Snowy Hills of Khizi

Khizi (Xizi) is one of those regions I somehow never traveled to despite its close location to Baku (about 110 km). I decided to visit Khizi right after new year's eve on holidays. There were several reasons to plan that trip: a) putting another mark in my travel journal; b) willingness to see some snow and breathe in fresh air (weather in Baku was unbearable and annoyingly warm during early January); and c) to see some rare animals out in wilderness of Altiagach national park, which I could but unfortunately only behind bars in a very small local zoo (five bears, a deer, an eagle and azillion of rabbits). 

Khizi region is located northwards and can be reached first by Guba highway (actually a concrete road with permanent annoying sound caused by vehicle tires) driving for about 50 km and then a turnover to left (60 km more) that leads first to Gilezi settlement. Gilezi settlement seemed to be completely out of people (except for one police patrol vehicle). I drove through at day time but didn't see a single person outside homes. It seemed more as a "gateway" village:

Weather was just as hot as in Baku (I had only a light jacket on) on January 4th and for a moment I thought I checked the wrong dates for weather forecast (according to which, Khizi must have had snow). As I drove out of Gilezi settlement, small hills began to appear on horizon, which somehow reminded me of Khinalig with those red and orange stripes: 

I drove for another 25 minutes before I reached town of Khizi which to my surprise seemed even more abandoned than Gilezi settlement, with not a single person out on the streets (once again, except for police patrol vehicles). The good part of the story is that I happened to notice first signs of snow and felt a completely different (lower) temperature:

As I drove higher on to hills, it began to freeze more and more and finally felt joyful. Road to Altiagach national park was in bad shape and completely frozen:

I was driving a VW sedan with automatic transmission (which made driving blind) and had to be very careful not to lose control and fall down from a canyon. For a moment I thought about turning back home when a Niva (4x4 soviet jeep) in front of me lost its control on icy road and skidded into a pile of snow. I was just about switching to reverse move when a Mercedes behind me started honking crazily because its driver couldn't stop his car either (wooops, what now?). Somehow I managed to bypass Niva (yes I did indeed offer help) and not fall down into a small canyon. Altiagach national park was reached soon but I didn't see any wild animals there and I definitely didn't feel like leaving the car in the middle of nowhere and walking deep into woods. Instead I drove further (for another 15 minutes) and found a hotel with very nice rooms and hot meal. It was close to evening already and the temperature was -4 Celsius. It got much colder a few hours later but a fresh kebab and hot tea served in the restaurant made my day:

Next morning I visited a small zoo on hotel's territory where I couldn't find anything interesting except for bears, a deer and a mountain goat:

I had to drive back to Baku asap because forecast promised weather even colder and I was afraid that I won't be able to drive back if it snows more (and of course I didn't want to spend all my money here in the hotel as a result of these circumstances).