Azerbaijan; shining pearl of Caucasus

Azerbaijan; shining pearl of Caucasus

Baku, March 28, AZERTAC

It's been a while since I visited Azerbaijan, but the memories are still fresh in my mind. Since my childhood, I always wanted to visit this amazing country due to the fun fact of its name ending in “baijan” which for me always stood up as Bhai Jan while learning the members of OIC. In Urdu, "Bahi" is a word that is commonly used to refer to a brother, and it is written as "بھائی".

The vibrant colors of the traditional carpets, the smell of kebabs sizzling on the grill, and the sound of the mugham music echoing through the streets - all of it comes rushing back to me as I sit down to write about my travels to this beautiful Brethren country.

I remember the first time I arrived in Baku, the capital city, feeling a mix of excitement and apprehension. I had heard so much about this place - the oil-rich metropolis on the Caspian Sea, with its gleaming skyscrapers and ancient walled city. But nothing could have prepared me for the warmth and hospitality of the Azerbaijani people.

As I wandered through the narrow alleys of the old city, I was struck by the intricate details of the architecture - the ornate carvings on the wooden doors, and the colorful mosaics adorning the mosques and mausoleums. It was like stepping back in time to a bygone era, where every stone had a story to tell.

But it wasn't just the sights that made my trip to Azerbaijan so memorable. It was the people I met along the way - the shopkeepers who invited me in for tea, the families who welcomed me into their homes for a meal, and the musicians who shared their love of mugham with me. Each encounter left a lasting impression, reminding me that travel isn't just about seeing new places, but also about connecting with the people who call those places home.

But as much as I enjoyed getting lost in the winding streets of Baku and experiencing the warmth of Azerbaijani hospitality, there was still so much more to explore. From the ancient ruins of the Absheron Peninsula to the rugged beauty of the Caucasus Mountains, Azerbaijan is a country that offers something for everyone located in the South Caucasus region of Eurasia. It is a fascinating mix of ancient history and modern amenities, making it a unique destination for tourists. In recent years, Azerbaijan has seen a steady increase in the number of tourists visiting the country, and this trend is expected to continue. The country's location, combined with its rich cultural heritage, natural beauty, and modern infrastructure, makes it an ideal destination for tourists seeking to explore new places and experiences.

My journey to Azerbaijan began with a long flight, but as soon as I stepped off the plane and into Heydar Aliyev International Airport, I knew that I was in for an unforgettable adventure. The airport was modern and spacious, with gleaming floors and large windows that let in plenty of natural light. As I made my way through the arrival’s hall, I was greeted by the smiling faces of airport staff, who were eager to help me with any questions or concerns I had.

My first stop was the Old City, or Icherisheher as it's known in Azerbaijani. This UNESCO World Heritage Site is a maze of narrow alleys, beautiful mosques, and ancient fortress walls, and is an absolute must-see for anyone visiting Baku. As I wandered through the streets, I felt like I had stepped back in time, with the beautiful stone buildings and colorful tiled domes surrounding me.

One of the most impressive sights of my visit to the Old City was the Maiden Tower, a striking cylindrical structure that dates to the 12th century. I climbed to the top of the tower and took in the stunning views of the surrounding city and the Caspian Sea and was awed by the architectural beauty of this ancient monument.

From the Old City, I made my way to the modern part of Baku, with its soaring skyscrapers and cutting-edge architecture. Another awe-inspiring sigh was the Flame Towers, a trio of glass and steel buildings that dominate the city skyline. At night, the towers come alive with a dazzling display of LED lights, creating a breathtaking spectacle that can be seen from miles away.

Another modern marvel that I visited was the Heydar Aliyev Center, a stunning cultural center designed by renowned architect Zaha Hadid. The building's fluid curves, and clean lines are a testament to the power of modern design, and I was struck by its beauty and elegance.

But despite the impressive modern architecture of Baku, I found myself drawn back to the city's ancient roots. The Shirvanshahs' Palace, a 15th-century royal residence, was another highlight of my trip, with its intricate stone carvings and peaceful courtyards. As I wandered through the palace grounds, I felt a sense of peace and tranquility, as though the centuries of history that surrounded me had a calming effect on my soul.

For a nature lover like me, Azerbaijan offers a variety of outdoor activities, including hiking in the Caucasus Mountains, skiing in the winter, and exploring the country's many national parks and nature reserves. One popular destination is the Absheron National Park, which is home to a variety of flora and fauna, as well as a network of hiking trails and picnic areas.

One of the highlights of my trip was visiting the Mud Volcanoes in Gobustan National Park. It's hard to describe the surreal landscape of bubbling mud pools and spitting geysers, but it was unlike anything I had ever seen before. The park is also home to some of the world's oldest rock carvings, dating back thousands of years, providing a glimpse into the lives of ancient Azerbaijani tribes.

As an avid reader, I couldn't resist the opportunity to visit the National Library and Book Center of Azerbaijan during my trip to Baku. I was not disappointed: both institutions left me awestruck with their beautiful architecture and impressive collections.

I had heard that Azerbaijani cuisine was rich, diverse, and flavorful, and I was eager to experience it for myself. From the first bite, I knew that the food in Azerbaijan was going to be a major part of my trip.

The cuisine of Azerbaijan is influenced by the country's location at the crossroads of East and West, as well as by its long history of trade and cultural exchange. This has resulted in a unique culinary tradition that features a wide range of dishes, flavors, and textures. During my time in Azerbaijan, I tried everything from traditional kebabs and stews to fresh salads and pastries. One of my favorite dishes was plov, a hearty rice dish that is typically made with lamb, dried fruit, and spices.

I was struck by the way that Azerbaijanis took pride in their country and their culture but were also eager to learn about and celebrate the cultures of others. It was a beautiful reminder of the power of hospitality to bring people together, regardless of their backgrounds or nationalities.

One of the things that impressed me was the level of investment and development in Azerbaijan's infrastructure. The country's ports and airports were modern and efficient, making it easy to move goods in and out of the country. In addition, there was a strong emphasis on expanding and improving the transportation network, with new highways and railways being built to connect Azerbaijan to other countries in the region.

Another factor that made Azerbaijan an attractive destination for trade was its strategic location at the crossroads of Europe and Asia. With access to the Caspian Sea and the Caucasus Mountains, the country was well positioned to serve as a gateway for goods moving between East and West.

During my stay, I had the opportunity to meet with local businesspeople and government officials to discuss the potential for trade between our two countries. We talked about the potential for exports of Pakistani textiles and garments to Azerbaijan, as well as the possibility of importing Azerbaijani oil and gas to Pakistan. We also discussed the opportunities for joint ventures in industries such as agriculture, tourism, and information technology.

Overall, my trip to Azerbaijan gave me a glimpse of the country's potential as a dynamic and growing player in the global economy. I left with a sense of excitement about the possibilities for collaboration and partnership between Azerbaijan and Pakistan, and a deep appreciation for the warm and welcoming hospitality of the Azerbaijani people.

And so, as I reflect on my time in Azerbaijan, I realize that what I cherish most are not the photographs I took or the souvenirs I bought, but the memories I made and the stories I heard. They are a reminder that even in a world that sometimes feels divided, we all share a common bond - the love of our homes, our cultures, and our traditions.

Engr. Qaiser Nawab, a highly esteemed international expert on the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), Middle East, Central Asia, and Africa. With a passion for global peace and climate activism, Qaiser is also recognized as a prominent Pakistani youth leader, United Nations SDGs advocate, and freelance journalist. He is the Founder President of Pakistan-Azerbaijan Alumni Association.

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