06:30. After checking the documents and bags of passengers, the bus sets off.
- Hello, hello, I’ll be with you in the evening, set the table. Yes, I'm going to Shusha. I swear on your health! (laughs heartily). Do you remember my colleague from Georgia, we are going with him. And on the way back I will go to Akhmedbeyli and come to see you. So set the table (laughs again).
I understand that a man of forty or forty-five years old sitting behind us is very happy talking on the phone with his acquaintance from the village of Akhmedbeyli in the Fuzuli region, through which we will pass.
Along the way I involuntarily listen to the conversations of other passengers. The mother and daughter we met at the bus station are sitting two rows ahead of us.
- Mom, I wonder if your house survived?
- To hell with the house. I just want to find my father's grave. If it's destroyed, I won’t be able to stand it.
- Inshallah, we'll find it, don't worry. But I still want to see the house where you were born and raised.
Bakhtiyar was born in Ahmedbeyli, but lived in Baku for 12 years.
-I stayed there after my studies, because there was no work here. I returned ten months ago. I saw that after the war everything was moving here, there were a lot more visitors, everyone was opening shops, cafes and restaurants. So I also came here and opened this cafe. The local population is also doing well. All the food served in this cafe is made from products purchased from local residents. Everything is local - meat, chickens, eggs, butter, cheese, vegetables, fruits and bread, - says Bakhtiyar.
We take our seats on the bus again. “After the next post, the liberated territories begin, they will check the documents at the post, do not take any pictures of anything there”, the driver warns.
Shortly after the border post, the city landscapes of Fizuli begin to flicker outside the windows of the bus. More precisely - what is left - or what is not left of the city. The city has been wiped off the face of the earth. It is hard to imagine that here not only 30, but even 100 years ago there were houses, schools, kindergartens, hospitals, people were busy with their own affairs, hurried to work and home. There was silence on the bus. Everyone tries to photograph what is visible from the window. From time to time someone sighs.
We drive along a winding road leading to Shusha. As the bus goes uphill, there is more snow on the side of the road. Although it is sunny and clear today, it feels like it was snowing a couple of days ago. Every 10-15 meters, triangles of yellow-red ribbons wound on wooden supports warn of mines.
Having passed one after another devastated village at the foot of the mountain, we rise higher and higher.
The bus is noisy again. Two passengers are arguing. One says that no one has lived in these villages since the first Karabakh war, the other says that Armenians lived in Shusha itself and in the surrounding villages and left them after the second war. I want to intervene and confirm the words of the second, but I restrain myself.
Bul-bul's house has been preserved, but not a single exhibit of the museum has survived, so now the exhibition consists of his photographs. But the mulberry tree in the yard survived, on which the future artist liked to climb in childhood, when he was still called Murtuza Mammadov. According to legend, he received his nickname Bul-Bul (“nightingale” in Azerbaijani) for the ability to imitate the singing of birds while sitting on the branches of this very tree.
The walls of the Shusha fortress, built in the 18th century, rise as if nothing had happened, safe and sound.
It was in no way possible to go beyond the strictly defined limits of the tour route, and the tour organisers were reluctant to answer questions about the destruction. They only said that "with time, everything will be restored”.
The guide warned us that even if the doors of the houses say “Checked, no mines”, it is strictly forbidden to go inside - it can still be dangerous in there.
We are heading to the last stop of our tour - the clearing of Dzhydyr Duzu. This is a large flat area above a cliff, with a beautiful view of the mountains.