Travelling is fun, most people agree. But have you ever considered going to a country you know nothing about, a country with a culture you are unfamiliar with? How about Azerbaijan? Azerbaijan is known as the land of fire for several reasons which I will closer examine.
My mission of the journey is to find out more about a country largely unknown by western European people and share my experience. The expedition was part of the international conference “Gandja: 2016 in the stories of Young European Writers.” My adventure started on Tuesday, Nov. 19 when I travelled for 18 hours from Maastricht in the Netherlands to Gandja in Azerbaijan, a country which used to be part of the former Soviet republic and is located in the region Caucasus. Even though I did not sleep for a whole night, the adrenalin kept me up once I arrived. Firstly, we went for a walk through the city and I realized that I am experiencing a complete different world than the one I am used to in western Europe. Gandja, being the second biggest city in Azerbaijan with a population of 324,700 people, has the smallest streets which seem like the ones from an old village. “It is like having villages in a city,” states Lukas Kosowski, a Polish participant of the program. The roads are bumpy. However, I do not remember the last time I had as much fun with 22 people in a small bus as I had it on the roads of Gandja. Further, I got to experience the warm-hearted Azeris while hitch hiking from the Göygöl national park back to the village for one of the famous Azerbaijan Teas.
Even though we often had a language barrier, the people laughed and we tried to communicate with hands and feet. The communication thus became fun and, through smiling at each other, I experienced it as more loving and emotional than using words. At the famous Bazaar of Gandja, I got to try Azerbaijani ‘Pakhlava’ and it became one of my favourite sweets. Food in general is not comparable to any German or Dutch food I know. Through the whole week, the organizers of the conference invited us to eat at several local restaurants to try the great variety of national specialities. Tomatoes filled with a sort of rice and meat, different soups as well as xangal, a national flour dish which resembles pasta, are just examples. During our Azerbaijan evening, we watched a performance of national music with national dance. “Azerbaijan Music is always performed by several people,“ Togrul Alakbar said while clapping his hands to the beat of the song. “You never play or dance alone.” The musicians only played for a few minutes before we joined the dancers and challenged ourselves in local dancing. Alakbar was born and raised in Azerbaijan and loves his country for its nature.
On our fourth day, we went for a hike at the Göygöl National Park which is known for its beautiful lakes. Surrounded by mountains and trees, we arrived at the “Maral göl lake”. The landscape was stunning, especially because we had the chance to watch the sun disappear behind the mountains. Azerbaijan is very proud of its history. One part of it is the famous poet Nizami who, amongst other things, wrote five famous poems about love and the wisdom of Alexander the Great. The historical side of Azerbaijan can be seen in various museums. Moreover, Nizami’s grave can be visited in Gandja.
During my trip to Azerbaijan I saw things that I have never seen before and experienced what I have never experienced before. Getting in touch with local people and their culture is education which cannot be thought by books. For instance I learned that Azeris are the kind of people that drive the whole bus back to the restaurant to pick up the souvenirs that you forgot, who are patient with you when you try to figure out their ancient toilets without seats, and that dance with you through supermarkets. I can only advise you to go and explore the unknown new world of Azerbaijan – it is one world, just go.