THEME: 4/5
WRITING: 3.5/5

“People’s love for Raj Kapoor and his cinema, and of course, Mithun Chakraborty and Disco Dancer, was evident. The people here love Indian culture, and this land also has Zoroastrian roots; there are old fire temples all over the country, deep in its hills, with fires burning at all times from vents that leak methane gas.”

Anuj Tikku

There is something about travel books that appeals to the wanderlust hidden deep inside you. While practical guides have their place—they’re informative and, well, practical—it’s personal travel experiences that truly appeal to the reader in me. Those vivid stories of adventures in a foreign land make me feel as if I am right there with the author, living them myself.

Such travel writing, which contains an honest exploration of the author’s rich experiences serenading the various places that he writes about, is somehow personal, expressive, and deeply intimate. Such books explore the human side of the story as opposed to the practical tips and tricks that travel guides do, offering readers a chance to gain insights that can only come from truly experiencing a place.

After a long time, I had the pleasure of delving into a travel narrative in the form of Anuj Tikku’s Meri Jaan Azerbaijan. As an author, Anuj Tikku has explored many genres of writing—thrillers and mysteries, horror, true crime, courtroom drama, and memoir—but it is his travel writing books that I enjoy the most. He likes to travel to places that remain dream destinations for many of us – Africa, Antarctica, Kailash Mansarovar, and that’s why his travel writings are always so engaging.

In his latest book, Tikku takes us on a memorable trip to the beautiful and picturesque country of Azerbaijan, a country that has been all the rage with Indian crowds recently, and why not? It has so many things to offer—cities soaked with culture and history, majestic and towering mountains, natural fire vents, blue seas, and gorgeous and idyllic countryside. The country has something to offer to every type of traveler.

Anuj toured the country for three weeks, and during these three weeks, he had a variety of experiences, all of which are chronologically listed in the book. Through Anuj’s eyes, the reader gets to experience the culture of the ancient city of Baku, the snowy peaks of Batabat, and many other places like Sheki, Ganja City, Khinalug, Gabala, Tufandag Mountain Range, Nakhchivan, Lankaran, Xanbulana, Grinz Village, Caspian Sea, Kish Village, and Gence.

From a basic introduction about the state of affairs in the country to its culture and ancient sites, its economy and natural resources, demography, linguistic variety, and various ethnicities, Anuj gives us a quick introduction. He then goes ahead to take us on a detailed excursion to the country city-wise and day-wise.

These descriptions include not just the places that he visits but also his experiences of interacting with the locals. Some of these anecdotes are quite refreshing to read about. I particularly enjoyed the section where he is interviewed by the channel AZ TV, which is the national channel of the country and also one of the most popular ones.

Another memorable moment is his visit to the Arabzade family in Lankaran, where he is warmly hosted by a local couple—a college professor and a school teacher. The couple had a copy of a seventy-year-old Russian translation of Sri Rabindranath Tagore’s Geetanjali, which they signed and then gifted to the author. This entire episode was so wholesome to read about, written with emotional depth and expressiveness, that it left a lasting impression on me.

Another chapter that I enjoyed reading was where Tikku visits the most remote and isolated village of Khinalug, in the district of Quba. This remote village, with a population of just two thousand souls, remains untouched by time and has been declared a designated World Heritage site. Tikku’s vivid descriptions truly bring this unique village to life and make me want to pack my bags and escape to witness its beauty firsthand.

Overall, Meri Jaan Azerbaijan is a wonderful albeit short peek into the marvelous country. Read it if you are a travel lover and love to read about places, people, and their experiences of traveling to far-off places. Also, if you are planning a trip to Azerbaijan anytime in the future, reading this book would be a good idea, for it is bound to act as an excellent primer, offering insights, practical tips, and personal anecdotes that will enhance your journey.

Can’t wait to read it? You can buy your copy of Meri Jaan Azerbaijan using the link below.