Oil-rich and landlocked, Azerbaijan is a hidden gem at the crossroads of Eastern Europe and Western Asia. Once part of the Silk Road, this country boasts a blend of ancient traditions and modern influences. Known for its variegated and often beautiful terrain, the country has historical cities, picturesque landscapes, and the unique intersection of Eastern and Western cultures.

Year-end travel: Have 1 lakh? Check out Azerbaijan (Photo by Sevil Yeva on Pexels)

If you have seen The World is Not Enough (1999) in which James Bond’s high-tech BMW Z8 creates a stir, well, that city is Baku, the capital of Azerbaijan.

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Here is a quick guide to must-see/eat/do in Azerbaijan.

Important Cities: Baku, Ganja, Sheki, Guba, Gabala

Must-See/Do:

• Gobustan National Park (Azerbaijan’s ancient rock carvings)

• Old City (Icherisheher) in Baku

• Heydar Aliyev Center (architectural masterpiece)

• Goygol Lake

• Khinalug Village (Europe’s highest mountain village)

• Quba Mosque

• Mud Volcanoes in Gobustan

• Flame Towers in Baku

• Lahic, a small metalwork artisan town resting high up in the mountains

• Chakur Gabala ruins.

• Sheki is a small town near the border of Georgia that served as a prime trading post on the Silk Road. Do not miss Sheki fortress and palace.

• Albanian Church ruins in Qax.

• Shirvan and Agh-Gol National Parks known for bird watching, wildlife viewing, and hiking.

Must-Eat:

· Plov: Azerbaijani rice pilaf with meat and vegetables

· Dolma: Grape leaves stuffed with minced meat and rice

· Kebabs: Grilled meat skewers, a popular street food

· Qutab: Thin flatbreads filled with meat, herbs, or pumpkin

· Piti: Lamb soup cooked in a clay pot

· Baklava: Sweet pastry with layers of nuts and honey

· Wine: Azerbaijan has historical wine regions.

What to Buy:

· Azerbaijani Carpets (famous for intricate designs)

· Gaval Dash (traditional musical instrument)

· Copperware and souvenirs from Old City Baku

· Azerbaijani silk scarves and textile

· Local honey and preserves

· Traditional Azerbaijani spices.

Where to Buy: Yashil Bazaar (Baku), Nizami Street (Baku), Taza Bazaar (Baku), Park Bulvar Mall (Baku), Ganja Mall (Ganja), Sheki Bazaar (Sheki), Gabala Bazaar (Gabala).

Packages:

Magnificent Azerbaijan (5 nights/6 days). Cost: 30,000+ (excluding flight). Book on: thomascook.in

Explore Azerbaijan (4 nights/5 days). Cost: 32,000+ (excluding flight). Book on: thomascook.in

Amazing Azerbaijan (6 nights/7 days). Cost: 48,000+ (excluding flight). Book on: thomascook.in

Honeymoon Special (6 nights/7 days). Cost: 54,000+ (excluding flight). Book on: sotc.in

3-night Baku package (including flights). Cost 65,000+. Book on makemytrip.com

Return flight (economy): Delhi-Baku-Delhi return flight starts at 41,000+. Kolkata-Baku-Kolkata return flight starts at 36,000+, Chennai-Baku-Chennai return flight starts at 39,000+.

Visa: Indian passport holders can obtain an E-visa for a stay of up to 30 days

Good to Know:

Currency: 1 Azerbaijani Manat = 0.18 INR

Language: Azerbaijani is the official language, but English is commonly spoken in tourist areas

Local Transport: Baku has a metro system, and buses are available for short trips. Taxis and shared minivans are common. Buses and trains are a convenient and affordable way to travel around the country. There are direct rail links to Sheki, Ganja, Gabala, Lankaran, Shamkir and other cities. There are daily direct flights to Nakhchivan from the Heydar Aliyev International Airport, and buses from the Baku International Bus Station.

BakiKart: BakiKart is a single Smart Card for payment on Baku Metro and BakuBus.

Wi-Fi: Hotels, restaurants, and cafes offer free Wi-Fi.

Security and Safety Tips:

• Avoid travelling to Nagorno-Karabakh, Zengilan, Jabrayil, Qubadli, Lachin and Kelbajar, the Western areas of Khojavand, Fuzuli and Aghdam rayons and within 5km of the border with Armenia.

• Crime levels in Baku are generally low, but muggings do occur after dark.

• Remember, entering Nagorno-Karabakh without the permission of the Azerbaijani authorities constitutes a criminal offence.

• Right hand drive cars are not permitted in Azerbaijan.

• If you’re planning to hire a car, check with your car hire company for information on their requirements before you travel.

• Take extra care when paying with credit cards or withdrawing money from ATMs.

• Possession or use of illegal drugs of any kind carries stiff penalties.

• You should carry your passport at all times – local cops run random id checks.

• You need an export certificate to take antiques or art like carpets, samovars, copperware or paintings out of Azerbaijan.

• Do not enter or photograph military bases, equipment and installations.

• Pay heed to advisory about earthquakes and heavy snowfall.