The northern part of Azerbaijan is known for its amazing Caucasian mountains. Once you get tired of the busy capital, Baku, it’s worth to pack your backpack, catch a bus and enjoy the local folklore of Caucasian villages.
Xinaliq and Qalaxudat
Xinaliq is an ancient (over 5000 years old) Caucasian village dating back to the Caucasian Albanian period. It is the highest village in Azerbaijan (elevation of 2300 m), located in the region of Quba Rayon, Azerbaijan.
Because of its location, scenery and isolation, Xinaliq and Qalaxudat are very unique villages. As one approaches the villages, a picturesque panorama unfolds. The houses, made of cobblestone and stretching up the hill, resemble multi-storied buildings. Moreover, the surrounding landscape is breathtaking, with rolling hills and harsh mountain peaks in bright green and brown. It is the perfect place to begin a hiking trip and explore the beautiful Caucasus, where you can feel like you´re apart from the world, breathe the fresh air and drink pure cold water. It is an unforgettable experience.
The people from Xinaliq speak the Khinalug language, which belongs to the Northeast Caucasian language family (although many speak Azerbaijani as well). The main economic activity is sheep breeding and some families host occasional foreigners for an extra income. Locals are very friendly and will welcome you with plenty of traditional food and tea, but be prepared for outside bathrooms and harsh conditions. The local people have a very distinctive appearance: due to extreme weather conditions, the villagers´ skin is tough and their cheeks are always red.
Lahic is a small Greater Caucasus hill village situated in the İsmayıllı rayonu, at the altitude of 1350m. From the village, we have a charming view of the mountains scenery that surrounds it. Over the dry river Ghirdiman landscape, the drive up to Lahic is stunning. All along the road that winds up the river gorge you can try hiking in the wooded hillside or cross a vertigo inducing bridge. In Lahic you may also have animal company (cows, sheep or chickens) as many farmers live there, or go on a horse tour organized by the tourism office.
Although left behind as the country is striving for modernity (the road there is quite bad for such an important village for tourism), Lahic is definitely worth a visit. It is a unique example of architecture and urbanization in Azerbaijan, since its narrow streets and houses are lined and carved by stones. Lahic is also known by its skilled artisans including jewelers, carpet makers and copper craftsmen. A large collection of their items can be found in some famous museums around the world such as Le Louvre (Paris) or The Museum of Bern, and at the village you can buy some items or just visit traditional workshops. Many other shops are available there, for instance souvenir and spices ones, which makes for a lively environment.
Şəki is a lovely mountain city, situated between the beautiful forested Greater Caucasus and full of tiled-roof old houses. One of the city´s highlights is the perfect little Khan´s palace, which was a summer residence of Şəki Khans, and is surrounded by a fortress. Constructed in 1762, the building has colorful stained-glass windows and the inside is full of lavish intricate designs. Take a good look because no pictures are allowed inside and you will definitely want to keep it in your memory. On your way out make sure you try the typical (very) sweet, Şəki Halvasi, made with syrup and nuts, or if you prefer something salty, Piti, a meat soup served in traditional pottery.
For a cultural approach visit the renowned Şəki History Museum.
Nearby, in Kiş village, the Kiş Albanian church is worth a visit. Surrounded by stunning mountain landscapes, this tiny but charming church is a good place to learn about Caucasian Albania, the Christian nation that once covered most of northern Azerbaijan.
One of the most amazing places you could visit in Azerbaijan is Göygöl lake. Göygöl lake is usually split into 19 lakes, and is situated at 1,556 meters above the sea level. It was the result of an earthquake that happened many years ago, which made the Kapaz mountain collapse and blocked the path of the Kürəkçay River. The result was a lake with pure mountain water, surrounded by the beautiful Caucasus, which is what the name of the lake refers to: the pureness of the water. A very recommended place to purify the mind and soul.
If you still feel unconvinced, check out the video:
This article has been created as a part of a Fireflies project for AIESEC in Azerbaijan, Baku Synergy
Authors: Katarzyna Biernat (Poland), Maria Silva Barros (Portugal), Nadjib Mohamed Brahim (Algeria), Fatima Zahra Benjelloun (Morocco)