Usually, the cultural explosion takes place right when the tourist steps out on the streets of the foreign city. But for your beloved narrator, this happens way before that; the moment he enters the airport. Surely, airports aren’t supposed to be that different right? All of the airports at cities in India have that massive yet congested, stylish yet rugged feel. And the Heydar Aliyev airport at Baku has none of these. Like a slice of a clear cut diamond in the night sky, the airport shimmers with this pristine glow from its lavish interiors. The airport compensates for its small area with elaborate architecture that makes it resemble a museum. And this is for all the peeps still wondering whether size matters.
The next explosion was when I hit the road. And here’s the thing about the roads in Baku; apparently thou shalt not cross the road without using thy zebra-crossing/subway/crossover. Didn’t sound so bad, except that your beloved narrator was surprised that zebra crossings were still being used so vigorously. And his Pakistani mates felt the same, evident when one of them got told off by the local cops for walking across the roads like a ‘madman’.
Azerbaijan lies in the South Caucasus region of Eurasia, bounded by countries such as Russia and Georgia to the north, Armenia to the west, and Iran to the south. Right in between Eastern Europe and Western Asia, the overlapping cultural impact leads to a potpourri of Russian, Middle Eastern and European flavours, culminating in a dish quite unlike anything one can witness.
And how can one not use food metaphors to describe a place; the local cuisine is always the right place to start the exploration of the regional senses! The Azerbaijani staple consists of dishes such as the Turkish originated doner kebab, which is basically a loaf of bread sliced to stuff beef or chicken, veggies, and a speciality hot sauce. It’s usually served with a glass of ayran, which is a cold savoury yoghurt-based beverage mixed with salt. Now, this is the most economical food one can get in Baku, and your beloved narrator cares a lot about his economy. It has been quite a rewarding experience for him to go through entire days indulging in this combo for all three meals of the day. A mental exercise of the mind, body, and soul; the perfect thing to do for a foreign experience, right?
I WANT BISIBELEBHATH-
No. You’re here for a once-in-a-lifetime experience!
Go out and eat that meat.
YOU BEAT THAT FEET!
YOU MEET THAT TEETH!
In conclusion, your beloved narrator almost went crazy without his daily quota of rice and Indian spice, but the architecture in Baku is nice.
Okay, nice is an understatement. Imagine a city with so much wealth and free time that the people decided to construct architectural wonders at the most random spots, for the most random reasons. For example,
The Flame Towers; the most recognizable attraction in Baku, quite literally since these three colossal structures can be seen from almost any part of the city.
There’s also the Heydar Aliyev Center, a design quite unparalleled in every manner. Take a look at that work of art. Wonder whose signature they based it on.
And then there are the gas stations (of course they had to flex their enormous petroleum industry).
But the parts that would be remembered the most isn’t their extravagant monuments or their mouth-watering delicacies. It’s in the moments forged by the smallest of human touches. The accommodation we received from our hosts was more of a hotel than a hostel, which satisfied all of our needs and more. The cashier at the McDonald’s outlet gave away the fries and coke for free. Two strangers in a car stopped by to greet and direct our lost selves to the nearest bus depot. A small group of Azerbaijani students took myself and my Ukrainian friend on a night tour, even with their university exams scheduled for the next day.
This city doesn’t account for much without these people. When the people of a city treat their guest like their god, traces of heaven are found there. And Baku is definitely a haven for many such heavens.
Sanjay Kumar for MTTN
Pictures: Sanjay Kumar
Featured Image: Yashovardhan Parekh