Getting to Xinaliq

Here’s the first post in a new series on Azerbaijan, where Chris works and Sandra is visiting. Nukaat is presently enjoying a respite from life confined aboard MOKEN and staying with Mylene and her family on a farm. Lucky kitty.

September 6-7, 2014: For our first adventure on this trip to Azerbaijan, Chris and his buddy Medjid arranged a trip to the northeastern district of Quba. Our ultimate destination was Xinaliq (aka Khinalik), the highest town in Azerbaijan. But first we had to get there, and that was half the fun.

Chris and Medjid had to work on Saturday, so we didn’t hit the road until after six in the evening. First stop, Medjid’s house, to give his daughter Gulnaz a gift for her thirteenth birthday. Baku traffic is not for the timid, but Medjid handles it like a pro and eventually we made it out of town, through the oilfields and onto the highway to Quba.

A stop for tea at the usual roadside tea house gave us a chance to stretch our legs, enjoy a cuppa, meet up with Mukhtar and take a quick peek inside a local wedding reception.

It was late by the time we checked into our cottage at Retro Hotel in Quba and went in search of food. Even through the cooks wanted to go home, they stayed, grilled us some meat and put together a spread that made us full and happy.

The next morning we were up early and on our way to the mountains on the road from Quba to Xinaliq. Quba is a popular summer destination because the forests are much cooler than Baku, the air is fresh and the roadside stands sell a cornucopia of farm fresh produce, like apples, pears, plums, eggs, honey, tomatoes and potatoes.

We stopped for breakfast at a picturesque (if somewhat rickety) restaurant overlooking the river just at the start of a narrow canyon. Here we met a group of teachers from Bina and ordered a feast that would keep us going for the next several hours. Two big pots of tea helped warm up our fingers, as it was cold enough that we could see our breath.

The drive through Cloud Catcher Canyon was incredible, the walls jutting straight up to the sky on either side of a small but raging river. When we came out the other side, we began the climb up towards the Greater Caucasus Mountains, passing through the small towns of Cek and Bostankes situated well above the tree line. After the forests near Quba, this landscape felt rather barren and desolate. But it wasn’t really. Along the way, we spotted innumerable large flocks of grazing sheep dotting the hills, watched over by shepherds and their protection dogs. The way of life in this remote corner of Azerbaijan for thousands of years.

Next up, we’ll take you with us to see the eternal flame in Shahdag National Park and finally on to the historic town of Xinaliq. Stay tuned.

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