Lankaran

Emerging on the Azerbaijan side of the border, it was hajibs off for the ladies in our group. We emerged into a much more "western" atmosphere, rather then the "oriental" one that existed in different ways in Turkmenistan and Iran. However the same formula for governing exists as in most of the old Soviet Stans - that is the previous Communist Party boss becomes President of the new independent republic, but under the banner of a different party. The current Azerbaijan president has altered the constitution from 2 terms to president for life, and was recently returned with 95% of the vote. And they also have the heeby jeebies with cameras. Point a camera at anyone from even a distance and they bridle and gesticulate.

Azerbaijan's wealth comes from oil and gas, and lots of it. Off shore rigs dot the coast round Baku, and onshore nodding donkeys dot the fields. Baku has the air of a prosperous European town and indeed they have hosted the Eurovision Song Contest and the European Games in 2015. The country has the economic clout and strong central government to set up and run these types of events

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Being late getting over the boarder, lunch in turn was late. But we stopped at a charming hotel/restaurant on the outskirts of Lankaran. The food was innovative and good. And the manager showed a few of us around his rooms. We should have stayed there - it was the same price as the drab place we did stay at, and had authentic local character and charm.

Lankaran is one of the oldest settlements in Azerbaijan and 270km from Baku. Facts confirmed by archeologists state that the area was inhabited from the Bronze Age. Because of the linkages between the East and the West such as the silk route, Lankaran continued to grow as a major stopover point for caravan routes. In 1742, the Talish Khanate moved its capital to Lankaran. From antiquity, people throughout Lankaran have been involved in animal husbandry, horticulture, aquaculture, and sericulture. Trades such as blacksmithing, coppersmithing, pottery, and weaving are key cultural traditions throughout Lankaran. Blacksmith, copper-smith, pottery and other trades were widely spread in Lankaran. Since the Khanate established its capitol in Lankaran, there was a great surge in trade relations between Iran, Turkey, Russia, China, India, Pakistan, and Central Asia. With the signing of the "Gulustan Treaty" in 1829 between Russia and Persia, Northern Azerbaijan was occupied by Russia. With the Russian occupation, people took the lead in the development of several new industries in Lankaran such as viniculture, ceramics, and brick making, and aided in creating trade ties between Lankaran and Russia. Through this exchange, Lankaran strengthened its cultural roots, and its scientific, educational, health, and industrial bases.

Our hotel here was of the "charmless" variety. Difficult to remember anything about it to distinguish it from half a dozen other charmless places we stayed along the way. After we checked in, Chris, Maira and I walked round the town - there was an enormous monument to the fallen at one of the many conflicts that have blight the country over the last 70 or 80 years. The town still had a Soviet feel to it. It was a pleasant rather than a memorable place

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Dinner was in the hotel, and not memorable in any way (sad really)

On to Baku

Silk Route Holiday 2013