There are so many reasons to visit Qax. I’ve heard some say that it is their most favorite place in Azerbaijan because of its natural beauty. And, while I agree that Qax is extraordinarily beautiful with its tall mountains and glorious waterfalls, for me that’s not what makes it a unique destination in Azerbaijan.
Being from Los Angeles, I’ve always been fascinated by the various nations that the City of Angeles represents. I can go downtown to Olvera Street and eat some delicious Mexican mole, walk a few blocks into China Town and buy an herbal remedy for my for my acid indigestion, and then saunter into Korea Town for some late night karaoke. In Azerbaijan, outside of Baku, finding extremes in international diversity is not quite as accessible, but in Qax, you can experience Georgia. I love this region.
Last year, on 23-November, a group of us stayed at the home of Shohret, one of CBT’s homestay hosts. We were all excited to be in Qax because the Georgian population was preparing for Giorgoba (St. George’s day), a holiday that is celebrated throughout the Orthodox Christian world. St. George is the patron saint of Georgia. He was a Roman soldier who served in the Diocletian army and a devout Christian. When Diocletian ordered every soldier to worship at the feet of the Roman gods, George refused and he was executed.
In Qax (and in Georgia), Giorgoba is celebrated two times a year: 6-May (death) and 23-Nov (birth). The celebration begins with a pilgrimage to an ancient Albanian church that sits atop a mountain that has fantastic views of the valley below. Hundreds of pilgrims gather on this day and make the short, but steep ascent to the top of the mountain. Women and men will walk with bare feet upon the rocky soil as penance and a show of respect to the Saint. Oblations of skinny tapered bees wax candles are lit and stuck to a rocky embankment outside the church. Worshipers circumambulate the steepled building three times kissing its corners and uttering prayers just under their breath. A man stands outside holding chickens that he will sacrifice and then feast on later in the day. A line forms just outside the church doors as people wait to enter to continue their offerings of candles and prayers. The sun and fire are the only sources of light in this ancient building. It’s a beautiful scene and I feel as though I am witnessing something special.
After the pilgrimage is made, people wander down into the forest where they lay blankets on the ground, light fires to roast meat, and drink copious amounts of homemade Georgian wine. There is dancing, singing and all kinds of merry making. People roam from blanket to blanket making new friends and toasting the day. If you don’t bring your own cup to drink from you may be offered several glasses of wine in a cup that is much larger than you would like, and you must drink the entire glass like a shot. In fact, the correct Georgian way to share a toast is to drink in rounds of three, look the person who is making the toast directly in the eye and touch the glass to the table before you drink it. Needless to say, by the end of the day the pilgrims are a little saucy, but what a great way to experience a slice of Georgia in Azerbaijan.