The first time I ever got a glance of Azerbaijan was from the Georgian side, by the David Gareja monasteries. One enormous steppe seemed to only end by the Caspian shores, but – surprise!
The view does indeed end somewhere near the Caspian shores, but first come the mountains of Caucasus, crystal clean lakes, military bases, intricately painted palaces, white beaches, sandy streets of an old town, state-of-the-art buildings, filthy dump-holes with no running water, ponds of oil shimmering with every colour of the rainbow, caves painted 30 thousand years ago, modern oil platforms, burning hills… Imagine all the things that must be going on below the Earth’s crust if so much is happening on the surface!
You may know it as the land of fire. Respect to this element has its roots in the old times, long before Islam reached Azerbaijan and Iran. The main religion in those times was Zoroastrianism – one of the oldest monotheistic faiths. People believed in the purity of fire and they would pray in the direction of light. Today this religion is still present in the south of Iran as well as some regions of India. In the suburbs of Baku you may visit Ateshgah – a Zoroastrian temple, with eternal fire burning in the central place.
You may know it as the land of mud. Not just ordinary mud: all beautifying and spa! Half of all mud volcanoes of the world is located in Azerbaijan. The National Park of Gobustan welcomes tourists with a Martian panorama: bigger and smaller hills, each of them topped with a blurping sludgy puddle. Feel free to have a bath, it’s supposed to work softening miracles on your skin!
You may know it as the land of pomegranates. They’re huge, scarlet, juicy and mouth-watering. They grow on every other tree. Each food stall sells either fresh fruit or freshly squeezed juice. Did I mention delicious? Seriously, the next time you buy pomegranates, look for those imported from Azerbaijan.
But really, let’s face it. We didn’t really know any of these things before coming here…