The territory historically known as Ganjabasar includes Yevlakh, Mingechevir, Goranboy, Ganja, Goygol, Dashkasan, Samukh, Shamkir, Gadabay, Tovuz, Gazakh and Agstafa districts. In the 19th century the area was subordinated to the Ganja khanate. The area brings together Azerbaijan’s most ancient human settlements and culture centers. Natural beauty and history, as well as architectural sites, have turned the area into a fascinating travel destination. After getting acquainted with Ganja, it is possible to visit several other locations. These places had better be visited by the following travel routes.
Route No 1
Ganja-Samukh-Lak village-Eldar Pine-tree State Nature Reserve
Ancient Ganja includes a place called “nose of the town” near a hill. The place is known as old Samukh district. It is located on the right bank of the Ganja and Kura rivers, about 25-30 km north of Ganja. This is the surviving part of Samukh described as Samunido and Samukhi in history sources. Traces of the town existed in Samukh forests until the early 20th century. On the map of Ptolemy the place was mentioned as Samunis, Samukhis. The place-name is linked to the Sak tribe. It means a residential settlement of Sak and Mug tribes.
The village has a “Burning spring”. It is mineral water with sulfur which catches fire if ignited. Nearby houses use its gas and do not pay for it.
Eldar Pine-tree State Nature Reserve
It is located on Ceyrancol, on the border with Georgia and 60 km from the centre. The smell of clover is all over the place. The reserve protects rare Eldar pine-trees. Its name is linked to the place-name. Local people say that in older times many Gazakh people were involved in cattle-breeding. The number of cattle heads and people looking after the cattle has increased so much that there was not much room left in Gazakh. Therefore, some moved and settled down in four local villages. From then on, people with little available land were called “eldar” (el – land, dar – narrow). This is a unique place with a severe climate. It has fascinating views. There are wolves, bears and poisonous snakes here. Snakes can be seen even on cold winter days. Therefore, the place is also described as “snake-infested”.
It is a relic plant. It grows on steep rocks in the north-west of the Eldar valley. The place is 600 meters above sea. The tree can endure hot, cold, dry and windy weather, and has an interesting structure. There are such rare trees as Eldar pear and Gum-tree, which grow right on rocks, not saline lands. The tree grows only on an area of 392 hectares in Samukh. The Eldar pine-tree emits a lot of oxygen, therefore, it is good for those suffering from asthma.
Route No 2
It is known as Azerbaijan’s Urals. The place is in minerals and historical sites. Marble deposits along the road are reminiscent of ancient Greek theatres. The area has tremendous tourism potential. The Xosbulaq settlement is 45 minutes of drive from Ganja and 17 km from Daskasan. After passing rock and iron mines, you reach one of the picturesque villages of Ganjabasar – the Bayan village noted for its architecture. The area is surrounded by tall mountains. The Alban church with various signs and crosses on it is still there.
Xosbulaq is the name of a village and pasture. The village has about 1000 houses. As Xosbulaq houses are largely made of concrete now, people remember its previous years with some regret. They say the village used to revive in summer with at least 10,000 tents set up in the village. Xosbulaq with its dry and severe climate serves as pastures from April to late October. The air here is perfect. Areas outside the pastures are artificial pine forests. There are about 50 water springs. The Qarajafar river flows through here. A 50-m wide and 110-m long Zagali lake 3 km from Xosbulaq and purple tulips adds beauty to the area. The area was a well-known Soviet resort even though there is no tourism infrastructure or restaurants. Villagers run small tea-shops where you can have samovar tea and eat kebabs.
Route No 3
Goygol district-Goygol State Nature Reserve
The district of Goygol is at the foothills of the Lesser Caucasus. Its highest peak is the Camis summit (3,727 meters) of the Murovdag range. The temperature here is moderate. The rivers of Qusqara and Ganja flow through the area. There are ideal conditions for hunting and fishing. Travel tours are organized to the villages rich in natural and historical sites. The place is also known as a satellite of old Ganja.
As a district Goygol was founded on the ruins of Khanliqlar-Qonaqlar villages in 1819. Its first residents were Germans. The area was first called Helenedorf and then, in 1915, renamed into Yelenendorf. In 1938, it was called Khanlar and then Goygol in 2007. The best-known monument is the German Lutheran church built in 1854. It is now a museum. A huge music organ was taken out of the church for repairs but was never returned. During the war, the church functioned as a hospital and its original appearance has been preserved.
Germans in Azerbaijan
In the early 19th century, Germans were suffering from economic crises and religious confrontation. In 1816-1818, some 1400 German families were resettled from Vurtemberg by Russian emperor Alexander the First. 500 of them were settled in eight colonies in the Caucasus – in Tbilisi and around Yelizavetpol (Ganja). Three colonies were allocated lands in Khanlar, Shamkir, Gadabay and Agstafa. In 1819, a first German colony Yelenendorf and then a second, Annenfeld, were established. In the early 20th century, there were eight German colonies with a population of 6,000 people. German colonies Yelizavetinka of 1907 and Grunfeld of 1911, located near Agstafa, developed very fast over a short period of time. Experts in industry and economy, Germans managed to begin a new life in this productive land. Their houses, bridges, wine and brandy factories with noteworthy architecture are still there. The local history of grape-growing and wine-making is linked with them as well.
The Czar began to oppress them during World War One. After German invasion in 1941, Stalin exiled them to Kazakhstan, Urals and areas along the Volga river. Three years after Stalin’s death in 1956 only the Klein and Lott families returned to this territory, while most moved to Germany following the collapse of the Soviet Union. Victor Klein was the only German who did not leave Azerbaijan. “All the people I have loved are buried here. This is my home”, he said. Victor spoke several languages and played the piano very well. Mr. Klein lived in a museum-like home full of antique items.
Every German house has a specific architectural style and is at least 100 years old. All standard-looking houses have basements, a place to store wine and a heating system. Some of them grew grapes on their balconies and knew how to keep them fresh for a long time. The history of grape-growing and wine-making is directly linked with the Germans.
Statistics, ethnography, topography and financial description of provinces in Russia’s Caucasus
Trade and manufacturing are the main sources of income for people of Ganjabasar. Due to a changeable political situation, people also got engaged in farming. They used to sell paints. The Yelizavetpol grapes are among the best in the Caucasus. The white and red wine made of them has a somewhat bitter and sweet taste, is quite strong and may cause headaches.
There are several local travel routes in Goygol:
Qusqara-Balchili (15 km)
It borders on Daskasan. There is a Maiden’s Tower here – a natural castle on the mountains that are usually shrouded by fog.
There is a motel in Qusqara well-known since Soviet times. It is just 2 km from Ganja airport. The place used to be self-sufficient. The food served at the local restaurant grows here too. In older days there was a poultry farm here. Since then the most popular dish here has been Tabaka. A chicken is placed on a pan, covered with a lid and a heavy stone put on it. Both sides of the chicken are fried. It is served with fried potatoes and is so tasty that one can eat the whole chicken in one go.
Chaykend, Azad and Kamo are the villages that witnessed fierce battles in 1989-1990. They are now consolidated under one name – Yeni Zod. Local people are descendants of the Boyuk Zod village in historical Goyche district who fled Western Azerbaijan following ethnic cleansing. Zod is an old Turkic village on the border with Kalbajar. Plants processing gold deposits in Kalbajar are also located in this village. There are many Alban monuments here. Village residents have a tradition of baking bread together. Women gather around an oven and bake bread. This bread is softer than the one baked in Tandir.
Toplahasanli-Zurnabad-Sahriyar (18 km)
There is the White Bridge (12th century), burial mounds of Bronze and Iron Ages, a 12th century castle in Zurnabad, the Gabriel church (1657), a three-arched bridge (19th century) and other sites are in Sahriyar village. The place has a fascinating view and great tourism potential, however, there is no infrastructure at all. Besides the village, Caucasian Albania monuments are also present in mountains and surrounding forests. The villages are noted for their berries. During the season, 3-4 tones of raspberry are collected every day.
Kosku-Ucbulaq-Nurud (9 km)
There are ideal conditions for camping. To reach the villages, one needs to cross a 19th century bridge. On the very top of the Nurud village there is an Alban temple. Mineral water here is good for kidney problems. It is rich in calcium and sodium. The mountain village has three springs. Another name of the village is Ucbulaq (three springs). Hotels built near the springs are open to tourists. Local people say there are many temples in surrounding forests. Historians believe that they were used for defense purposes.
Asiqli-Hajikand-Goygol (56 km)
The village located along the road is also known as Qozlu and Dayanakli. The name Qozlu comes from word qoz (walnut). In autumn, people sell their garden products right outside their homes. Every family has a Tandir (oven made in the earth), bakes and sells bread. White and brown bread attracts travelers and almost everyone stops to buy it. Tandirs owners say they sell at least 100 loafs of bread in summer. There are not too many travelers here in cold months, so sales drop.
Hajikand is 23 km south of Ganja, 1,000 meters above sea, on north-western foothills of the Pant mountain range in a small valley. Starting from here the climate dramatically changes. The place is covered with dense forests. This mountain resort covers an area of 109 hectares.
Yuxari and Asagi Hajikand was a resort for wealthy people from Ganja, Baku and Tbilisi. The place was founded by Germans in the mid-19th century. Germans established Hajikand, carried out some improvement work and built a church. The houses of Haji Mirqasim and his brothers were built in 1870. Many millionaires, including the well-known philanthropist from Baku Haji Zeynalabdin Tagiyev, began building houses here in the early 20th century, the place became the focus of attention. Many landlords of that period had the status of pilgrims, so the place started to be called Hajikand, or a village of Hajis. In summer, they would come here with their families, invite singers from Qarabag and organize Mugham parties.
There was a proletarian tourism and excursions society in Azerbaijan in 1929. A tourism camp was opened in Ganja in 1935 to boost tourism. Three houses were rented in Hajikand and a 20-seat camp set up on Goygol Lake. Biking and horse tours and picnics were organized. Tourism activities were interrupted by World War Two and resumed only after the war. Tourism camps were finally revived on Goygol in 1960. Taking into account the influx of tourists, the tourism camp which existed in Ganja in 1957 was moved to Hajikand in 1964. The place was frequented by tourists from all over the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe. Unfortunately, tourism stopped after residents of Upper Qarabag, Shusha, Karkicahan and Khojali were settled in the camps following Armenian aggression in 1989-1990.
The area has many Alban temples. One of them is right on the way. It is a single-cell church called Saint Mary church. There are many crosses engraved on it.
The sacred Pan church sits at an altitude of 2200-2300 meters on the Pan mountains. The church is said to be more than 1,000 years old. Its name was the Saint Pantilius temple. According to an ancient Greek myth, Pantilius was the name of the god of health. This ancient Alban temple is the sanctuary visited by both Christians and Muslims and those who want their wishes of love to come true.
The parents of a young couple from a nearby village were opposed to their marriage. The couple decide to run away and hide in this high place. Parents followed them, making the couple pray to God and ask for protection from their cruel parents. All of a sudden the earth was split and the couple plunged inside. According to a saying, only a ribbon from the girl’s hair remained on the surface. This is where the temple was erected. Since then the place has been popular with young couples.
Near the temple there is a unique phenomenon believed to be a miracle. There are several deep holes in the earth. High-pressure air flows through the holes. In summer, there are hundreds of bugs flying over the holes.
Lesser Caucasus is one of the two existing mountain ranges in the Caucasus. The 600-km range stretches along the south of the Greater Caucasus mountains. The highest peak is the Giyamis mount (3724 meters). The range consists of Murovdag, Qarabag, Mikhtoken, Sahdag and Pant mountains. The top of the 3030-meter Kapaz summit, isolated from other mountains, is visible from all four sides.
It is 1.5 km from Lake Goygol and is the last residential settlement on the edge of the reserve. The distance between Kalbajar and here is 80 km. Togana is a mountain village which begins on the bank of the Kurakchay river and stretches upwards. Togan means falcon and togana means the nest of a falcon. Local villagers are said to be brave. It is impossible to find a vacant house in the summer here because it is a resort. To rent a house is quite expensive. People of Ganja come here in the summer.
It is the right tributary of the Kura beginning from the Murovdag mountain of the Lesser Caucasus. It is 186 km long. There are seasonal restaurants and cafes on both sides of the river. In the 19th century a very important historical event was named after the river.
This is one of the major official documents in the history of Russian-Azerbaijani political relations in the early 19th century. The agreement was signed between Qarabag’s Khan Ibrahim and the commander of the Russian army in the Caucasus, Gen Sisyanov on 14 May 1805. According to the agreement, the Qarabag khan agreed to become a vassal of Russia, entrusted the pursuit of an independent foreign policy to the Czar, paid 8,000 Chervonets into the Czar’s budget and allowed for the deployment of Russian troops in Shusha. The khan received the rank of a Lieutenant General and preserved immunity in management issues. The document became a solution to the political strife between the two states. The khanate was liquidated 22 years later and the agreement became null and void.
Goygol National Park
The park was established in 2008. There are several local travel routes. You can either bike or walk here. It is a mountain resort. There are 423 types of trees, bushes, herbs, rare birds, wild animals and deer. In the Goygol area there are 14 lakes. Only seven of them are large and officially registered. In 1913, Prof Sosnovski delivered a speech at the 13th conference of Russian naturalists and doctors on the “Protection of natural monuments in the Caucasus” and proposed to give the region the status of a special zone. As a result, Goygol was thoroughly studied and declared a reserve in 1927. In 1937, a 44-km asphalt road was built between Ganja and Goygol. The reserve adds special beauty to the magnificent views of the Lesser Caucasus. There are 12 types of soil here. The place looks magnificent throughout the year. There is a lot of snow here. The Turshsu in the direction of Murovdag on the territory of the Goygol reserve is a water spring.
“The masterpiece of a great artist”, “The pearl of Azerbaijan”, “Azerbaijan’s own Switzerland”, “The Queen of all the lakes” – ¬there is no end to these praises. It is better to see Goygol once than try to describe it in many ways.
The biggest lake in the reserve is located 1556 meters above the sea level between the Small Caucasus mountain range and the peaks of Murovdag. It is 2800 meters long, 800 – 1000 meters wide and 96 meters deep. It is one of the most beautiful mountain lakes. It is surrounded with 7-8 km long stripe of thick pine-tree forests. Sweet and transparent water becomes even more transparent in the autumn. Water from Goygol is sold in Ganja in trucks as drinking water. There are many trout in the lake. Water in the lake seems to be blue and therefore it is called Goy-gol (blue lake). Color of the water changes several times during a day. Shadow of forests on the lake creates fascinating view. In the past time it was possible to go down the stairs to the lake from the white and wooden summer house built for the First Secretaries of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union. Some parts of the movie “Arshin mal alan” was shot here. The stairs end on the bank of the lake.
It is believed that white deer used to swim in these lakes. One day a white deer fells in love with a beautiful girl in the village. He suffered a lot because he could not join her and he cried so much that his tears created the Goygol.
Emergence of the Goygol
Kirakos Gandzaketsi wrote about the strong earthquake that jolted Ganja on 25 September 1139 “Clouds and fog was around the mountains and Ganja was struck by dreadful and terrible earthquake. Ganja was destroyed and …”
Following the earthquake the mount Kapaz crashed down and blocked the Agsu river which flowed from the foothills and thus the Goygol emerged. The lake which emerged as a result of the historical tragedy is currently one of Azerbaijan’s most scenic lakes with beautiful nature.
The length and the width is about 1 km. The depth is 97 meters. Water is rich in oxygen and trout. Located 2,000 meters high the Maralgol has a very interesting legend.
A beautiful girl lived in one of the surrounding villages. She had seven brothers. One day a ruthless witch turned the brothers into deer. The brothers ran away into the forest as the girl began to look for them. She reaches a place where there is Lake Maralgol now. There was no lake at that time. Exhausted and desperate, the girl cried a lot and her tears created a lake.
According to sources from the National Park, it is possible to see deer here. Sometimes they swim in the lake but on hearing noise they get out of the water and retreat to the woods. Swimming in local lakes is not recommended. Water is so cold that it limits muscle movement. Therefore, even good swimmers may drown.
It is 500-m wide and 16-m deep. It is surrounded by reeds, high beeches and cold water springs. Water is not potable. The presence of leeches creates conditions for establishing a resort here. It is on the right bank of the Agsu river, in a very fascinating area.
Its covers 3 hectares and is 16-24 meters deep. Established on a pebble area of the Kapaz mountain, it is surrounded by Eldar pine-trees from one side and broad-leaved woods from the other. There are wild animals in the surrounding forest.
It is about 1 km to the north. In the summer green leaves in the lake shine so brightly that the lake looks as if it were covered with ice.
Located 300 meters from the Ordak lake, it looks mesmerizing. The lake in the middle of the forest shines under sunlight. Everything inside the lake looks 5-6 times bigger, which is why it is called Guzgu (mirror). It is also called Ayna gol. The lake has two basins. It covers 1 hectare and is 6-8 meters deep. All the stones at the bottom are visible.
It is a swampy lake. All the algae is at the bottom, hence the name Cilli (grassy).
These are on the Murovdag mountain. The total area is about 8 hectares. The lakes are 2,800 meters above sea level.
It is 2 km from Three lakes. There are pine-trees around it and surrounded by broad-leaved trees the lake is truly fascinating. There is a meadow lawn near the lake. This is a legendary place known as Khan yurdu.
Foothills here are full of freezing water springs. The Khatin nene, Cijixanim nene and other springs flow into Lake Maral and the Agsu river.
Small lakes such as Coban, Ayi, Ordak, Ag, Shamliq, springs such as Yeddi bulaq, Goy dag, Novruz, Gisxanim, Darzi qaya, Xatin and one on Cingir mount are the best picnic and eco-tourism destinations. This is also place Number One in Azerbaijan for the abundance of oxygen. Neurosis, anemia and respiratory diseases are treated here. These lakes stretch till the Kapaz mountain.
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