Standing in front of the mirror I was looking at the long black hair that I’ve never had before. Then I took my brush and began to run it slowly through. I was telling myself how long my black hair was and at the same time asking - how did this happen?
I opened my eyes, touched my head and realised that it was just a dream. Two days passed and I didn’t look for the meaning of my dream, which I usually do immediately after I wake up. Then one day I was scrolling through Facebook and saw a link to an ascent to Khinaliq and Qaleykhudat. As a photographer and photo editor of our magazine I thought this was something interesting and different, especially since we had recently done a similar ascent to the Muchuq waterfall (http://www.visions.az/spring2015_063,642/). I began to research how to join and found that the hike was organised by young adventurer Javid Qara, who we featured in our last issue. I was accepted onto the trip. Fantastic.
The day before the ascent I was planning what to take and what not and suddenly I remembered and thought about my dream. Long black hair - a long road, to brush the hair - will earn good friends… goes the popular saying in Azerbaijan, first uttered by the Prophet Joseph.
The road was very dramatic – extremely narrow (room for only one car) and covered with snow and icy mountain passes
The day came…
The meeting point was near Baku’s Elmler Akademiyasi metro station at 7.30 and we were 10 in the group, all of us wanting to visit Quba’s mountain villages in winter. In three hours a very comfortable bus had brought us to Gechresh, a village in Quba, where we got out to find three old Soviet jeeps – Nivas - waiting for us. We climbed in and drove a further hour and a half to reach the final stop. The road was very dramatic – extremely narrow (room for only one car) and covered with snow and icy mountain passes. Our driver Aghaeli Muradov was very professional, driving safely but fast, like a Formula One driver… better than Schumacher.
We reached the village of Khinaliq first and were warmly met by the Lalayevs, who served us tea from the samovar and delicious cabbage dolma. We had a pleasant conversation about their village, lives and occupations and then we prepared ourselves to discover Khinaliq and to hike from there to the other village, Qaleykhudat, 8-10km away. Everyone was excited, enthusiastic and full of energy.
First we had to walk through Khinaliq. The houses in the village, made of cobblestones and stretching up the hill, resemble multistory buildings, the roof of one house serving as a small courtyard for another built on top. These houses are built densely together because the hills are very steep. They are more than 300 years old and so naturally there are many ruins in the village.
A little about Khinaliq…
Khinaliq is to the north of Quba and 2,200m high in the Caucasus Mountains, which divide Russia and the South Caucasus. The village is also one of the highest, most remote and isolated in Azerbaijan. The weather here is very changeable: in summer the temperature can reach 18°C whilst in winter it might drop to −20°C. The population of the village is about 2,000 people and this small group speaks the Khinaliq language, which is unique to the village and belongs to the North Caucasus language group. But they also speak Azerbaijani too.
The houses in the village, made of cobblestones and stretching up the hill, resemble multistory buildings, the roof of one house serving as a small courtyard for another built on top
When the village finished we began climbing the mountain passes covered with snow nearly 50cm deep. It was very hard to walk because either the snow was very soft or the pass very narrow, in some places the snow had melted and there was heavy mud, but everywhere was white (Note - if you’re going hiking at this time of year take sunglasses and light clothes but very warm shoes!). In any case the weather was fine and the shining sun, fresh air and amazing view inspired us to climb and think only good things. On the road we stopped for tea breaks and photo shoots and breaks in the snow. It became colder and colder after 5pm once the sun had set behind the high mountains and walking became difficult because the snow was hard and broke beneath our feet. The shoes of some hikers froze and tore which delayed us, together with the temperature, dropping into the minuses.
We passed over three high mountains and then our guide told us that behind the next small hill we would reach the village in 20 minutes, where we would have dinner and the Nivas would be waiting. Everyone was cheered and hurried on. On the way we were met by some local villagers who showed us to the house and finally, after eight hours of hiking, it felt glorious to reach its warmth and to find some very generous hosts who fed us and helped us to dry our clothes and shoes. The house was small and belonged to the Bayramovs, four of whom lived there. Our host’s wife served us warm samovar tea followed by a delicious kufta bozbash – meatballs, chickpeas and potatoes cooked in a delicious broth - which we ate like hungry wolves and then chatted about the hike and village life.
Our host’s wife served us warm samovar tea followed by a delicious kufta bozbash
Qaleykhudat is also in the north of the Quba region and higher than Khinaliq, 2,270m up in the Caucasus Mountains at the rocky plateau called Qizilqaya. The village is very close to Mount Shahdag. 35-40 families live there in detached (unlike Khinaliq) stone houses and speak Azerbaijani as opposed to the surrounding villages, which tend to have their own languages.
Time to go back…
It was dark and very cold, the Nivas were ready to return us to where they had originally picked us up. While everyone was climbing into the cars I was able to take my last photo of this beautiful village, at night. Suddenly I saw a star. It wasn’t an ordinary star but a shooting star, which I also managed to photograph (see p.101). As is commonly known, you have to make a wish when you see a shooting star and my wish was very simple - to hike again to a place like this…
my wish was very simple - to hike again to a place like this
We got into the cars and moved off. After 15 minutes a call came from the house in Qaleykhudat. We had left one of our friends at the Bayramovs. This was terrible news because the road was icy and it would be very dangerous to turn back. But our driver ‘Schumacher’ Aghaeli mustered his best performance and we returned and fetched our companion.
On the road back to the city I remembered about my dream and finally understood that it had actually come true… Long black hair - a long road, to brush the hair - will earn good friends…
For more on Azerbaijani adventurer Javid Qara’s eco-tours, see “Camping Azerbaijan: Hiking and Homestays in Quba” published in the November-December 2015 issue of Visions. See Javid’s Facebook page if you would like to join a trip - www.facebook.com/camping-AzerbaijanAbout the author: Eldar Farzaliyev is a photographer and photo editor at Visions of Azerbaijan.