Khinalug, Khinalugh, Khinaliq or in some guidebooks even Xinaliq. Nobody is sure how to spell it and, in every book, map or blog it is written completely differently. This is just the first sign of how remote and untouched this community in Azerbaijan´s Greater Caucasus is. They even have their own language, traditions and culture.
When planning our road trip in Azerbaijan, we heard about the small village of Khinaliq as a highlight in every guidebook. Considered a getaway from civilization, this village is a journey back in time. There is no hot water, internet and even phone signal is very uncommon. Surrounded by 360° of the colossal Caucasus, Khinaliq is a place where visitors are in direct contact with nature.
The village is located 60 km from Quba, a small city in northern Azerbaijan and the route itself is just memorable. Expect to find forests with small picnic areas next to the river, deserted valleys surrounded by mountains and deep canyons right next to the driving route. Although the journey from Quba to Khinaliq should not take longer than 1 hour, there are several spots where you should stop. Views are fantastic and there is no better break, than stopping from time to time to breath the fresh air of the mountains and see the magnificent landscapes.
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Inside Info: The route to Khinaliq is very simple but can be extremely difficult to drive when it´s snowing. Check out the weather forecast before heading to the village, especially if you are traveling between September and April.
A history that goes back to biblical times
Although the natural scenery is definitely a reason to visit Khinaliq, the real cultural highlight is the historical and cultural background of this small community. There are around 2000 people in Khinaliq and still there are traces that indicate the village history goes back 5000 years.
Some locals even say that the valley between Quba and Khinaliq is the place where Noah anchored his ark. Other locals say that seashells and fossilized fish were found in the area, which would show that these valleys were at some point under water.
An endangered culture for us to protect
With the construction of the route between Quba and Khinaliq, this destination is really becoming the highlight for many visitors in Azerbaijan. At the same time, experts are afraid that this change would affect the lifestyle, language and culture of this community.
Khinalug, the unique and local language of this area, comes from a separate branch of the northeast Caucasian languages and is spoken by only 1500 people in the world. It is commonly spoken by Khinaliq villagers and lately was considered by the UNESCO as “severely endangered”.
In comparison to many other places in the world I visited before, I had the feeling that my visit in Khinaliq was not affecting the community and its important heritage. Locals encourage you to learn and see more about their individual history and to spend the night in Khinaliq the only option you have is booking a home stay. Here, local families will cook local breakfast, lunch and dinner, guide you around the village and speak with you in their broken English or Russian.
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Although there are no hotels or restaurants in this area, this might change in the next decade. This development in tourism is something very difficult to stop. However, it is in our hands how we will protect this community as visitors.
Booking local home stays, buying regional products and not endangering the environment is the best way we as travelers can keep places like Khinaliq intact for decades to come.
Khinaliq or Laza, which one to visit? Although they are separated by only 30 km, there is no way to travel from Khinaliq to Laza in less than 3 hours. There are simply no roads connecting these two villages and due to the regulations in the Shahdag National Park, only the few who apply for the permits are allowed to hike this area. There is also no way to describe which one is better. Both villages have their own charm and beauty. My personal recommendation is to spend less time in Baku and more time in this area. Try to visit both villages for at least a couple of days each.