The village of Xinaliq is an ancient settlement, going back to the Caucasian Albanian period. Xinaliq is the highest, most remote and isolated village in Azerbaijan. The village is an ancient settlement, going back to the Caucasian Albanian period. Xinaliq is the highest, most remote and isolated village in Azerbaijan. So remote, in fact, that they have their own language which has no relation to Azeri or Russian.
An undisputed highlight of all Azerbaijan, this fabled mountain village speaks directly to the soul. Its timeless stone houses are often wrapped in spooky clouds, giving it a haunted medieval feel. Then, when the clouds lift, you realise that you're perched on a mountaintop with stunning 360-degree views of the Caucasus.
Xynalyq's hardy shepherd folk have their own distinct language (Ketsh) and still live much of their lives on horseback. Nowhere in Azerbaijan offers a more fascinating glimpse of mountain life nor a better opportunity for inspirational hiking. The village is amazing. Perched on a hill, surrounded by peaks. The traditional homes are all still stone. However, you should hurry to get here. A new road was built in 2006, tourists are starting to discover this gem and already some homes are starting to sprout corrugated metal roofs.
But life, for the time being remains simple. The majority of people are herders. Sheep, cows and goats make their way to the pastures in the morning, only to return by evening. Even after centuries of isolation, the people are remarkably open to visitor. There are no hotels, so the only place to stay is with a local family in a homestay. There is really not much to do but watch the people watch you. Wandering around the village, it is assured that you'll collect a group of curious children.
Apart from examining the one-room museum and gazing at the hypnotic views, Xynalyq's most popular tourist activity is hiking to ateshgah, a small ever-burning natural fire-vent. The walk takes about two hours (towards Laza then up a side valley) but finding the site without help is pretty much impossible.
View and scenery alone are certainly enough of a reason to come.
Getting there from Quba
There is no bus to Xynaliq. Shared jeeps (AZN8 per person, 1.5 hours) go sporadically from the chaotic bustle outside Hotel Xynaliq in Quba but ascertaining who is leaving when can be very confusing without an Azeri friend to help out. Turning up alone as a foreigner can induce a feeding frenzy among the drivers, who will inevitably try to charge more than the going rate. Getting a fair price from a taxi is similarly difficult, with many drivers demanding a ludicrous AZN100 tactically appearing unaware of the road's recent renovation. If you get a fair price this is the cheapest way to reach Xynalyq , but the situation is chaotic and very confusing, especially if you don't speak local languages. It's wise to bring a Russian or Azeri-speaking friend to help you negotiate.
The route is very dramatic in itself so allow time for several photo stops at various canyons and passes en route as the foothill change into full-blown mountains and ravines.
A delightfully rewarding hike links Xynalyq to Laza in 10 to 12 hours. Two routes are possible, around the base of Mt Shahdag or past the fire-vent and over a shoulder of dramatically crag-topped Qizilqaya. A local guide is particularly important for the latter, as fog can descend suddenly even on an apparently clear day, totally hiding the path. If you have luggage it's also a good idea to hire packhorses. In Xynalyqi-Ketsh language 'dzhim onongondeh pshii i hadme ishkeleh Laza guisu' means 'where can I find a horse and guide to take me to Laza?'.
It's also possible and incredibly exhilarating to hike to Vandam (two days). This requires camping en route, as there are no villages in between. As with any hike, sheepdogs can be vicious.
There’s no hotel, but several families can offer informal homestays for around AZN10 to AZN20, including plenty of tea and kutap (freshly fried lavash, filled with cheese and green herbs). Such a homestay is likely to be a highlight of the trip. Despite the biting night-time cold, houses are kept cosily warm, their ultrathick walls decorated with richly coloured carpets. Like everything here, finding a place is just a matter of asking around. If you turn up without a guide you’ll need at least basic Russian or Azeri.