Trans Eurasia travel

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The original Jolfa was once a major Armenian settlement famous for its skilled artisans. So skilled, in fact, that in 1604 Shah Abbas kidnapped the entire population, whisking them off to build him a new capital at Esfahan where their descendants still live. Original Jolfa is now a busy little border town focused on Ashura Sq, a sizable roundabout directly south of the Azerbaijan immigration post. Nearby you will find freelance moneychangers.

The town has little to see in itself, but makes a good low-budget base for visiting the Church of St Stephanos, exploring the fascinating and scenic Aras River Valley or crossing into Nakhchivan or Armenia. Jolfa is located to the north of Tabriz, separated by the Aras River from its northern neighbor and namesake, the town of Julfa in the Republic of Azerbaijan.

Crossing the Azerbaijan (Nakhichevan) border at Jolfa
While it is usually easy to pass the inner-Iranian checkpoint after Jolfa, it is advisable neither to stop on the way nor to photograph the tightly guarded border. Culfa, in Azerbaijan's disconnected Nakhichevan enclave, is a short walk across the Aras River from central Jolfa. Use up your rials or exchange them for Azerbaijani Manats before leaving Iran. About midway one sees across the river on the Azerbaijani side thousands of tightly arranged stone slabs commemorating a massacre of Armenian fugitives committed by Turkish irregulars during World War I.

Beware that Culfa's paranoid police assume that all foreigners are spies. Jump quickly into a taxi (35 minutes) or minibus to Nakhchivan city, which is contrastingly relaxed and cosmopolitan. From Nakhchivan city there are direct buses to Istanbul (five daily) taking around 30 hours via Igdir. The enclave is separated from the rest of Azerbaijan by aggressively closed Armenian borders. You would have to fly to reach Baku (six daily) or Gence (four weekly) but air tickets often sell out a week ahead.

Getting There & Away
Savaris gather just north of Ashura Sq for Marand (one hour), Hadiyshahr (Alamdar; 15 minutes) and occasionally Tabriz (2.5 hours). Minibuses to Marand (1.5 hours) run from Hadiyshahr, but not from Jolfa itself. The road to Khoy, shown on most maps, is partly mud track across almost uninhabited wilderness. It can be very hard to follow in places, but it's possible in a Paykan (2.15 hours). You will need a full-day taxi charter to do justice to the scenic Aras River road to Kaleybar.