Authentic Azerbaijan

When life is a journey, it would be filled with a roller coaster of emotions from awe to hair-raising moments. Such was our journey from Baku to the village of Xinalig (also written as Khinalig).

We drove on winding mountain roads and narrow canyons in the last 35 km from the town of Quba with steep incline and descent at times.  The most worrying part for me is the steep incline and decline and a bit on the winding road to and from the narrow canyon with the reddish rocks.

Winding road to and from the village of Khinalig in the Caucasus Mountain Range

Luckily, the weather cooperated and we had clear, sunny day with blue sky all day. I have more photos (see my Instagram here).

Breathtaking vista as we approached the Khinalig village

I totally recommend a visit to Khinalig for an authentic Azerbaijan experience, but it is not for the faint-hearted.

Khinalig is an ancient village in Azerbaijan, located at 2,300m above sea level in the Caucasus mountain range. The oldest building in the village maybe 300 years old, but it is said that the people of Khinalig maybe the descendant of Prophet Noah (which means the village maybe a few thousand years old?). Fossils of marine life have been found on one of the the nearby peaks. I saw a few in the Ethnology Museum of Xinalig. A visit of the museum is not a must, but it would be an appreciated gesture. To me, the whole village is an anthropology museum in itself.

A few fossilized stones found in a nearby mountain in the Ethnology Museum

What made the whole trip memorable is how hospitable the people was. When we went to the Mosque at the top of the village, there was a family preparing lunch for everyone to commemorate the 1-year passing of his mother. We had to turn him down (though the food smelled so good!) because we were already invited for tea by Rauf, another villager.

A villager’s lunch gathering in honor of his mother and to celebrate her 1-year passing

Another villager, a very wise man monopolized Bahar, my local guide and lovely companion with the history of Khinalig. Unfortunately I had to cut them short due to our next program in Quba, where I wanted to see the Red (Jewish) Settlement. He shared fascinating theory of the origin of Khinalig from the time of Prophet Noah.  The current people is descendant of Albanian Caucasus tribe.

The wise and informative villager chatting with us about his beloved village

The villagers were curious where I was from. Tourists have come to Khinalig but not in droves. When I was there, there were only two Australian ladies. (My type of place). A few of the kids interacted with us. One tried to ask my age, but he could not understand my answer (which was “Old enough to be your mother” 😂). The Khinalig residents have fair skin, blue/light colored eyes and red ruddy cheeks due to the strong sun).

Curious boys following Bahar and I

Khinalig is not a picturesque village per say. It is a working village where one can observe how the people lives and how ingenious they are to survive in a remote and harsh environment. Few of the buildings have adornment. Most are made from local stones with a pile of dung in brick forms for fuel nearby. The oldest building is about 300 years old.

Typical village homes in Khinalig with their supplies of dung bricks for fuel

There is electricity, but there is no flowing sanitation system. Any running water is limited to the few water sources outside, though most houses have sink outside the house with tap by channeling the fresh mountain water or by having a collecting bin.

Sink outside a village home with a collecting water bin. The water would be fresh mountain water brought from the water source closest to the home

Chickens, goats, and calves roam everywhere. Laundry is done outside near the water source in a long wooden bins.  I saw a lady who was washing a green carpet when we arrived and three hours later she was still washing – another carpet – when we left.

A village lady washing her carpets by stepping on it. Spring cleaning has begun.

The buildings have modern building materials incorporated onto them.  Another interesting aspect on the buildings in Khinalig is that a person’s patio or balcony is actually his neighbor’s roof (because the houses are built on the mountainside). The people made do with what they have. One iindigenous example is how they pile their hay. I found it so interesting.

Hay pile on a steep mountain face. How they make the shape to stay and remain stable is fantastic!

At Rauf’s cosy home, he and his beautiful wife of 16-years hosted us. He made us Azerbaijan tea with thyme prepared in the samovar. They served us freshly baked bread (typical to Azerbaijan). They served us halwa from sunflower seeds (delish!) and homemade cheese made from goat and sheep’s milk (I was in 7th heaven). Both went very well with the bread. Then his wife served us yoghurt soup (Dovgha) typical of Azerbaijan topped with dill and parsley. It was delicious!

Rauf and Wife serving us our feast at their home

I was floored with how welcomed I was and with their sincere hospitality. I had a true, incredible Azerbaijan experience today.  I will never ever forget it.


Note: Viktoriya from Azterra Travels arranged my Azerbaijan trip in the evening before and the morning I arrived in Baku. I was last minute as usual.  With their help, I did Baku and Northern Azerbaijan in the 4-days I am here with no time wasted.

6 thoughts on “Authentic Azerbaijan

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