The helpful owners of my guesthouse asked me multiple times if I really wanted to take the train from Sheki to Baku. They warned me that it would be slow. 12 hours in fact, while the minibus would only take six hours. A bit worried they told the taxi driver to bring me to the booking office to buy my ticket.
The only railway office in town was nothing more than a small room with piles of papers reaching up to the ceiling. There were no desks and no computers, but several man hanging around whose functions were unclear.
It was useless to even try to talk with them and all communications went through my taxi driver. My name was written down on a piece of paper and I paid.
Sheki train station
I did not receive any ticket or confirmation, but one man assured me he would be there in person, tonight, at the train station. The train station is not in Sheki itself but 17 kilometers south of town. I arrived half an hour before the train would leave and the man was indeed there with my official ticket.
With only 3 other people we waited for the train to arrive. For me the train was an experience and it would save me a night of accomodation. I would rather spend a full day in Baku than 6 hours stuffed in a minivan. A place in platzkart, the open carriage with around 50 bunk beds costed me less than 3 euro.
The train from Sheki to Baku
The train was old and it seemed not much had changed since soviet times. In the front of the train was an old samovar that looked rather complicated and dangerous and each carriage had a provodnika.
A provodnika is a lady that is supposed to look over all the needs of the passengers. Mine was a rather grumpy and strict lady ordering everyone around. Apparently there were strict rules when to walk around, when and how to make your bed and when to use the toilet. She was the only Azeri person that I met that did not smile.
Quite a contrast with my fellow passengers who were all very friendly and kind. They showed me how to make my bed and shared their homemade snacks with me. At some point I was trying to sleep and turned around to see 4 older ladies at the side of my bed smiling at me with their golden teeth. They wanted to know where i was from and what I was doing in Azerbaijan.
Even tough the trains look old and go slow they are in fact comfortable. I had a good night of sleep and I woke up to a landscape of barren dry dessert heavily polluted with left overs from the oil exploration.
The area around Baku is rich in oil and gas and throughout the last century many companies explored and exploited every inch of the land in this area. The rusty machines and pipes were still all over the place. The soil sometimes had strange colours. The ugliness went on for a couple of hours before we finally reached Baku.
The train from Sheki to Baku was a journey of contrasts. From the green rolling hills to the ugly polluted dessert landscapes, from the poor mountain villages to the fancy city of Baku and from a a ticket office with no computers where my name is written on a piece of paper to the ultra modern station of Baku where everything is new and shiny. The old rusty and squeeking train arrived at a platform where everything is new and shiny
The only thing that seems to be constant, with the exception of my provodnika, is the friendliness and the smiles of the people in Azerbaijan.
How to take the train from Sheki to Baku
There are several classes you can choose from.
Obshye is the cheapest, but it is just a seat.
Platzkart is a open compartment with bunk beds and is comfortable. Bed sheets are provided.
Kupe is a closed compartment with 4 beds.
SV/Lux are closed compartments with only 2 beds.
Keep in mind that Sheki train station is 17 kilometers south of Sheki. A taxi should not be more than 5 manat (as of June 2017).
If you want to read more about Sheki you can read my post on the best of Sheki: Azerbaijan’s silk road.
And if you want to read more about Baku you can read my post on the best of Baku, Oil, wealth and history
Ellis is a travelblogger from the Netherlands with over 20 years of experience as an independent budget traveller in more than 50 countries. She has a Master degree in Cultural Anthropology and Global Health with a specialization in South Asian cultures and the Caucasus.