Friday, August 26, 2005

Xinaliq... the almost lost village

Xinaliq is a remote village situated high up in The Greater Caucasus mountains (around 2250m). The name Xinaliq means "The land where hena grows" as the mountains surrounding Xinaliq turn organge-brown during the sunset and sunrise. The village is very unsual as the people that live there have distinct origin (they are not Turkish), they speak their own language which differs from all other Caucasus languages (although they do know Azeri or Russian), have their own habbits and culture that is unique in Azerbaijan.

It is believed that there are some connections between this ethnic group and Scandinavia. Not only here, but also in Qobustan traces have been found that suggests so (Thor Heyerdahl has been visiting these places on numerous occasions).

And of course since the first time that I have heard (well read about it in Lonely planet) about the village I longed to visit it. And finally I had the chance.
I went with my sister and Ilja and except for them we met another 3 Czechs in the streets of Baku that decided to join us for the trip. So this unusual Czech group, together with one Azeri friend, headed to Xinaliq for two unique days!

We got up yet during the night hours (to be precise at 5.45am :o), to leave soon. We met at Baku "bus station", found a marshrutka that was going to Quba (city two hours north from Baku), filled the 7 remaining places in the bus (lucky us) and thus left straight away for Quba. The drive was ok, the weather was still cool due to early morning, and we made it before 10 to our destination.

At the Quba bus stop we searched for possibility to rent a jeep to go to Xinaliq. The roads are BAD so no other transportation (except for horse or your own legs) would make it there. Our Azeri friend managed to get us a good deal, we all placed ourselves in one cool old green Niva jeep (7 is the magic number as it seems) and left for Xinaliq.

The road is fine the first half hour, one passes little villages on the way, bumps regularly into restaurants / chaykhanas (tea houses), there are also tourist resorts being built there (hmm). First part of the road the jeep goes through thick forest, with green hills that further create sort of a gorge. The jeep follows a river the whole way. Here is also the part where the road gets extremely bumpy and one has to hold the seat with one hand, the jar by the ceiling with second hand, and take photos with the third hand... When reaching the place where the river splits into Alik and Xinaliq rivers, the nature again totally changes, there are brown more flat hills around, that very much reminded me of Iceland (for those who have been to Iceland :o).
As we got to this valley, we stopped at a village called Cek, that is where the driver is from. He arranged a dinner for us to be done when we return from Xinaliq and so we could continue with the pleasant feeling of shashlik waiting for us.
We slowly left the mountain road to enter a gravel desert, some sort of a big river basin surrounded by the "Hena" mountains. That is the last part of the road.

We entered Xinaliq and saw tens of little kids running around. As soon as we emmerged with cameras they were all ready to be photographed... I felt bit strange as when trying to imagine that someone would come to my place and start taking photos of me... but the people I guess must be used to it by now. I always asked if I can take photos as it was really cool to see the women in their everyday life... and they would smile and say thank you after each photo we took. We wondered through the streets, silently admiring the houses, the people, the mountains, it all looked simply incredible to us.

There are two mosques to be seen in Xinaliq, one from 12th and the other from 15th century. The people were supposed to be devoted followers of Zarathushtra, before becoming Christians in 4th century and later, in 7th century, converting to Islam. Several ancient cemeteries are to be found on the surrounding hills of Xinaliq.

We left the village some time later to stop at the river basin and have some food before continuing back to the village Cek. There we were ushered inside the house and got to sit at one room and play domino while waiting for the food. We got traditional shashlik, some vegetables and melons and at the end had to refuse the second course of boiled meat, as noone seemed to have any space left in our stomachs. We spent the night on the floor sleeping next to each other and the next day, after a yummy breakfast with home made cheese and honey, we returned to Quba.

The trip was brilliant and if anyone makes it to Azerbaijan I highly recommend visiting this place. I have not described the people, nor the houses, nor their behaviour... I am afraid that all has to be experienced. (Or meet me one night, give me few hours and I will try to describe it in words.) :o))

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Blogger Alma said...

Thanks Martina for sharing all your stories, it is very interesting to read about your adventures. I would love to spend many hours with you learning about the people at Xinaliq and all the other people you have seen & met :o)

3:17 PM, August 27, 2005  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


Where have you been? Fancy running into your blog. Drop me a line on

Srini :)

8:05 PM, August 27, 2005  
Blogger Mart'a said...

Alma, how is the Turkish trip plan going? Have you decided to go with Hulda? (Turkey is bordering with Azerbaijan ;o)!).

1:43 PM, August 31, 2005  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

thank you Mart'a for your story and attention about Xinaliq.I am from Xinaliq and it's interesting for me your appreciation

7:39 PM, September 23, 2005  
Blogger Mart'a said...

It is me who should thank for such incredible experience. It is great that you keep your traditions and language as that is what is the most important!

7:07 AM, September 26, 2005  
Blogger ARENDATOR said...

Yeah,im ethnic khinalugian. Its a very very ancient place. So if someone really need an extra info or wants to visit Khinalug(Ketsh) email me at: comes soon!

10:14 PM, August 15, 2007  
Anonymous Ozzogar said...

Well, I've been to Xinaliq 2 years ago and it seems to be still of the same beauty. But I have one remark concerning the ethnic origin of Xinaliqs. I'm engaged in the history of Azerbaijan and its ethnics and Xinaliqs are certainly not of Scandinavian origin, as stated above. Their language belongs to the Caucasian language family and according to Xinaliq is a separate language in its East Caucasian branch. Some scholars suggest that Xinaliqs are close to Buduxs, a nation that lives in a village (aul) nearby, or other Lezgic nations as Tsakhur or Rutul (living in Dagestan). I've heard many legends, when visiting Xinaliqs, e.g. that Noah's Ark is to be found in the mountains nearby and Xinaliqs are the oldest nation in the world. They told me the story about Heyerdal too, but his theory is nothing more than a fairy tail. But, we are in the Caucasus, so such amazing stories can be heard everywhere - in Xinaliq, Lahic, Udi etc. It's exciting to listen to such stories, because they construct the identity of the people, but one can't take sthem as historical facts...

12:01 AM, February 18, 2008  
Blogger John Marks said...

There are so many spellings of Khinalug, Xinaliq, Xinalugh, etc., it's all very confusing, especially for searches.
The best phonetic rendering of your famous Zoroastrian aul in English would be Xinalyq.

11:55 AM, May 01, 2008  
Blogger John Marks said...

I am mistaken!
A Turkish friend told me the best English rendering would be Xynalyq.

12:28 PM, May 01, 2008  

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