Shuvalan ('place of snakes') was originally a distinct village but now merges into Mardakan. The demarcation point is the railway line that divides the joint commercial centre. Just beyond is Safar Aliyev's villa, now a sanatorium, with turreted 1912 gates.

Shuvalan's main claim to fame, however, is the Mir Movsum Aganin shrine at the other end of the town's long main street (known variously as 26 Commissar Str, Yesenin Str or Almas Ildirim Str according to how new the sign is). That’s one of Azerbaijan’s most impressive new mosques, replete with beautifully patterned Central Asian–style domes. It's the last resting place of Aga Seyid Ali Mirmovsumzadeh, nicknamed Ataga, ('the Boneless One' or literally 'Meat Lord') much to the annoyance of his respectable Seyid family.

This odd figure apparently spent his decalcified life slumped in a chair, unable to manoeuvre himself or even stand as his body lacked a skeleton. With typical oriental optimism, his deformity was seen as a blessing. Those who encountered him reported miraculous turns of fortune. Soviet authorities finding his presence incompatible with communist rationality tried to banish him from his Baku home but the vehicles sent to remove him invariably developed mysterious technical faults rendering them immobile. Some claim he was even used as a secret weapon in WWII - wheeled towards the Dagestan frontier to ward off a possible German invasion. It worked. After his death, the Boneless One was interred in the graveyard in Shuvalan and pilgrims began to visit the site bringing gifts as well as prayers. Inside, pilgrims circle the grave three times before retiring to the nearby madrassa building for free cups of tea sweetened with Nazir offerings (sugar, halva etc).

Most Azeris believe that a wish made here will be granted. And when the wish comes true they return (in droves), offering donations in gratitude. Even the most level-headed Azeris seem to believe in the Meat Lord's power, and return to 'repay' granted wishes. #24 minibuses terminate at the shrine.

If you're planning a trip to Azerbaijan you may be interested ▶ Azerbaijan highlights - For those who prefer to go unbeaten path, to explore less visited places and check national charisma of this small country in Southern Caucasus on the edge of Europe.