The day started early at 6 a.m. with a quick packing of the bags. we skipped breakfast and decided to reach the border early in the morning to be first in queue. We thought once we got through quickly to the other side, we could savor a traditional Azeri treat!
It was raining when we reached the border. As intended, there was no one before us. But it didn’t make our exit any faster. It was Friday, which meant a limited functioning of the customs office due to the weekend. The officials were even more helpful when they realized that we were from ‘Hindustan’. Though the systems appeared bureaucratic and slow, compared to what we are used to in other places in the Middle East, we still managed to cross over customs and transit clearance in under 2 hours. Happily proceeding to the immigration counters facing Azerbaijan border for the final stamps before leaving Iran, we were called in for a news: “You cannot go out from this Border as the system shows a different ‘port of exit’ for you, and that too differs for one of you.” Baffled, we inquired – What next? The officer said, “Go back to Tehran Immigration HQ and talk to them.”
Go to Tehran, I mean – Really?
Threat, pressure and hunger immediately took over passion and adventure to give rise to an idea and a rescue plan. Idea: Lets try our luck by involving the Immigration Office in town to help us in this situation. Plan: Park the car, hire an agent, and get a taxi to save not us but our documents from the rain.
A helpful officer at the Immigration came to our rescue. Jammer showed him the pictures we took in Iran on the Let’s Drive Facebook and Instagram pages. This helped break the ice, and we were quick to jump on this opportunity to open a chat with the officer. He telephoned some higher authority in Tehran, and obtained his consent to let us pass through. Happiness and joy rushed to our faces when they broke the good news to us while offering special Iranian tea. 🙂
After thanking the officers, getting our passports stamped and adding the agent’s contacts to our Instagram (which seems quite popular here), we were on the roll again. Once past the Iranian side, we entered a nicely built, well-organized and straightforward Border check post of Azerbaijan. Nice people again, simple procedures but it also took its own time. It was already 12 noon when we crossed over, hoping to find something to eat. All this while, we had survived the day with only potato chips that DJ Sham had kept in the car. By the time we could finish half the formalities, it was time for the officers’ lunch break.
With a heavy heart and an empty belly, we sat waiting another hour for them to return. Once all documents had been signed and stamped, the car had to be stripped of all loose stuff to the last bit of tissue paper. It was such a sight we felt a string urge to shoot the entire scene with our camera. Wish we could show you how all 5 doors were left open for the sniffer dogs, after being checked by a military officer, to get in the car and sniff every corner of the car and everything outside the car, before we could re-stuff the care and move on. Alas, due to restrictions on photography at border posts, the use of cameras was impossible.
It was 5 pm by then. All Said, All Done, All Good. Welcome to Azerbaijan!
The FIRST thing we did in Azerbaijan was to find breakfast. We had been awake since 6 am and hungry like wolves. Yet, we had to drive 50 km ahead to Lankaran where we found a ‘Restoran’ as they call it here. I must tell you that to find that they only had Snickers and coffee was still so much of a blessing. Oh goodness, what a relief!
With the intake of these calories, we had enough to quickly start for Baku. It was going to get dark soon. The highway reminded us of our very own Grand Truck Road in India – no street lighting, no dividers, high speed trucks, and muddy/ slippery sides for almost two-thirds of the way.
As we got closer to Baku, the road changed to a 6-lane expressway. We decided to speed up. Finally, we reached Baku at 10 p.m.
We booked rooms at a hotel, parked the car and headed out for a walk around Fountain Square and Nizami Street, followed by dinner. We found Baku to be a thriving city, and the people on the streets appeared to be brimming with enthusiasm and positive energy. People smile at us, and came over to greet us and talk to us when they saw our Let’s Drive caps.
We returned to our hotel by 11:30 pm. We plan to stay over in Baku the next day, to explore this amazing place, its people, food and street culture. The break would help recharge us physically, and we plan to catch some lost sleep to be fit for the marathon drive coming our way. It is going to get bigger, better and more daunting.
They call it Russia. Better, prepare!