Sheki and its palace should not be missed by anyone visiting Azerbaijan. Due to the far distance from Baku to Sheki, it is best to stay one night in Sheki and combine the trip with Lahij and Shamakhi (which are in the same direction to Sheki).
The best part about Sheki is the Sheki Palace, which is the summer palace of the Khan’s dynasty in the end of 18th century. The Palace is beautiful inside out. There were six rooms. Five rooms are wondrously painted with floral and nature motives and decorated with stained glass in lattice-wooden frames. Locally it is called “shebeke”. One room had a little bit of symbolism and myths in its theme. The room for the Shah’s wife to receive her guests inspired envy. One room is simpler with green and brown wooden decoration. This was where the Shah worked. Even the linen closets are gorgeous! No photos are allowed inside, so you have to go and visit it!
After the Palace, we went to visit the most famous stained glass master: Husein Hajimustafazadeh. He has held exhibition shows in Paris. He has one big piece of stained glass where he has prepared a little portion of it for the visitors to try put together (it was harder than it looks). He sells small pieces that are actually puzzles. He put one back together in 1 minute 40 seconds. Let’s see how long it would take me or my nieces and nephew.
Another craftsman visited is the maker of Azerbaijani traditional musical instruments. I was not into playing musical instruments though (for the lack of skills probably). So that visit was quite short.
We also visited the Upper Karavansaray. It has been converted to a hotel, but it was a little bit run down. I would not be comfortable staying there by myself, to be honest. As we explored the tea room (“cay evi”), we discovered unrefurbished dark areas. It has character and it is beautifully designed.
A visit to Sheki is not complete without buying their famous halwa (sweets). It was too sweet for me though. Instead, Bahar (my guide) took me to a local bazaar (market) to buy my spices (Baku saffron, basturma, thyme, and sumac) to bring home.
Lahij is another mountain village in the Caucasus. As a matter of fact, it is located on the other side of the mountain from Khinalig. Lahij is less remote and had been promoted for tourism. I found it to be less authentic. We strolled on the main street which is full of souvenir shops and a couple of the charming side streets.
There were a few shops/workshops dedicated to copper making (what Lahij is famous for). It was fun watching the craftsmen at work, but apart from that I do not find it exciting.
The best find was an abandoned house with 72 rooms which have been lying in ruin for many years. A couple villagers believe that the house is about 300 years old. This house is closed to the river bank. Ask a villager how to get there.
Our Shamakhi program was quite light. We stopped at the Diri Baba mausoleum, which located outside the town. Diri Baba was a Sufii leader. He was buried and the burial place is considered holy.
Shamakhi was the capital of Azerbaijan before Baku, but it was destroyed by earthquakes. I have read that there were still a few ancient buildings there, but it must have been not that interesting. We stopped at at the rebuilt Juma (Friday) Mosque (simple and beautifully adorned) and moved on. We went on a Friday and we were allowed to enter. Mosques that I have visited in Kuwait City, Muscat, Abu Dhabi, and Bahrain are closed on Fridays for the Friday prayers. Azerbaijan is a more relaxed country religion-wise.
I have had an amazing two days exploring these towns, and while it was not as authentic as my Khinalig experience, I still learnt many things about Azerbaijan and its people.