I wrote “Kurban Bayram” on the whiteboard while talking to a group of students about the holiday. “That’s not how we spell it,” someone interjected. What? I studied the term for a second. “Oh, that’s right – ‘Kurban’ with a ‘K’ is Turkish; you spell it with a ‘Q,’ correct?” Everyone seemed happy when I made the appropriate change and some were impressed I knew the difference between the spellings.
So, in light of this recent revelation, this post’s title has the correct AZERBAIJANI way of spelling Qurban Bayram – everyday is an educational journey!
Anyway, back to the trip I had last weekend….
Day 2: Şəki, Kiş, and Qax’s Waterfall
Back on the road….
Şəki is a bit of a climb from Ismayıllı; it took a few hours to get there, but the trip was beautiful. Another beautiful thing was this piece of culinary art:
Friends and family back home, this is halva, Şəki’s special version of baklava. I have been introduced to more types of baklava than I can count on my fingers, all delicious but in small quantities – talk about sweet and syrupy! You can buy halva for 4 to 5 manat per kilo (about $6 to $7 for about 2 pounds).
After visiting the halva shop, we drove to the Şəki Khan’s Palace. I was pretty excited because the history of this place is pretty awesome.
Fact Fact History Lesson: 1) Similar to the Şirvanşah’s of modern-day Baku, the Şəki Khans (khan = ancient/medieval title; “king”) controlled small but key transit points in the Caucasus. Şəki is located at the base of the Caucasus Mountain range and that is where the Şəki Khans made their home. 2) The palace was built in the mid-18th century; much of the decorative glass was imported from parts of the Italian peninsula. 3) No adhesive was used when arranging the stained glass windows. Its stability depends on exquisite precision. 4) The interior paintings are 85% original; the other 15% is touch-up/preservation work. 5) The palace is on a nomination list to be named a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
As I said, not allowed to take photos inside. But it was more breathtaking….handmade paintings of motifs, hunting/royal scenes, flora/fauna, mythological creatures (including dragons!). There are some images online, one of which is here and another here. The admission fee was 2 manat per person (about $2.50); and 5 manat for an English explanation tour. The guide we had was very good and we could understand all she said, so I think it’s worth the bit extra for the guide.
We went to the next attraction in Şəki: the Karavansaray. What is a caravansaray, you ask? Once upon a time during the height of the Silk Road trade route era (roughly 100 CE; keep in mind that the Silk Road trade routes have an extremely long history), caravansarays served as hotels for the traders making the arduous journey across the Eurasian continent. They parked their animals (yes, including camels) in stalls and could rest, eat a good meal, and meet other traders from countless cultural backgrounds. Şəki was a such a stop and the Karavansaray is a big tourist attraction.
We made some time for shopping….
Okay, okay, more to see – back on the road!
The next stop was Kiş, most famous for an Albanian church located high in the mountainous steppes. If you are able to get here, beware that the streets are SUPER narrow, i.e. NOT made for SUVs to drive through.
“You can park the car and we can walk to the church,” I said meekly as we made the sharpest right turn possible to follow signs. “No. We are not doing that,” Aysel insisted as she battled the road conditions and skirted by cows. I was honestly worried about the engine and tires of this vehicle, but we made it. “And you wanted to walk,” Aysel shot me a look. Never tell a strong-willed Azerbaijani woman that she can’t do something!
Okay, before I show you more pictures, Fact Fact History/Anthropology Lesson: 1) This church was originally a pre-Christian temple/shrine area of the ancient Albanian people. 2) No, not Albanians as in modern-day Albanians who live in Albania, but a completely different group of people. 3) Unlike the modern-day Albanians (with the second “a” pronounced short like in the word “cane”), this is Albanian heritage (with the second ‘a’ long; like if you said the word with a British accent). 4) Yes this matters because researchers and academia are trying to figure out how the area was settled, and the Caucasian Albanians provide pieces to that puzzle. Thank you for sitting through the lesson, here’s more pictures:
We got back in the car, somehow made it through those narrow streets again, and headed towards Qax to see a waterfall. Along the way we came across another church:
And that ended Day 2. We got dinner, made it to our hotel in Ismayıllı, and crashed.
Day 3: Bazaar, Gəbələ, and Seven Beauties Waterfall
On Monday (October 6th) we spent the day in Gəbələ, well known, again, for its natural/scenic beauty, but also as a developing international tourist destination. I’ll elaborate on that in a bit, but first look at this forest we drove through:
We made it to Gəbələ (commonly spelled “Gabala”; pronounced GEH-beh-leh), and hit the local bazaar first.
Cross the bazaar off the list. Next we made our way over to the Tufan Ski Resort. A ski resort in the fall, Hayley? Oh yes, this is recently constructed (actually they’re still hard at work, but what they’ve completed so far is amazing and top-of-the-line), and several people in Baku said that the ski lift was amazing and the views were worth it (also affordable at 10 manat per person). What I personally thought was amazing was how fast Azerbaijan is constructing this resort. Fast but with quality; Azerbaijan wants to become a tourist destination and I believe hosting the Olympics is on their to-do list. What better way to achieve those things than by building a prime ski resort almost overnight?
Whew – that took a few hours. Time to head home? Probably….but not without fitting in one more side trip!
As you can tell, the sky looked like it was about to rain any minute. And it did. Once we arrived at the waterfall and stepped out of the car, it poured.
And finally, we stopped for dinner before making the final push home. The food was less-than-desirable, but it wasn’t enough to ruin the weekend or this view from the restaurant:
So there you go, friends and family back home, this was a survey of Azerbaijan’s regions.
I cannot wait to see what more this country has to offer. Until next time… (:
PS: If you are a Fulbright hopeful/recently accepted/simply curious, Dana also wrote a post about our weekend with plenty of lovely pictures too. Click anywhere here to get to her blog, “Salam Sumgayit.”