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Published: October 6th 2008
Xinaliq (strictly speaking there should be no dots on the i's but I don't have an Azeri keyboard on the laptop) is a beautiful village in the Caucasus mountains of Northern Azerbaijan. It’s pronounced Hunalug, although Michael took to saying it Honolulu!
When we arrived in Xinaliq, it had been snowing the previous night and the white covering on the mountain extended all the way down to the stream at the bottom of the valley. That’s where we were taken to our “guest house”. It wasn’t really a guest house as such because there was no landlady to look after us. We were shown to our rooms and the extra blankets and sleeping bags were pointed out to us. Other than that, we were on our own except for meal times.
During the afternoon we explored the village. It is nothing more than a collection of a couple of hundred houses atop a muddy hill, but it is certainly picturesque. The local children were very curious and keen to take a closer look at the group of 4 foreigners invading their village! They loved having their photo taken, especially with a digital camera so they can see the results.
We climbed up through the maze of streets to the top of the village where we saw a big truck and wondered how on earth they had driven it up there without incident! Whilst Gunther and Michael went off for some further exploration of the village, we went off up the hill to a cemetery sitting on the edge of a precipice. It was a narrow muddy trail which led there, and we kept a low profile as there were several groups of people in prayer around the graves. It was a beautiful setting for a final resting place though.
Back at the guest house we were reunited with Xeyraddin, our guide. The weather was now perfect with blue skies and dramatic snowy views of the mountains. We decided that, rather than leave it until the morning, we would like to go to Ateshgah
where an eternal flame burns on the mountainside. Xeyraddin took us out in his jeep and drove along the river bed and the track for as long as he could. Then we had to walk the rest of the way. The climbs were tough going and both Xeyraddin and Gunther were finding the altitude and
steep slopes tough. They opted to stay on the lower slopes whilst the two of us and Michael went off on our own, with vague directions, to find the flame.
We passed countless sheep and cows on our way. They were not a problem. The wild dogs, however, were a different matter. We first saw them high on a ridge but as we approached their “territory” they came bounding down the hill getting alarmingly close. Once we had turned a corner away from their area they shut up and retreated. Adrenaline was flowing freely and we were mightily relieved! We descended a little way to the flame which burns from a small pile of rocks on the mountainside. It was worth the effort just to see this strange sight.
Then we had to walk back to where the others waited. The dogs spotted us early this time and were quickly upon us. The trick seems to be to keep on walking, not running, and periodically to bend down as if to pick up a stone to throw. The dogs usually retreat a short way for a while! One huge dog baring his teeth and making a terrifying noise
had Russ in his sights. It ran along a ridge just above his head and looked like he meant business. Fortunately we got past their territory with nothing more than a shortage of breath and a racing heartbeat. Gunther later told us that they had been worried for our safety as they had heard the dogs but never a sound from us!!
Back at the guest house we were served a delicious and warming lamb stew with potatoes. It was getting very cold outside with clear skies. The stars shone in their multitude and it was an awesome sight with the snowy mountain tops glowing in the moonlight too. We were all tired from our exertions and before long we were tucked up under sleeping bags and heavy quilts in the glow of an electric fire. Incredibly, despite the cold, we slept fitfully because we were too hot under all that bedding!!!
We woke to a clear and frosty morning. The view was breathtaking. After breakfast we explored the area around the village a little more. We met three travellers (2 Israelis and an Italian) who were doing some trekking and serious travelling in the region. It was
really interesting to talk to them. The previous day we had met a couple from the Czech Republic. They were giving sweets and chalk to the children. Not sure about the chalk, all we can imagine is graffiti all over the village!!
We went our separate ways again and climbed a path to a rocky outcrop overlooking the valley. The view down to Xinaliq with the mountains in the background was fantastic. It was an easy climb and we were pleased we made the effort. After that we were taken to Xeyraddin’s uncle’s house in the village. It was the day of the feast at the end of Ramadan and we joined the family in their lunchtime meal. There was lamb, a huge pile of fluffy rice, salad and fruit. It was delicious.
After lunch we were taken to the village museum. It was small but very interesting with a collection of antiquities. The Russian medals were very interesting and we were surprised to be able to pick them up for a closer look. The old photos on the walls were amazing but the section devoted to those who died during the Karabagh conflict was very sad. The
Chalk for the kids
Some Czechs we met gave gifts to the kids
Iraqi money with Saddam’s smiling face on caught our eye too.
All too soon we were piling our kit into the back of a Russian UAZ jeep and on our way back to Quba. None of us were ready to leave and a few more days would have been nice. Maybe we’ll be back but there’s so much of this country to explore and only 12 months to do it in.
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