Tag Archives: lahic

Mission from God – no, seriously

“I think tomorrow you will have some difficulty getting down the hill”, Dadas, the charming father of my homestay family informed me with a large grin. “In Lahic now there is floods!”.

I wasn’t in a rush. I’d arranged to meet Francesco and Romina in Seki, only two hours down the road. I could leave at any point the next day – get a bus down the hill after a lazy lunch, find any mashrutka heading west towards the Georgian border and jump out at one of Azerbaijan’s largest – and most interesting – cities in the north of the country. A simple plan, but it didn’t seem overly naive.

I emerged the next morning stuffed with a hearty breakfast of delicious local honey, fresh bread, cheese and butter, having drained about two teapots as I flicked through Dadas’s homestay guestbook. There had been around five or six chaps who had stayed with his family before me; I was the first this year. Somewhat coincidentally, the last person to have stayed a year or so ago was also called Ewan, with an equally Scottish name. For lack of more interesting conversation set-pieces, I brought this up.

“The Scottish are excellent. I like them. Mel Gibson”, he attested.

The smell of rain in the mountains reminded me of the drenching I had had in Kyrgyzstan a few weeks before. The sky didn’t look too threatening, so I hoped I’d be able to make it out without pulling out my swimming trunks. I clung to the hope that there’d been some progress on the road situation which appeared bleak the night before.  

Rocks in a variety of sizes were strewn around the village, carried down by the torrents the evening before. As I reached the ford at the start of the village, the scale of the problem became clear. The road had been entirely washed down the mountain.

“I think this will take a long time to fix”, explained the local English teacher, who approached me out of a large crowd of locals who had gathered to gawp at the destruction. “Maybe three days. Maybe a week. But it will not be fixed today.”
“Does this happen often?” I enquired.
“Like this? No.” He replied bluntly.

Lahic is indeed beautiful, but I wasn’t entirely convinced that I’d need another seven days on the hillsides and chilling with the coppersmiths. At some point, Dadas’s family would probably want their front room back.

“You want to walk?” Dadas thought I was crazy. “It is 36 kilometres to the main road. You have your bags. And then there’s the rain”. The sky had turned black and more rain lashed down. “Today, you are not a tourist. You are my guest. If you want to stay, there is no problem. It is an exam from Allah. You will stay and I will take no money”.

It was hard to argue with such an impassioned offer of hospitality.

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Lahician Mountains

All the tourist brochures on Azerbaijan – yes, they do exist – speak of a staggering variety of landscapes all crammed into a small nation hemmed in between the Caspian and Caucasus. Nine of eleven possible varieties, they boasted. Intriguing, non?

Heading west from the capital, I was somewhat disappointed to learn that I’d need to negotiate four hours of the hitherto unmentioned ‘Featureless Desert’ varietal before any of the good stuff kicked in.

Thankfully, before locating my mashrutka in the bowels of Baku Central avtovagzal (a semi-converted Ford Transit), I had already spent a riveting hour ferrying my backpack around the Baku metro system, politely questioning the municipal government’s decision not to display a single map, and instead to change a few names of the key stations in case any visitor might think they were actually getting somewhere. Genius.

The new-found oil riches of Baku have been unable to hide the fact that the desert is encroaching on the wannabe Mediterranean paradise at an alarming rate. Within moments of leaving the city limits, the manicured gardens give way to endless expanses of dust, sand and desert, with an ugly caravan of freight trucks and overloaded Ladas heading west. Mashrutkas speed between them all like flies. The glity and glamour of Monte Carlo-on-Caspian had vanished.

With the unfortunate exception of a crazed Caucasian bear on display at the ancient town of Samaxi, there was little to report as the desert morphed into the foothills of the black mountains that loomed to the north. Half a snooze later and we were cruising through rolling, verdant countryside, with plane trees lining both sides of the road. Ignore the makeshift mosques and headscarved old women selling hazelnuts at the side of the road, and we had inadvertently wandered into a French watercolour.

My destination was the village of Lahic, a community of Persian-speaking coppersmiths who had inhabited the Girdiman valley for a good thousand years. Their ancestors had brought their handicraft skills from the bazaars of Baghdad and Esfahan, and Lahic copper wares used to fetch a high price along the Central Asian trade routes, being bartered, no doubt, for such exotic goods as ground rhubarb leaf.

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