Nakhchivan (Naxchivan, Naxjivan, Nakhichivan) is the magnificentiy stark, disconnected chunk of Azerbaijan stretching from the awesome shadow of Mt Agri (Ararat) to the historic town of Ordubad. For most of the Soviet era this was a secretive military zone. Its only moment of international press coverage occurred in 1988 when jubilant crowds, sensing an end to the USSR's iron grip, tore down frontier posts with Iran and reunited themselves with long-lost relations. In 1991 Nakhchivan upstaged even Lithuania to be the first Soviet republic to declare independence, only to rejoin Azerbaijan two weeks later. The place remains a little-known entity for most Westerners even though it consistently produces Azerbaijan's leaders and is the only part of the country with a direct land border to Turkey.

If you want to get way off the beaten track in Azerbaijan there's no better place to do it than the enclave of Naxchivan. This cradle of Azeri culture and history is now a disconnected lozenge of Azerbaijan wedged uncomfortably between hostile Armenia and indifferent Iran.

Naxchivan's only lifeblood is a narrow transport corridor to Eastern Turkey and numerous subsidised flights from Baku. This separation is what makes this little lozenge so rarely visited by outside travellers. And while many might consider it not worth the effort to get here, it is not without it's charms. Historical monuments and intriguing oasis villages are dotted about a fascinating landscape of deserts and melon fields rimmed dramatically by craggy barren mountains.

But visiting requires resourcefulness and imagination. Western visitors are an extreme novelty and even Russian speakers are comparatively rare. While much of the population is extravagantly hospitable, officials beyond Naxchivan City tend to regard lone travellers with a deep suspicion bordering on aggression. Transiting Naxchivan would make an interesting alternative route when crossing between Turkey and Iran. However, if you’re coming from the rest of Azerbaijan you’ll need to fly.

The most common way to reach Nakhchivan is via air from Baku. A new route has started operating from Istanbul recently, and it might be even cheaper for those travelers who come from Turkey. There is a border point near Idgir (Turkey). You can take a taxi from there (would cost you around $30-40) that will take you to Turkish-Azeri border. You can reach Nakhchivan through the Turkish corridor between Armenia and Iran - there is a 10 km border between Nakhchivan and Turkey. This is one of the less frequented by tourists part of the world. You would hardly meet here any foreigners/tourists apart from Turks and Iranians. There is also entry from Iran, though Iranian borders are very chaotic and notorius for lack of order and professionalism.

The Jolfa - Nakhchivan highway is amazing, 4 lanes and very good quality. Speed limits are painted on the road surface and should you be careful there won't be any issues with traffic police. Nakhchivan city is a pleasant place, pretty tiny but with all the ministries of a capital city. The Momine Khatun is a very nice piece of Seljuk architecture, tastefully restored in the 1990s, and the village of Qarabaghlar to the north holds an equally impressive mausoleum. The local Nakhchivan beer is pretty damn drinkable.

A little to the south is Ilhan Dağ, probably the most famous natural landmark of Nakhchivan. Climbing there is possible provided you can find a route up.

You can also drive down to the south-west corner of the republic, to the very charming town of Ordubad. Sitting in the chaikhana under the huge plane trees is great, and there are some nice atmospheric backstreets, the Sadaatabad Mosque is definitely worth finding. North of Nakhchivan there is little of interest (except the Qarabaghlar mausoleum), and heading towards the Turkish border you will have a pretty good view of Ararat from just beyond.

Main tourist sights of Nakhchivan

  • The abrupt rocky knob of Ilan Dag mountain, especially as viewed from Alinja Castle
  • The stark, sharply-eroded geology of the Nakhchivan-Ordubad road is contrasted, in places, with the green oasis villages
  • Ordubad old town - however, going there may arouse suspicion due to its proximity to the Armenian border
  • Qarabaglar - visiting the mausoleum complex gives you a good reason to poke around this quiet, fnendly village
  • Momine Khatun Mausoleum, Nakhchivan City

If you're planning a trip to Azerbaijan you may be interested ▶ Azerbaijan highlights - For those who prefer to go unbeaten path, to explore less visited places and check national charisma of this small country in Southern Caucasus on the edge of Europe.

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Daniel Sprague says...

Well done for finding my article on the HUBB travel forum and copying it into yours, without reference to the original author.

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