Picture this: You’re in Azerbaijan. Yes, you’re in between Eastern Europe and Western Asia. You’re in a nation that was formerly part of the USSR. You’re enclosed by the Caspian Sea on the east. You’ve explored the country’s lovely capital, Baku. Now you’re in Quba on the right bank of the Gudyal River. But you still want more! Well... here’s the cherry that will top your Azerbaijani cake: a drive through Xinaliq.
Xinaliq is an ancient Caucasian village located in the mountains of Quba Rayon, between Russia and the South Caucasus. When you get to this land, which is situated approximately 7,545 feet above sea level, you’ll be welcomed into an alternate folkloric reality far far away from altitude and life as you know it.
Xinaliq is one of the most uninhabited and ancient places in the world. With a population of about 2,000 people, this community is impervious to many of today’s societal practices. They take pride in their ancestors, who moved here more than 5,000 years ago, dating back to Caucasian Albanian Period. The sense of remoteness and cultural heritage is overwhelming making your visit to the village a moviesque experience.
The current population can speak Azerbaijani but prefer their own dying dialect that bears the same name as the village, Xinaliq. The drive up top is like traveling through time with different communities such as Mountain Jews, Tats and Lezgins settled in the lower parts of the mountain.
The mountains are covered in crisp white snow for many months of the year and contrast with the grey Gudyal River stones, which most houses are made of. To add to the ruggedness, there is no running water nor gas. Husbands graze the sheep and wives weave traditional carpets from the sheep's wool. The chickens, horses, cows, and sheep roam freely and give an interesting sense of calm to this rather cold, unfamiliar place.
Due to the high altitude, with temperatures reaching -6 °F, ingredients are limited as crops fail to survive the harsh climate. This forces the small population to have a simple diet but nevertheless delicious. Especially common is their lavash, a flatbread that you see all around the South Caucasus. To keep warm they rely on burning what they call tezek, a mixture of animal dung and hay.
Have I painted enough of a mythical picture yet? Not satisfied? You’re a tough cookie. Ok, I’ll keep going. A few locals claim they are descendants of Noah. Here’s how the legend goes―Noah in the midst of his despair sees this elevated land and anchors his ark so that everyone can disembark. BOOM. They’re now not only Noah’s ark buddies, but they are also the people of Xinaliq. Not your average village, am I right?
Run (not literally, because you’ll have to drive or take a shared taxi) to Xinaliq before Azerbaijan blocks the road linking Quba to the village. Before 2006, Xinaliq was inaccessible for 9 months out of the year. Fortunately (or not, for some), this road was constructed connecting and introducing Xinaliq to the world. Add this drive to your itinerary before it’s too late as the town was previously included on the World Monuments Fund's Watch List of the 100 Most Endangered Sites. The two-hour drive from Quba will be well worth it!
Hungry for more adventures through Azerbaijan?