No:54 – Azerbaijan – The (relatively-)liberal Muslim-majority nation …

About the Blog …

The blog is based on my visit to Azerbaijan, as a part of my 2023 Silk Road Tour.

Type of vacation …

Small group tour with driver and guide, exploring Baku, Atashgah, Qobustan, Sheki Etc.

Country Counter: Countries/territories I have visited so far …

Travel TipsTips based on my travels so far …

What I liked best …

(1) The guide Ismail was the best. Knowledgeable, friendly and very responsible and organized.

(2) The chilled vibe of Baku.

(3) Cuisine!

What I did not like …

It was quite cold and windy (in April) 🙂 But had the jacket(s) and beanie cap to take care of it.

Location in the World map …


Some interesting tidbits about Baku …

Azerbaijan’s capital Baku (or Bakı in Azeri) is a quite modern city, with a good mix of historical and modern buildings. The UNESCO World Heritage Site Icheri Sheher (Old City) lies within a fortress wall. Around this are gracefully illuminated stone mansions and tree-lined pedestrian streets filled with nice boutiques.

  • Baku is right at the edge of Caspian Sea.
  • Baku is located 28 meters (92 feet) below sea level, which makes it the lowest lying national capital in the world and the largest city in the World located below sea level.
  • Baku is also among the world’s top ten destinations for nightlife.
  • The city is renowned for its harsh winds.
  • Baku, one of the most beautiful cities is located at the junction of Europe and Asia. The capital’s name itself is interpreted as a “wind blow”, “city of winds” or “hill”, “city on the hill”.
  • Baku is a rail junction as well as a port terminal in the Caspian Sea.

Some interesting tidbits about Azerbaijan …

  • The Heydar Aliyev International Airport in Baku is named after the third President of Azerbaijan. It was named the best airport among Russia and the Russian Commonwealth countries a few years back.
  • In 1918 it became the first democratic state in the Muslim-oriented world, but it was incorporated into the Soviet Union in 1920 as the Azerbaijan Soviet Socialist Republic.
  • It declared its independence in August 1991, four months before the official dissolution of the USSR, and was admitted into the United Nations a few months later.
  • The capital city, Baku (population 2.5 million), has the best harbor on the Caspian Sea. Around 96% of the population is Muslim, with a Shia majority, but most Azerbaijanis are non-practicing.
  • The government is secular and religious freedom is guaranteed by the constitution.
  • It is a small country, with only 33,500 square miles and a population just under 10 million.
  • At the beginning of the 20th century, Azerbaijan was the world’s leading producer of Petroleum, accounting for more than half of World production. The World’s 1st drilled Oil Well is in Azerbaijan. By 1901-02, Baku was producing 11 million tons (212,000 barrels) of oil per day. During the first year of the World War, Azerbaijan produced a record 25.4 million tons of oil. Hitler aimed to capture Baku in order to control this vast resource, but the Nazi defeat at Stalingrad in 1942 forced a retreat from the area. Production declined after the war, but oil production is up now, and crude oil is pumped to Europe in the second-longest oil pipeline in the world. These days they are producing about 900barrels of oil/day.
  • In 1949, Azerbaijan built World’s 1st offshore Oil Well.
  • One of the world’s oldest religions, Zoroastrianism, was practiced in this region as early as 600 BC. Zoroastrians are sometimes called Fire Worshipers, but they actually believe that fire represents God’s light or wisdom. The name Azerbaijan is Persian and means “protector of fire.”
  • Azerbaijan is almost completely Muslim (99%+, according to the Pew Research Center), with more than two-thirds belonging to the Shia branch of Islam. However, while there is a Constitutional guarantee of religious freedom, few locals are “pious” probably due to Soviet prohibition of religion during the 70+ years Azerbaijan was part of the USSR.
  • Nagorno-Karabakh (Disputed Territory): It is a land-locked region in the Southern Caucasus Mountains. In September 1991, the Armenian majority of the disputed Nagorno-Karabakh region seceded to form the Republic of Artsakh. The region and seven adjacent districts outside it became de facto independent with the end of the Nagorno-Karabakh War in 1994 (War between Azerbaijan and Armenia). These regions are internationally recognized as part of Azerbaijan, while negotiations go on.
  • It is one of six independent Turkic states and an active member of the Turkic Council and the TÜRKSOY community. (the 6 Turkic States: Turkey, Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan)
  • Azerbaijan is a Secular country.
  • Azerbaijan is rated very high w.r.t. Human Development Index (high literacy and economic development).
  • USSR had invaded Azerbaijan in 1920 and Vladimir Lenin openly claimed that USSR could not survive without Azerbaijan’s oil.
  • Armenia-Azerbaijan Border Issues: Because of the disputed territory (Artsakh), one has great difficulty in crossing Armenia-Azerbaijan border directly. You are forced to use Georgia as an in-between. If you have been to the disputed territory, you cannot enter Azerbaijan.
  • Azerbaijan Flag: BLUE-RED-GREEN (with the RED having White Half-Moon & Star). BLUE == Turkic. GREEN == Islam.
  • Azerbaijan has a small snippet between Armenia and Iran!!! Nakchivan. Nakhchivan is the capital of the eponymous Nakhchivan Autonomous Republic of Azerbaijan, located 450 km west of Baku. There is a very small stretch of border where Nakhchivan connects to Turkey directly. People from Nakhchivan have to cross into Iran and then enter Azerbaijan. There is a lot of controversy related to Nakhchivan, between Armenia and Azerbaijan, even though there is currently no direct conflict related to it.
  • Baku supposedly has the World’s largest KFC 🙂
  • Azerbaijan is 50% mountainous, mainly with Caucasus Mountains.
  • Caucasus Countries == Georgia + Armenia + Azerbaijan.

My Experiences

My initial impressions:

(1) Baku has outstanding roads, same level as Ashgabat 🙂
(2) Weather was quite nippy (for my standards 🙂 ) in Baku. It was 10C the day I landed. Also, Baku is known for its winds, and trust me, it chills you to the bone. I never imagined that I would wish I had brought my gloves!
(3) Looking at the people, how they dress and how they go about their lives, one would never guess this is a Muslim majority Country.


Uzbekistan Airways flight from Tashkent to Baku … The flight, an early morning one, was relatively empty. I moved from my aisle seat to a window seat, to get a nice peek at Caspian Sea from above.
A decent breakfast was served ….
The plane’s windows needed some cleaning 🙂 That is Caspian Sea down below …
Heydar Aliyev International Airport, Baku, Azerbaijan. Very nice looking airport.
Local taxi! Love the color …
Heydar Aliyev Airport … A small but cute airport.
Some parts of Baku looks like a “Mini Dubai”.
I am definitely an “Early Hunter” in whichever Hotel I stay in. The Hotel has no idea what “Early” means in my Dictionary 🙂
Inside Baku Metro train … As you can note from the locals’ attire, it is quite cold in Baku, in April!
All Baku Metro trains are of this color (At least the ones I saw). Some of the Metro station platforms are real deep.
Metro Station, Baku, Azerbaijan. Photos in Metro stations are frowned upon. Did not take much photos.
Choice of Beer …
The one I selected this time 🙂 Not such an expert in Beer that I can distinguish different Beers from their taste, but I like to have local brews wherever feasible.
Azerbaijan Manat … 1 AZN == 48 INR.
Have not seen this before … Floor buttons are outside! There are no floor buttons inside the elevator.
Flag of Azerbaijan in full flow …
Memorial for the Azerbaijanis who were killed by the Soviet Army during Black January 1990 and in the First Nagorno-Karabakh War of 1988–1994.
Azerbaijan Martyrs Monument, Baku. Dedicated to people who were killed by the Soviet Army during Black January 1990 and in the First Nagorno-Karabakh War of 1988–1994.
Nice view of the Corniche area, with Caspian Sea in the background …
Nice view of the Corniche area, with Caspian Sea in the background … You can also see Crescent Hotel in the background.
“Museum of Miniature Books”, Baku, Azerbaijan.
Aliagha Vahid Monument is monument in Baku, capital of Azerbaijan, in honor of the Azerbaijani poet and ghazal singer Aliagha Vahid.
Notice the depictions behind the head …
Statue of famous philanthropist Haji Zeynalabdin Taghiyev near Icheri Sheher (Old Town).
An ancient restaurant, which was a Rest Stop along the old Silk Route. Near Icheri Sheher (Old Town).
An iron model of Icheri Sheher (Old Town), Baku, Azerbaijan.
Illustration of the Maiden Tower, Baku. Along with the Shirvanshahs’ Palace, from the 15th century, it forms a group of historic monuments listed in 2001 under the UNESCO World Heritage Sites.
A well within the Maiden Tower, Baku. The exact original use for the tower is a kind of mystery.
We had a quick lunch at this outlet … The meat-based pastry I had was yummy!
This is the Lahmajun Shaurma I had …
The National museum of Azerbaijan literature, named after Nizami Ganjavi, was established in 1939.
Jamil showing the Mud Volcano regions near Baku, Azerbaijan.
The terrain, on the way to Gobustan Rock Art Area (Petroglyphs), to see the Petroglyphs and Mud Volcanoes …
The terrain, on the way to Gobustan Rock Art Area (Petroglyphs), to see the Petroglyphs and Mud Volcanoes …
The small museum gives a quick introduction to the region, over the millenniums …
The small museum gives a quick introduction to the region, over the millenniums … Bought a few souvenirs from the store.
The Gobustan National Park Museum, from outside.
Jamil explaining about a special rock, which makes a musical sound when hit with a small piece of rock …
Each area where Petroglyphs are present, has an information board, which explains the notations and also makes it easier to locate the actual drawing among the many rocks.
A nice view , from the Gobustan National Park …
The Mud Volcanoes area has many small outlets for the gas and mud. Some of these openings have brief fire spurts.
The mud, from the Mud Volcanoes, flows down and dries up over time …
There was this relatively large geyser-sourced pond … Jamil told us that once some German tourists took a dip in this pool. For me, it was so cold and windy that I could not even imagine doing the same 🙂
Overall, the Mud Volcanoes area, looks like this … A 4×4 vehicle is required to traverse this area.
This is the particular 4×4 SUV we had used to visit the Mud Volcanoes.
A preserved ancient Oil Well …
Shah Restaurant, where the “Welcome Dinner” happened. Baku, Azerbaijan.
The views from the Petroglyphs park were stupendous.
Petroglyphs, Gobustan National Park, Azerbaijan. Some of them from over 40000 years back!
Juma Mosque, Icheri Sheher, Baku, Azerbaijan. Prayers were in progress and did not take too many photos.
Icheri Sheher has many narrow streets, lined with houses and hotels.
Various views within Icheri Sheher, Old City, Baku, Azerbaijan. 12th Century.
Local bus … Baku, Azerbaijan.
I do not get to see many “marked” Uber cars … Baku, Azerbaijan.
An Uber competitor! Yango.
At the Cafe at Yanar Dag, Absheron Peninsula, Azerbaijan. Tea and Baklava. The Baklava was so amazing that I had a 2nd one (And I am NOT a big sweet/dessert guy).
Yanar Dag, Absheron Peninsula, Azerbaijan: The natural gas flames are rumored to have been burning for thousands of years. There were many curious school kids when we were there and they kept trying to talk to us (in English!) 🙂 One can see holes in the rocks through which the natural gases are making its way to the top. No wonder Azerbaijan is known as the “Land of fires”. This site has been made a Cultural and Natural Reserve in 2007.
Maiden Tower, Icheri Sheher (Old Town), Baku, Azerbaijan: Azerbaijan is popular with Indian tourists. Saw quite a few around the city. The entire Icheri Sheher was added to UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2000. This is the Maiden Tower within it. Offers good views of Baku from the top (7 floors), including the famous “Flame Towers” (You can see in the distance). The tower is 28 meters tall, with staircase within the several meters-thick wall and even a 21-meter narrow well (with fresh water!) within the walls.
Scenes from the “Welcome Dinner” … The food was just plain YUM!
World’s 1st Industrial Oil Well, from 1846. Baku, Azerbaijan.
Gobustan Mud Volcanoes, near Baku, Azerbaijan: Gobustan is 60km South-West of Baku. There is a Museum of Petroglyphs, focusing on the Petroglyphs found in the area, and also a park with 100s of actual Petroglyphs. But for me, the highlight was the Mud Volcanoes. They are cold to touch. What those German tourists did was remarkable (In this freaking cold 🥶😳). As mentioned above, one needs to take a 4×4 vehicle to climb up to the area. The area is littered with small and big Mud Volcanoes. Azerbaijan has several other Mud Volcanoes sites like this one.
Zoroastrians from India travelled to the “Land of Fires” (Azerbaijan) to worship Fire. The Temple of Eternal Fire, Ateshgah, Azerbaijan. Zoroastrians did things around Fire, like burning fruits, jumping over fires Etc. The central temple is believed to be 100s of years old. The present complex was made in the 17th-18th century. Sanskrit verses, Shiva depictions, Shlokas … Felt as if I was in a Hindu Temple 🙂
“Sizvanshah” (Isnt it spelled “Shirvanshah”?): This is the restaurant where we had dinner one night (Jamil, since he was fasting, did not join us). Named after the rulers of this area. To say it is a massive restaurant, is a massive understatement 😀. I kept getting lost in the corridors, as I kept taking photos 😀 Loved the Oriental styling and the various types of seating arrangements.
Images from the Dinner, Baku, Azerbaijan. The Cherry Sherbet had actual Cherries inside (and I ate a few 😀). There was a Kebab platter, along with an Azerbaijani Wine, which my travel mates found to be very well rated (4*). But the highlight was the Shakh Plov and the ceremonial way it was opened and served 😋
Hayder Aliyev Cultural Center: A museum like none other that I have seen. Designed by the famous Iraqi-British architect Zaha Hadid. Constructed during 2006-2012. Guards in the center were Azerbaijani National Security Forces, so obviously, the nation values this monument a lot. It was a great way to spent 2-3hr. There were various sculptures by a Mexican artist, concave mirror by an Indian artist, a garden, beautiful and unique white steps, a section on Heydar Aliyev, details on Azerbaijan-Georgia-Turkey Oil Pipeline, a Aliyev movie show for 10min, costumes hall, musical instruments hall, models of all major architectural buildings in Azerbaijan, carpets hall, dolls hall (dolls made in Azerbaijan and those donated by nearby Countries (excluding Armenia 😉 ), “Gifts from Turkey” hall (with Metallic paintings) Etc. But the highlight was the building itself.
A unique Carpet-art … A normal carpet flowering to underlying strands. Amazing. Heydar Aliyev Cultural Center, Baku, Azerbaijan.
A beautiful string-based Azerbaijan map and its reflection! Heydar Aliyev Cultural Center, Baku, Azerbaijan.
Clockwise, from Top-Left: One of the carpets in the Carpets Hall. Models of architectural buildings in Azerbaijan. One of the many musical instruments on display in the Musical Instruments Hall. President Heydar Aliyev’s official vehicle during his 2nd term. Artifacts (Vessels, Weapons Etc.). Some of the costumes on display in the Costumes Hall.
Heydar Aliyev Cultural Center, Baku, Azerbaijan: Dolls Hall. There were countless dolls of all shapes, sizes, costumes, timeperiods and subjects. Many of them were made in Azerbaijan itself. The others were donated by other nations. These were the 6 I liked the best 🙂
Hows this for detailing on Carpets … At Heydar Aliyev Cultural Center’s Carpets Hall, Baku, Azerbaijan. I especially loved the one which depicts various snippets from Azerbaijani Culture and life.
For a small nation, Azerbaijan sure packs a lot of natural beauty!
Juma Mosque, Shamaki, Azerbaijan. Largest and oldest in Azerbaijan. Built in 743. The current one was designed by a Polish designer in 2012.
Diri Baba Mausoleum: Symbol of Sufism in Azerbaijan. Built in 1402, in Gobustan town, Azerbaijan. Grave stones have holes for water and perfume. Sufi monks stayed 40 days in caves, like the one shown here, before Ramadan. Caves are sandstone caves.
These are thin dough-based snacks, which are colored and flavored with fruit extracts. Tasted sour and frankly, did not like it much … Near village of Lahic, Azerbaijan
The beautiful mountain village, Lahic, Azerbaijan. The locals seemed chilled about the tourists swarming their town, a couple of them even allowed their courtyards to be photographed. We met a local youngster, who speaks good English, who after Bachelors in Ankara (Turkey) is doing his PhD at Columbia University (New York). Village elders, who were sitting and chatting in the village square, allowed themselves to be photographed as well.
Wahab, an Azerbaijani youngster, in Lahic village, Azerbaijan. Was at a store, struggling to communicate, when Wahab shows up, speaking good English. After schooling in the village, he did Bachelors in Ankara, Turkey, and is now doing PhD at Columbia University, New York. Talk of coming from a humble background. He is here on vacation for a monfh. He plans to look for a job in USA, after his PhD. His Father is a Fire Fighter. His family’s traditional trade is as Ironsmiths and he showed his Father’s workshop and also gave me 2 horseshoe nails as a souvenir.
The colorful spices from the mountain village of Lahic, Azerbaijan …
The colorful spices from the mountain village of Lahic, Azerbaijan …
The colorful spices from the mountain village of Lahic, Azerbaijan …
Lunch, on the way to the mountain town of Sheki, Azerbaijan. From Top-Left, Clockwise: Walnut preserve (I was made to guess and failed miserably 😀 The whole raw Walnut is treated with lime and sugar). Local unbranded wine, cheese and bread. Cherry sherbet, with cherries in it. Plate of Kebabs (Lamb, Chicken & Beef).
The beautiful Sheki mountain town, Azerbaijan. Cobblestone streets. Quaint shops and restaurants.
The mountain town of Sheki in the morning Sun … Azerbaijan.
View of Sheki town from the Old City …
There was a plethora of cheese varieties at the breakfast buffet … I love all Feta-like cheese varieties.
The North-Eastern province of Azerbaijan we drove through. You can see Sheki there …
“Piti” Dinner, Sheki, Azerbaijan: They brought us a small clay pot with a soup of chickpeas, lamb meat and lamb fat, with various spices in it. We then take the local bread, shred it, and pour the liquid from the lot on it. Have this soaked bread with onions and pickled vegetables (Cucumber, Onion Etc.). Once that is done, mash up the chickpeas, lamb meat and lamb fat and have it with bread, as Course #2. After all this, I was yet again feeling like an Anaconda which just swallowed a goat 😀 Had it with a Georgian pear-based fizzy drink.
“Karvansaray”: Resthouse for Silk Road caravans. It is now being used as a Hotel and Restaurant. It has over 300 small rooms. Many of the rooms are private seating areas for the restaurant. Sheki, Azerbaijan.
Sheki Khan Palace, Sheki, Azerbaijan: 18th Century. It took 2 years for construction and 8 years for decoration and interiors. The colorful windows have 5000+ parts (!), fitted together, with notches (No nails, glue Etc.). The small Palace (It has just 4-5 halls) has oriental-looking and detailed wall paintings, depicting various scenes from local history, peacocks, dragons, flowers Etc. By the by, those trees are 500+ years old.
This is how they traditionally make windows in Sheki, Azerbaijan. Each window ends up with 5000+ pieces! It is like putting together a Lego set. Each wooden piece has notches and cavities, which are painstakingly made. Obviously, the windows are very cheap 😀
AliAhmed Halwa Shop in Sheki, Azerbaijan. Sheki Baklava is apparently very famous and due to Eid, many people were buying Baklava and other pastries. Sheki Baklava does not have as many layerings as Turkish ones. I tasted as many varieties as I could. Saffron, Chocolate, Classic Etc.
Scenery on the way to Georgian border …
Scenery on the way to Georgian border …
Scenery on the way to Georgian border …
Jamil, the Azerbaijan guide: He lives near Baku. In 2016, he served in the Azerbaijan army, as it is mandatory service for 18 months (University graduates do 1yr). He has been working for 8 years as a tourist guide. He married at 25 and his wife has Ukranian ancestry. They have a 2yr daughter, Amina. South Azerbaijan, where Jamil is from, is known for longevity. Jamil’s GrandDad was riding horses at 90+. Jamil is from Lerik, South Azerbaijan, next to Iran. He is a very chilled-out guy and as he was fasting for Ramadan, the poor guy had to sit and watch us during lunch. Self-control 😳



At the Georgian border, we bade goodbye to Jamil and the driver and did a land border crossing into Georgia …



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