I made a commitment last year and that was to visit Azerbaijan. It all started when I met two Azeri girls in a Facebook group – it was a group where people from different nationalities become members to help each other in successfully applying and obtaining a scholarship. The Azeri girls, Ulviyye and Gulnar, sought my help in applying for universities in UK, after seeing that I was successful in obtaining an offer from a UK university. Therefore, one thing led to another, we became familiar with each other and soon we became Facebook friends. Unfortunately, not all three of us could succeed in getting a scholarship but when I was getting to know these girls, I took interest in their country – Azerbaijan.
Now for almost all Pakistanis, Azerbaijan was a part of Soviet Union; it broke away and became independent country in 1991. However, if one takes interest, they will get to know the rich history and culture of this small Caucasian country.
I decided to explore the culture of this country. Perhaps we all have this same dream, you make foreigner friends or penpal (which has become obsolete all thanks to social networking websites), you get to pay them a visit, and they would show you around the country. For me it was almost a dream come true. I researched online on how to obtain Azerbaijani visa, which was the easiest thing to get. Saved up lots of money from my monthly salary to book tickets and hotel 5 months in advance before the rupee rate depreciated and saved a lot to buy food and gifts for all the loved ones in my country.
I was desperately waiting to see, Azerbaijan. I counted the days as hours went by, waiting for each month to pass, until finally the day has arrived – April 7, 2019.
The cheapest flight I could book was from Faisalabad, Pakistan. I departed for Faisalabad, reached the airport early morning, checked in my luggage, and went onboard FlyDubai. FlyDubai had a connecting flight in Dubai before reaching Baku. After staying 2.5 hours in Dubai, I was finally departing for Baku. The moment was exhilarating and I was not in a hurry, I wanted to see as much as I could of the Caspian Sea from the plane window. After 3 hours, my plane successfully landed at Baku airport. This was it; I was now officially in Azerbaijan. The airport as compared to Dubai was small but as compared to Faisalabad, it was big and modern. As I approached the immigration counter, my passport was immediately stamped without any interrogative questioning. I collected my luggage and made my way out of the airport. I found Ahmed, who could not speak English but only Azeri. I could not make sense of what he was saying but apparently it turns out he was a Taxi driver. I gave him my suitcase, he took it with him to his car, and there Ahemd met Azeri police officers as Ahmed did not know where my hotel, Tourist Hotel Baku, was situated. The only thing I knew about my hotel was that it was situated at Agha Naimatullah Street. The police officer was quite helpful in guiding Ahmed to the hotel. The police officer did ask from which country I came from to which I replied “Pakistan”. The police officer and his fellow officer we
re filled with joy upon hearing I am a Pakistani. They kept saying Pakistan and Azerbaijan, brothers, friends etc. that I will later explain why Azeri people love Pakistanis so much.
I sat on backseat of Ahmed’s car and Ahmed drove me to my hotel in Baku. I was mesmerized upon seeing the city of Baku. It all looked European unlike anything I can compare with in Pakistan. We reached the hotel shortly, and I was greeted by the director of the hotel Aqil (who was boss of everyone), an Iranian director Sara, Raphael (Not the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle character) the daytime receptionist, Perviz the nighttime receptionist and lastly Nigar, the chef of the hotel. The hotel staff welcomed me warmly and I enjoyed a very long talk with the director of the hotel about the strong diplomatic relation between Azerbaijan and Pakistan. The discussion came with a tea, which I was delighted to know that it was free. After a joyous conversation with the hotel staff and the director himself, I was showed my room and taking no moment to unload the luggage, I quickly left with my camera to capture some nightly sightseeing views of Baku.
I had no Azerbaijani SIM card which could not get as it was Sunday late evening, therefore, I did not have the privilege of making a phone call and using Data internet. I was all alone, walking down the street. It came to realization fast, that Azeri could not speak English. I was asking any local of my age group if they could tell me nearest landmark or tourist spot in Baku. An Azeri salesperson at the store who could speak little English told me about Heydar Aliyev Center nearby. He guided me the best he could but I could not find the place. No one could understand me and could not guide me properly but then I was lucky to find an Azeri boy, Yadulla. Yadulla looked like a sophisticated fellow who might know how to speak in English. He turned out exactly as I expected. Yadulla told me about Heydar Aliyev Center situated nearby. I asked Yadulla his phone number, as I did not expect the Azeris would be oblivious to the English language. Yadulla obliged and gave me his phone number in case if I needed assistance. After much navigation and asking the locals I finally found the Heydar Aliyev Center. It was a beautiful, modern and distinct architectural building in Baku. I took as many photos as I could even of the famous “I Heart Baku” (B is rendered as a heart). After much nightly photo sessions, I started to head back to my hotel and then again got lost in the city.
I had marked the Metro Station as a landmark in case I get lost but that was of no use because of the language barrier. After two hours, I managed to my find my designated landmark and finally reached the hotel.
I realized without internet, I could not use Google translator or Google Map. I knew what I had to do for tomorrow: get an Azerbaijani SIM before exploring further into the city. Despite all the hardships, I was happy and excited because for me it was a fun challenging adventure, to be lost in a foreign land and to navigate with language barrier present.
It was really a joyous moment and I could not be more prepared to start a new journey in this wonderful city of Baku.