Saturday, April 19, 2014

#686 Lahic, Azerbaijan

Going to Lahic (Lahij) in Azerbaijan is to take a step back in time. The whole village (aside from the recent influxes of tourists) functions much as it has for the past 100 years. Isolated up a spectacular Caucasus mountain valley, off a road where slips/landslides are common and winter snow shuts off the area from the rest of the country for long periods. Shepherds use the road for moving their flock, and donkeys are still a common method of transportation. 

The wide braided river is brown and swift flowing, with only a rare swing bridge going across. Despite being only 19km off the Shamakha-Ismayilli road, the gravel route is potholed, so quite bumpy and slow.

A swing bridge connects the two banks half way up the road to Lahic
The town is cobbled and its main street is not much wider than a car's width. Nowadays, it holds stalls of people selling a few small tourist wares. Lahic is famous for its metalware: copper storage jars, brass decoration plates, and highly polished pans and pots (all of which have recently been made illegal to take out of the country). The ladies of the town also knit a variety of colored socks and slippers and sell the locally grown fruits, vegetables, spices, honeys, jams and nuts. If you're lucky you'll get invited in for chai (tea).
The Soviet-era bridge in 2004 was unfinished and sat uselessly across the river, although ramps and other adaptations have since rendered it more useable!
The steep snow-capped peaks rise up directly behind the village, and the town is 2but a stopping off point for even more remote townships further up the valley.

Founded by Persians a millennium ago, some say for its medicinal springs, and developed into a prominent copper producing area, despite exhausting most of the local copper resources decades ago (it moved into recycling older pieces, and there was talk of developing new mines before the USSR collapsed).
In its heyday, it boasted 200 smiths and craftsmen and the carpets and metalwork fetched high prices in regional bazaars. The population was round 15,000 until WW2, although many subsequently moved or fled and the road wasn't built till 1960. The town is full of several quaint old mosques with unique regional metal topped minarets. The Haji Qurban "mansion" offers an insight into the lifestyles of well-to-do village dwellers at the end of the 19th Century, which is expanded in the little museum. Piped water does not yet exist in the village, keeping living standards far behind elsewhere in the country, and plans to install this will mean the practical use of the copper water jugs will be obsolete. There are beautiful hikes and potential horse rides in the surrounding hills, including to Niyal and Fit Dag Castles.
The main square has this copper carved impression of the town.
Sources: Mark Elliot's Azerbaijan, 4th Edition 2010
Lonely Planet Georgia, Armenia and Azerbaijan 3rd Edition, 2008