Breathtaking and amazing global destinations have always enchanted my wanderlust mind, but my recent visit to Baku the capital of Azerbaijan located on the banks of the Caspian Sea presented a new dimension of Eurasian culture with some cultural tinges from Soviet Union as well. Honestly speaking, this was largely unexplored by me in spite of being an avid globe trotter.
Unhesitatingly, I can opine that Baku is one of the most underrated yet one of the most mesmerizingly beautiful cities of the world. With weirdest sightseeing attractions, for example, Naftalan Spa done with crude oil (that treats everything from skin ailments to impotence), Mud volcanoes (the biggest ones to enter in Guinness Book of Records), LED lit flame towers lighting up the night sky, Atesgah Vedic Hindu fire temple and more, Baku is splendid in satisfying tourists of varying taste.
It was indeed a pleasant surprise for me to visit this breath-taking Asia- Europe cultural junction blending into a unique landscape. Early built Soviet Apartment blocks, the remnants of Soviet culture are still visible but are fast getting replaced by modern age hi tech skyscrapers and towers. In fact, Baku is fondly called as the lovechild of Paris and Dubai because of the unique mingling of Paris and Dubai architecture in modern high rises and constructions. The architectural style of the buildings is simply stupefying against a stunning backdrop of mindboggling panorama. The luminous towers and intricately designed buildings make worth a time taking in-depth exploration.
Baku – the City of Lights
The city has been adorned with a flamboyant display of lighting and a heart throbbing rhythm that pulsates with a charming spell; thus, compelling you to fall in love with the city in an instant. Never did I imagine viewing such a spectacular light show in this city. The splendid LED lighting of skyscrapers and buildings that keep the city away from darkness almost throughout the night remains etched in my mind.
Now less expensive than it used to be earlier
Baku, an emerging tourist destination used to be very expensive deal for tourists even a few years back in the wake of oil boom. Now, with the domestic currency of Azerbaijan, the Manat getting weaker against USD and Euro, tourists from different regions would find this amazing destination easy on their wallets. Particularly transportation is way cheaper except for taxis. Frankly speaking, it was a relief for my pocket as well.
The city of Baku is the cultural, scientific and industrial centre of Azerbaijan and is located 28 meters below the sea level which makes it a unique capital with such amazing features. The objective of my visit to this city was to attend a global conference, and I appreciate the organizers’ could not opt for a better choice.
The city is also ranked among the world’s top ten destinations known for exuberant urban nightlife. It is an ancient city listed by UNESCO as the world heritage site. In the last couple of years, there has been a mushrooming of towers dramatically changing the skyline of the city. Whether too many towering heights are environment friendly or not, time will decide. In the evening, you can see couples taking romantic stroll in the meticulously groomed nature parks and on the Caspian Sea waterfronts.
Here, I would love to share some of the amazing highlights of this city:
- Old City
The old city lies within an exquisitely constructed citadel. Elegantly luminous stone masonry and wonderful streets flanked by an array of trees on either side is a unique feature of town planning that would win every word of appreciation from tourists visiting Baku. The streets are dotted with unique carpet and antique shops where you can spend hours. These shops contribute a lot in glamorizing the life of the city. I would rather say that hours flew in seconds while exploring these excellent boutiques.
- Hyder Centre
This vast and gorgeously beautiful Zaha Hadid building is a majestic statement of splendid 21st Century architecture forming abstract waves and peaks that seem to fuse together in a spectacular mix of artistic feat. The real delight comes from taking photo shots of the extraordinary exterior from all angles. The interior stages a myriad of concerts and exhibits which includes a permanent display of gifts received by the presidents of Azerbaijan. The entrance to this magnificent building is from the western corner.
- Flame tower
This is one of the most prominent architectural landmarks of the city of Baku and sets the night sky line in a luminous glory. This architectural feat was completed in 2012. It is a trio of spiral blue glass skyscraper representing one of the most spectacular buildings of modern Baku. The three towers are several stories high ranging from 28 to 33. When viewed from a distance, the mammoth towers cut a majestic tall structure and at night they set up the sky in a bright illumination against a dark background resembling a mega flame. The lightshow has a pulsating character as it shifts between colors throwing a gorgeous impact of aura in images of cascading water at one point of time and the national flag at the other.
- Traditional food
Exploration of a foreign land cannot be complete without tasting its culinary tradition and my visit to Baku is no exception to this. The authentic Azerbaijani cuisine available in the restaurants of Baku has a lot of similarity with the Turkish and Iranian gourmet which I have experienced several times. Food certainly plays a significant role in the local culture. I found the following dishes quite lip smacking:
- Baliq: It is sturgeon fish done over a grill like kebabs and served in sour tart and plum sauce. It is awesome to your taste buds!
- Dolma: It is a preparation of minced lamb combined with rice while carrying fine proportions of mint, fennel, and cinnamon to give it an aromatic delight. It is wrapped in vine leaves before serving.
- Dushbara: These are tiny dumplings stuffed with minced lamb and herbs.
- Lavangi: Chicken or fish with generous fillings of walnuts, raisins, alubukhara and seasoned alcha.
Besides there are several meat dishes based on lamb and poultry. The kebabs are a specialty.
As for desserts, try out Samani Halva and Shekerbura. They are a treat to remember! You will find some of the great restaurants serving authentic Azerbaijani cuisine in Baku, some of which include Firuze restaurant, Merci Baku, Mugam Club, Sumakh, and Sehirli Tendir.
- Amazing cultural mix
Throughout history, this country was invaded by different people belonging to diverse heritage. As such, Azerbaijan came under the influence of Turks, Persians and Russians primarily. Consequently, the art and literature, folk music and dances, wardrobe and jewelry and last but not the least, the architectural styles and gourmet wealth were highly influenced by these alien forces which left an amazing legacy of art and culture for tourists to relish in the future. It is an awesome mix of Western Asian and European culture that fascinated me most.
Baku is perhaps the fastest changing city in today’s global context. Tourists with an inclination to taste a unique cultural mix would surely find Baku interesting enough which is worth exploring.