Trans Eurasia travel

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Being only an hour or so from either Zaqatala or Sheki, QAX (said Gakh) with population of 12,000 makes for a pretty good break in your journey through North-Western Azerbaijan. Most useful as the gateway to Ilisu 15km beyond, this pleasant but rather forgotten town is famous for its bottled mineral water and its partly Georgian-speaking population. Travellers are a rarity, with Sheki-Zaqatala buses bypassing the place altogether.

Near Qax you'll find the remains of 6th century Albanian Churches in Qum village and in the hills above Lakit. In the villages of Saribash and Dzhalai, local women weave original carpets. Lekit, Qum and Termechi villages all have ruins of one sort or another. But but the most popular excursion is to Ilisu.

The small, stone-built village of Ilisu is set in the beautiful Qaracay Valley, nicknamed Qax's 'mini-Switzerland'. It is located amid dense woods at the foot of the Caucasus mountains, under Mt. Ahvay, not far from the border with Dagestan (Russian Federation). The road itself is very scenic both for the landscape and for a 16th century bridge 2km out of the village itself. Ilisu is a small place, built around a single street who still remembers its glory days when it was the capital of an autonomous short-lived 18th century Khanate coveted by Russia.

Two modest castle tower ruins bear testament and there's an unusual mosque. The village is a fascinating place to wander and makes a great base for hikes towards the nearby mountains and waterfalls of the Ilisu Nature Reserve. Don't go too far, however, as the reserve is a closed zone and the peaks behind form the sensitive Russian border.