Having spent a few days savoring the delights of modern Baku, it was time to move on see how the rest of the country lived. The Baku-Balaken highway connects Baku to north-western Azerbaijan, a truly beautiful region with thickly wooded foothills of the Caucasus mountains sprinkled with timeless villages and old Caucasian Albanian churches. (Albanian here refers not to the modern country but to the historical region of the eastern Caucasus).
To get a taste of Azeri rural life, we decided spend some time in Lahic (pronounced la-hutch), a quaint little village that is traditionally known for its coppersmiths and carpet making. A mini bus from Baku dropped us off at Ismayilli, the main transport hub on the highway and to traverse the remaining 30 kms to Lahic, we had to take a shared taxi to the village. The partially paved road snakes along a cliff past several stone bridges until it gets to the village square. Beyond this there only cobbled streets into the village and most of the traffic is on foot.
We immediately sought out the Tourist Information Center where we had planned to meet Dadash, the director of the center, with whom we had previously communicated over email. The Tourist Center helps out with arranging homestays at local homes for visitors. Their office is located high above the town square requiring a stiff climb to get to. Dadash welcomed us and invited us to stay at his home which he shared with his wife. It was the only one on offer with internal plumbing. We found out that water began to be piped directly into the village only a few years ago and most of the houses have few amenities. As he accompanied us to the house, (which incidentally was located at the far end of the village over a kilometer away and at an even higher elevation), he gave us a little tour of the village and talked to us about Lahic's history.
Lahic craftsmen supposedly emigrated a millennium ago from Persia, bringing with them their famous skills which have been handed down through the generations. He explained that during its peak in the 19th century, there were over 200 families practicing this craft in their workshops that lined the main street. Their products were highly prized and exported to several countries. The population of Lahic dropped significantly after World War II when people left the village to find work. Today its population is just a few hundreds. Dadash pointed out the village school where he teaches Azeri and Russian (his real day job).
Besides watching coppersmiths at work and browsing through the few shops that make up the village market there is little to do here. We bought bags of raisins and unshelled walnuts that were beings sold for a song. As we wandered around peering into workshops and grocery stores, people were constantly speculating where we were from. As we passed in front of one of the houses, the people inside invited us, total strangers, in for tea! Clearly they don't get that many visitors here.
The main attraction of Lahic is to hike up trails that go up and beyond the village. The steep hillsides initially pass through sheep meadows and we came across flocks with several little lambs. Once well above the village, you have fantastic views of both the Caucasus mountains and of the entire village of Lahic below you.
Over dinner, we had some interesting conversation with our hosts who fielded a number of questions from us about Azerbaijan including his perspective on the Karabakh issue. Music seemed to be a particular passion and he told us about the Mugam trio, Azerbaijan's contribution to world music. He also played some typical Azeri music for us which he later shared (digitally).
We have really come to appreciate the homestay opportunities we have had on this trip. Staying with a local family gives you a chance to observe cultural differences, have some really nice homemade meals that include local specialties and most of all hear directly from them about their view of the world. An experience that you cannot put a price on.
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That's a surprise - rural Azerbaijan not different from rural India in terms of the modern conveniences ??
There's nothing to beat the local stay and interaction - especially if they can speak your language. You found an English speaking host in a village in Azerbaijan ?? Wow !! From , on Oct 23, 2012 at 02:53AM
@Ramesh: Mr. Dadash teaches languages (Azeri, Russian) at the Lahic school and he moonlights as Tourism coordinator for Lahic. So he does have a good reason to know some English. From, on Oct 25, 2012 at 12:22PM