Trailblazer guidebooks provide practical information on specific routes in less accessible parts of the world.
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Azerbaijan with excursions to Georgia

Azerbaijan with excursions to Georgia

Mud volcanoes!

Contents list | Introduction | Getting to Azerbaijan | What to see, where to go | Exploring Baku's Old City | Mud volcanoes!

MUD VOLCANOES (Palchik Volkane, Gryazevye Vulkan)

Like cows, mud volcanoes constantly fart flammable gasses. They also like throwing gobs of mud and streaming forth watery flows with a vigour that varies seasonally. This behaviour is gently amusing rather than life threatening. Unlike ‘normal’ volcanoes, mud volcanoes are cold and have multiple vents (gainarja) through which they exhale. These come in two types: gryphons (distinctive, abrupt conical nozzles) and salses (bubbling watery pools). Each has its own rather lovable character and when gathered in groups they almost appear to converse. Though not unique, Azerbaijan has more of these odd ‘creatures’ than any other country in the world, around 300 groups on land plus hundreds more offshore where they sometimes rise to form islands in the shallow coastal waters.


Where to see them?

Classic giants such as Turaguy are impressive from a distance but smaller volcano hills often have a better collection of active gryphons and salses. From Baku the most accessible group is right beside the road to Shamakha (see p193). Less dramatic but even nearer there are some extinct gryphons along the Baku bypass. However, the most interesting active groups are between Älät and Qobustan at ‘Clangerland’ (p142) and Bahar near Dashgil (see map p141) where a recent giant mud flow is particularly impressive. Deep in the desert between Ceyrankachmas and Pir Hussein are yet more.


Mud volcanoes

  • Why are they cold?  ‘Normal’ volcanoes spew lava, molten rock that comes from deep within the earth or that has been melted by massive geological friction. In comparison, mud volcanos emanate from much shallower depths. Natural gas generated by pressure on organic materials produces the volcano’s flatulence (94% methane, 3% carbon dioxide) and forces pressurized mud through fissures and weak points in the sediment above. Like cold air rushing from an inflated tyre, the expanding gas cools as it emerges, making the mud that it carries unexpectedly chilly.

        Mud volcanoes are a product of the same geological system responsible for Azerbaijan’s rich oil and gas fields and can be used as clues by explorers seeking additional reserves.

  • Mud-batan  At times a volcano goes into overdrive and spews forth a considerable volume of mud. The effect can be quite impressive but inconvenient. In Azeri, the suffix -batan refers to what would happen to animals and people trying to cross such a mud field. It’s derived from s batmag to get stuck; ie Lökbatan and Ceyranbatan – Lök = camel, Ceyran = gazelle.
  • Using the mud volcanoes  Pliny noted mud’s medicinal qualities in Roman times. Local scientists baldly admit that the mud of the volcano fields is not as rich in key minerals as certain silts. But that doesn’t stop sanatoria at Märdäkän and Qala Altı (p164) using it for mud baths and mud massages which they claim aid spinal maladies, slipped discs and arterial clogging. ‘Mud collars’ are also supposed to aid blood flow to the brain and Sharq-Qarb Enterprises will sell you packaged dry mud if you want to make your own!

        In the Soviet era some volcano craters were used as handy disposal sites and simply filled with assorted refuse. Recently geologists have proposed a ‘volcano reserve’ to protect the remaining examples of these weirdly fascinating phenomena for future generations. But for now you can simply wander freely amongst the little fellows. Please don’t drive onto the mud field nor stand too close to the caldera lips.

  • Are they safe?  On very rare occasions, extreme gas pressure blows out the whole crater throwing masses of rock and mud into the air and showering a wide area. In such events, the methane can ignite creating a dramatic flare several hundred metres high as happened in 2001 at Lökbatan (pp138-9). The flames were visible from Baku and burnt for weeks. On another occasion six unlucky shepherds and their flock were blown clean out of a remote crater in the Xızı region. But such violent eruptions are very rare and usually preceded by discernible warning rumblings and movements of the whole crater surface. The more accessible crater fields generally gurgle away safely and make very intriguing places to explore. Tourists are more of a danger to the fragile gryphons than vice versa.
Azerbaijan with excursions to Georgia