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Sunday, October 16, 2005


Azerbaijan is a strange place

Today's adventure led to Besh Barmag, or Five Finger Mountain. Lumbering Kamaz dumptrucks hauling sand to feed Baku's building boom jockeyed for space on the highway with ancient Volgas packed to the domelight with apples, spare tires presciently tied to their roofs. It was a perfect, warm fall day.

Besh Barmag, from the mosque on the highway

Besh Barmag is a Pir, or shrine, that attracts pilgrims from all over the country. Many arrive in packed-to-the-gills mashrutkas (minibuses). Bent-over grannies in flip-flops, headscarfed girls and young guys in shiny pinstripes and pointy shoes scramble up hundreds of stairs and rusty ladders to reach the shrines perched high on the rocky pinnacles. Old men and women stake out steps, imploring pilgrims to share a bit of the wealth as they pass. Almost everyone does and the beggars respond with "Allah is happy with you."

The vast majority of the pilgrims are women, most of whom come to appeal to pre-Islamic deities for big families or protection for the ones they've already produced. In some shrines, they tie strips of cloth to tree branches, a common practice across Central Asia. At others, they lay scarves and tablecloths on rocks and parade around them, bending over to kiss the rock at each pass. Holy men with Korans chant prayers from other rocky enclaves, surrounded by metal hands wrapped in pilgrims' cloth.

On the descent from the rocky fingers, beggars, who easily recall foreign faces, shout out more blessings. In the grassy picnic area at the base, families celebrate the pilgrmiage by slaughtering sheep to cook over open coals, sharing bread and grapes and drinking tea at long picnic tables. Stray dogs root through piles of trash and Azerbaijan's national bird flips and flaps in the wind.

But what made this whole scene really unusual?

It's the middle of Ramadan.

But I thought you said there would be no discussion regarding sheeps? lol
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