Khinalig. Searching for the Ancient Isolated Mountainous Village of Azerbaijan

Khinalig ("Xinaliq" in Azeri or Khinalug, Khinalugh in English) is the highest mountainous village in Azerbaijan. It is settled in north Caucasian mountains at the height of almost 2400 meters (that's more than 7800 ft). It is also one of the oldest settlements in Azerbaijan (dating back 5000 years) which is supposedly populated by people who's ancestors were ancient Albanians. Village population is about 2000 people and they all speak the ancient Khinalig language ("Kyatish" in their dialect) which is not spoken anywhere else in Azerbaijan and the whole world. They speak Azerbaijani too of course. 

Khinalig is completely isolated from the world but thanks to renovation of roads, I managed to reach it with my ugly VW Polo. The village is a part of Quba municipality and can be reached from there in about an hour. Baku - Quba drive (160 km) takes about an hour and half (the maximum speed limit on highway is 110 km/hour but there are a few traffic police posts where the limit is 15 km/hour). Our trip to Khinalig was not planned beforehand. It was just a random trip to Quba for a summer weekend. It all started when as a place to crush for the night, we chose the Qechresh forest road and thought we would find a nice hotel there. The thing is, it was not the first time I visited Qechresh forest. However, the beauty of nature made me drive further and further despite that fact that there have already been a few nice hotels around.


Thus we drove through Qechresh forest and after leaving a few small villages behind, we reached the Qiriz village which I have never been to before. We were not inside the village yet but the beauty of surrounding mountains, waterfalls and the fog made us rethink our plans. That's where it all started: as soon as we were on Qiriz road, we were drawn into this trip as if by a huge magnet. Seeing all those natural wonders around, I just couldn't stop driving. It was early August and in Baku I wouldn't leave home at this time of day laying under air conditioner like a vegetable. But here in mountains, we were stroke by a sudden heavy rain and a fog. There were so many uphill and downhill paths that on every hill we would witness a different weather condition. A few seconds ago it was severely raining, now there's only the sun. What is going on here? 


On our way I see a Toyota Prado coming from the opposite direction. I asked the driver about Khinalig. He said it is at least 15 km more to drive but the hills are dangerously narrow and slippery and the constant fogs there made them turn back. They couldn't find Khinalig. He advised that I should turn back too and not take that risk (I had my wife and my 3 year old son in the car with me). He had a 4x4 but he passed. I thanked him and just continued my drive. A few minutes later, we see the first signs of Khinalig (Khina in Azeri is synonim for red color) : hills and mountains in red and orange tinges. 


The road though, becomes even harder to drive. Very narrow and slippery. I drive carefully for another 15-20 minutes before I reach the village of Cek and the green meadows where a shepherd is leading his sheep:


The road is still unbearably hard to drive. The nature is killing though, I don't know whether to concentrate on the steering wheel or to stare outside the windows. We drove for almost an hour now. No sign of Khinalig yet. Only mountains, rivers, the constant fog and a very low temperature which made us pull off and stop to wear warm clothes. I can't believe how cold  the temperature is getting as we keep driving uphills, it is early August. 


Finally we reach Khinalig but unfortunately we can't stay there longer than 15 minutes because it is getting dark very soon here in mountains and the locals warn us about the fog which may cause us problems if we drive when it gets dark. We can't make any nice photos either, because of the heavy fog:


Thus, we take a little walk between the old houses (built of river stones on top of each other many years ago) and are constantly followed by local kids. A visitor is a rare thing to see in these isolated places. We felt like aliens here, everybody kept staring at us but were very kind and offered help continuously. I felt we should leave before it gets dark because I couldn't risk to drive in such weather conditions with my family + there was no hotel to stay in the village. There were a few people who offered us their rooms but we kindly refused. To sum up, I know I am not a good story teller and it might have probably sounded boring to you, but the problem is that I just simply can't describe Khinalig with all its beauty, isolation, uniqueness and history. It is something you have to see with your own eyes.