June 15, 2009


The most remote village in all of Azerbaijan, though the new road will get you from Quba to there in about 2hours. The people living here are of a separate ethnic group and continue to use their own language which is quite distinct from all other languages used in the Caucasus. The people here claim that their town has existed for 5,000years. The village is perched above the treeline on a hilltop, nestled in the Greater Caucasus, under the shadow of the tallest mountains in Azerbaijan.

If ever you get the chance I cannot recommend going there enough. A few weeks ago in May I joined a couple AZ5 volunteers for a trip up there. We hired a fellow named Heybet to drive us up in his little 4x4 Russian-made Niva hatchback. Heybet is one of the funniest Azerbaijani men I have had the honor of meeting and though he can't speak any English he can keep any tourist entertained & educated. He was constantly pointing out interesting sites along the road; a bear cave, one of the President's mansions, waterfalls, interesting trees & historical sites, and very, very often, the site where a drunk driver ran of the road, over the cliff, and fell 300m to their deaths. Heybet is a very good driver and apperently one of Azerbaijan's top race car drivers. Given that the fuel for the trip costs 30AZN & he spends his whole day driving & guiding the correct price for a summer trip is about 60AZN for a carload(4tourist + driver) of people. Though if there is any snow or bad conditions you should pay a fair bit more.

When we got to Xinaluq we parked and spent a couple hours wandering around the town. We climbed a hillside overlooking the town and met a sheepherd sleeping while his sheep grazed and then chatted with some of the townsfolk. The buildings in town are made of mountain stone and dung/mud bricks. Some of the richer people in town can afford building materials like tin roofing and some wood. The only buildings that look like typical Azeri archetecture are the newly refurbished school and the military base in a neighboring valley.

As we wiled about the day there we learned we had to head back to Quba early because a townsperson had just died in a neighboring rayon and that they would be bringing the body back for the funeral and many family and friends would following. "100 cars" would be coming up the road Heybet told us and he wanted to get back as quickly as possible before the one-lane road winding up switchbacks through the mountain got jammed. Heybet put his race car driving skills to the test driving as fast as safely possible around the twisties. Great fun, but there where a number of corners where my stomach sank as the tires squeeled and the 300m drop of the cliff was only inches away.

It was only when we got back to Quba that I learned the dead man was the brother of the director of one of the organizations that I work with. Small country, it often seems like everyone is related.

*Cultural Note* In Azerbaijan beards are frowned upon for local men. Having a beard marks you as a Muslim fundamentalist and a probabal Wahabi terrorist, having a trimed goatee marks you as a probabal homosexual(either of these offenses can get you shunned or even harmed....though its better to be a Wahabi). But a thick mustache marks you as a real, macho man. Just the opposite of the US stereotype of the '70s gay porn-stache.
But, when a close family member dies here men traditionally stop shaving for 40 days to mark the mourning period.
Indeed, the Azerbaijani word for to shave = qırxmaq and the word for forty=qırx.

For more information go to www.Xinaliq.com

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