For most tourists, Gabala or Qabala is a preferred winter destination considering the plethora of winter sports that can be enjoyed on the slopes of the Greater Caucasus mountain range. In fact, Mount Bazarduzu, the highest peak in the Republic of Azerbaijan is located in this region. But summer in Gabala isn’t too bad, I say! This tiny city was the first stop on our two-day ‘explore the country’ endeavour. We decided to spend a night at Gabala before heading to Shaki and then returning to Baku.
Gabala is a roughly 3-hour drive from Baku but when you are travelling through a picturesque landscape with two women who kicked off the road trip on a giggly note, high on Bollywood songs, it turns into a 4-hour ride. Why? Because our host Seva – she accompanied Raka and me on this 2-day road trip – insisted on stopping at regular intervals to click our photos. This also meant sampling local delicacies like the lavash turshu at a roadside stall, stretching and clicking some more pictures!
As per local historians and an archaeologist who we bumped into at the Gabala Archaeological Centre, the old Gabala was a thriving city, trade centre and art hub. This is evident from remains that continue to be found at the massive excavation site outside Gabala. Spread over a vast area, this site is located between two rivers, bang in the middle of the 2,500 years old Silk Road. “The discovery is a continuing process and progresses as we get funds. But not too many people know about this site as yet,” said the archaeologist as he took us around the centre that holds a museum too.
Interestingly, the city was known as Kutkashen until 1991 when it was renamed Gabala in honour of the above-mentioned excavation site. The Old Gabala is believed to have been the former capital of Caucasian Albania.
As you drive around the city – we would call it a hill station – what will strike you is the evident planning that has gone into the construction of the parks and gardens. “After the Russians left, the local government, with aide from the centre, decided to turn this into a tourist destination and concentrated efforts were made to plan a visually appealing city to increase the tourist footfall,” explained our driver who has made innumerable trips to Gabala in winter.
Up on the hills
“Tourists want to spend time in Gabala during winter to stay at the Tufandag Winter Summer Tourism Holiday Resort and enjoy winter sports,” he said, driving us to this famous resort. The resort, thankfully, does keep its cable cars operational through the year. This means you get to hop into one of these cute boxes that will take you to the mountain top for a spectacular view of the mountains covered with forests. Taking a walk and clicking loads of photographs is highly recommended.
Among the ruins
As mentioned earlier, Gabala has found its spot in history after the discovery of the site of Old Gabala. A 20-minute drive from the main city, the remains of the ancient city have been protected by archaeologists. The remains are spread across the site – you will need to walk from one covered portion to the other or even ask your taxi driver to take you. We did not fancy walking through the knee-length grass –hello snakes! – so our trusted man drove us around. If you are a history buff, then you will definitely enjoy wandering around the remains of ovens, pots and pans, sewage systems and a well. One of the most prominent parts of the site is the remains of the city’s boundary wall. The bottom has been strengthened with cement but the exposed orange bricks are the original ones.
For those who are keen on parks and have more time on hand, the Yeddi Gozel Waterfall and amusement park called Gabaland are a must-visit.
P.s There are times when I hate myself and this one is among those. For the life of me, I cannot remember the name of this beautiful forest restaurant that we stopped at for tea and jam before entering the main Gabala city. A walk through this little spot of beauty, walking in the play of light and shade created by the forest foliage, swigging on a broken seat tied to a tree branch and gobbling down freshly made gutab, this was a picnic.