An old lady looked at me disapprovingly. She has to sit by a strange looking guy on the bus to Gabala. She hesitated but the bus driver calmed her: “he is a young guy. It is no wrong.”
It was joyful, having complete silence all the way to Shikhzahirli village (local people claim Shikhzarli [Şıxzərli] to be the original name).
But I could not escape chit-chat talk with road-builders (bulldozer operators and flagmen of the Baku-Shamakhi highway extension project) over cup of a tea at the foothill of Shikhzahirli mountains. They told me about other people who give visits to the volcano, too.
The second most active mud volcano of Azerbaijan locates in close vicinity of Shikhzahirli village. It is about 70km (1h20m) in distance from Baku and 639 metres above the sea level.
It has erupted 21 times since 1810. The last time the mud volcano erupted was March 2011. According to reports, flaring reached as high as 60-70 metres. The closest residential settlement is about safe distance and the impact of erupts is minimum.
Over the first hills Shikhzahirli village is seen first on the hilltop in horizon. The cultivated grain fields give it a nice aerial view. Meanwhile, foxes are quick to grab attention away from anything else. Yet you are never able to have a decent look at them.
“Visitors should take precaution against snakes”
I was still expecting a situation similar to Keyreki and Gobu mud volcanoes. Those two volcanoes did not have any sign of presently observable volcanic activity. The cone of the both volcano has dried out on the surface and solidified as rock.
But Shikhzahirli volcano surprised me. It offers as much entertaining and interesting as Gobustan mud volcanoes. Perhaps, it is much more thrilling than Gobustan.
In Shikhzahirli you experience continuously observable clay eruptions with odourless gas (generally methane gas is associated with mud volcanoes). Roaring odourless gas is released as if it is going to erupt.
I was frightened, mortified, petrified during one of those eruptions.
It was a moment when I felt the ground under my feet moving and roaring. I jumped off my spot and ran a few metres away. In complete silence and shock, I held my breath for couple of seconds expecting it to erupt. Then it relieves me when realized it was just another periodic small-scale eruption.
I have gotten those moments filmed. I think no more words are necessary to write about Shikhzahirli Volcano.
Here is that moment presented uncensored.
Shikhzahirli Volcano has a view of large area where you can easily spot any peculiarities. The mud cones of Kichik Maraza are one of them.
So I hit the wilderness to see Kichik Maraza Mud Volcano.
On the way, I saw an old lady by the roadside waving at passing cars for a ride to Shamakhi. I greet her saying “Salam ay nənə” (trans. “Hi grandma”). Her response was welcoming and warm, kind of an invitation for more talk. So we did a little talk.
She claimed the people of Shikhzahirli to be “korennoy Shamakhili” (meaning that they are native people of Shamakhi [kоренной stands for native, origin]). Popular salience used when one honours himself/herself by association to certain places.
She also proudly stated that Shikhzahirli is home of “readers” (in Azerbaijani the word ‘reader’ [oxuyan] may be referred to an educated man and woman as well as to singers). I was puzzled. I took a deep breath when she started naming those celebrity Mugham singers.
Kichik Maraza volcano locates across the Baku-Shamakhi highway towards the North. It is about 40 minutes hiking from Shikhzahirli volcano.
Mud cones in Kichik Maraza are lively. They are comparatively safe to approach. It mostly resembles Gobustan mud cones.
The general conception about mud volcanoes is that they are linked to oil deposit. Nevertheless, the territory around Kichik Maraza does not have oil seepage against all odds.
The land around Kichik Maraza is available for small-scale agriculture. It seems that people have been cultivating grains only. In the background of all those grey coloured mud, clay and breccia spilled areas, yellow and green grain fields beautifully contrast the landscape image.
One of the main mud cones in Kichik Maraza has mud-breccia spilled in 100 diameters zone. I further wander inside and I cannot stop my laughing. There is a tiny mud cone actively releases gas and erupts mud continuously right in the middle of breccia-spill.
The size of the cone is ridiculous and actually deceivingly lets you to underestimate it. But more you observe it, more you get frightened, mortified, petrified.
Because…with its smallness and barely audible roaring, it conceives the idea of getting killed right in that very spot of yours.