we surrendered to fatigue and returned to the room that Ilgar had been warming us for some time.
All his family lived in the room next door, which communicated with the bedroom through a closed window. But, we were so exhausted from the early morning awakening and the trip from Tbilisi that not even the noisy fraternization disturbed our sleep.
Around the Colorful Autumn of the Picturesque Sheki
We woke up and found breakfast ready on the kitchen table just in front of the bedroom. We devoured the morning meal and went back to discovering.
We were curious to see what Sheki would look like from one of the slopes above.
It took us some time to agree on a route that would allow us to leave the city. Having no idea where we were going, we first made it through alleys full of yellow leaves, victims of the autumn fall. Then through the city's vast cemetery.
We continued to climb through graves and tombs clustered within family railings. Until, at a certain point, down below, the abundant houses are revealed, arranged around Sheki's most graphic and emblematic building, his caravancerai (inn) secular.
From there, the ensemble formed by the earth-toned roofs and the last multicolored foliage, slightly retouched by the white smoke of some fires and chimneys, formed a dazzling autumnal setting.
With no soul around, we appreciate it in the eternal peace of the deceased and for as long as we feel like it.
Caravancerai of Sheki. The Tradition of the Great Inns of the Caucasus
Until we descend into the valley and, among the more and more Ladas that run along its sidewalks, we soon came across the great caravancerai which once housed the merchants who passed through the city and the animals and cargo with which they went.
The main door is open. We enter and investigate the vast building, with almost 250 rooms arranged behind successive arches erected around a main courtyard.
On that occasion, as in most of the year, the caravancerai it was practically empty even if, in more than low season, some travelers visited the city.
As we leave the inn, we stop at photograph a long row of Ladas arranged beside a large outdoor with the photograph of the president of Azerbaijan. Without expecting it, we found that we were not the only outsiders in the vicinity.
A cyclist appears sprawled from the bottom of the sidewalk.
When he comes close to us, he takes the opportunity to rest his body and soul of the journey that would be long. We noticed the little flag that had been installed on the steering wheel.
Conversation starts, we confirm that Askar Syzbayev was Kazakh. Still somewhat breathless, the cyclist tells us what he was doing. “I had my luck. I got a sponsorship and planned an 8000 km trip between France and Kazakhstan.
It's been tiring but, at the same time, wonderful.” We continued to talk for a while longer, but Askar was frazzled and fed up with spending the night in the tent he was carrying.
He had decided that in Sheki he would sleep more comfortably, but he needed to find a place with prices that would fit his budget.
All he had to do was examine the facade and entrance of the historic building to conclude that he couldn't count on the caravancerai.
The Soviet Outskirts and the Nagorno Karabakh War Memorial
We say goodbye. We continue to explore the city center. We took particular delight in the large Soviet clothes racks arranged between opposite floors of distant building blocks, where women spread or picked up clothes by operating the huge rotating ropes.
Before leaving Sheki towards the capital Baku, we still find other points with different views over the houses and the minarets that projected from it.
In the vicinity of one of these places, we came across a monument that reminded the children of Sheki, victims of the war between Azerbaijan and the Armenia, a conflict that was always latent and that, due to our visit from Armenia, had almost prevented us from entering Azerbaijan.