Trans Eurasia travel

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Vandam and hiking


Around 12km east of Qabala, Vandam is an oversized village around which are dotted a considerable number of comfortable rural getaway-resorts. By far the most appealing (if least accessible) is Pensionat Duyma, a four-storey hotel with utterly lovely views at the trailhead into the high Caucasus. Rooms are neat and comfortable, with pine floors and surrealist paintings on the walls. Mineral water is provided in terracotta flagons. There's an extensive playground complex for kids, an attractive decorative lake and a pair of outdoor summer swimming pools should they ever decide to fill them.

The resort is a bumpy 5km ride through Vandam village from the Ibragim petrol station where you catch a taxi. Do bargain.


Vandam is the easiest starting point for several superb (if somewhat arduous) hikes into the high mountains. The most exciting is a two-day trek that can take you all the way to Xynaliq across the 2915m Salavat Pass. Although shepherds consider this a stroll, you'd be advised to find an experienced guide and pack-horse before attempting it. Weather can rapidly turn nasty and in low visibility the narrow cliff-top paths can be very dangerous. Take plenty of food and a tent.

Drinking water is available at certain points en route, but without a guide you might miss the springs. It's typically easier to find guides in Xinalyq and to do this trek in reverse.

Laza (Qabalinsky Laza)

Clinging to the western side of Damiraparanchay Valley, this photogenic little village offers an alternative to Vandam as a finishing point for long-distance hikes from Xinalyq. However, you'fll have to deal with a humourless army check post and the necessity to ford the mighty Damiraparanchay - no easy task when the water is high. There's no formal accommodation in Laza and the degraded track from Qabala might require a 4WD.


Racked up a mountain-rimmed amphitheatre of crags, forests and mountain pastures, Durca is a delightful seasonal village where shepherd families spend their summers. It's easier to reach and less sensitive than Laza so more congenial for short day hikes up to the yaylaq (high shepherd pastures). The track from Qabala is pretty rough but passable by Lada Zhiguli. Branch left off the Laza road where the asphalt ends.