Lahic was the last of the Caucasus hill villages we visited and it reaffirmed that hill villages often have the most to offer in terms of scenery and real life experiences. They are generally hard to get to and usually involve boarding a Soviet-era school bus that should have been retired 20 years ago.
Winters in these remote villages are difficult – roads get snowed out and access to the rest of the world and its goods is limited. Locals reflect their accumulated years of difficulty with an outwardly rough exterior, but they usually soften quickly upon engagement. Even a “hello” in the local language will bring smiles, invitations for tea (or vodka), and possible induction into the extended family.
Although perched in beautiful mountain settings, these villages are left behind as their countries race towards modernity. Nostalgia for the past is often high as the shift from controlled economy to bastardized market economy brings plenty of unemployment and other shortages. Industries collapse and an exodus of the young set off for the big cities.
The bus to Lahic from Ismaili is an old Soviet machine that looked like it should be headed for the junkyard. At one point, a loud crash from the back of the bus sounded as if the axle had dropped off. In response, the driver exposed a large opening under the drive shaft, adjusted a makeshift something in the form of a carved out 2-liter bottle of Sprite and we rolled along. Hairpin turns, rock falls and recent wash-outs left us within a hairs' breath of the edge of the road and no one seemed to mind, except maybe the chickens cowed up in the back of the bus next to a pile of flour sacks.
Once you arrive intact, the village of Lahic greets you with only one main street. Even for the navigationally challenged, it’s virtually impossible to get lost.
We wandered on and off this main street, poked our heads into courtyards and followed women with their jujums (metal water-carrying vessels) as they collected water from mountain springs. Men on horses topped with big fur hats haul goods up and down the main street. Kids without much to do in the summer months either run circles around you or peer at you shyly from doorways and windows. Coppersmiths and blacksmiths clink away in small workshops. They display jujums and metal platters on the doors of their shops to lure the occasional visitor.
So, get out of town and head to mountain villages. Visits to them will likely provide some of the most culturally unusual and visually spectacular experiences of your travels. Mountain life also offers a glimpse into the reality of life where time has stood still…at least for a few moments.
Lahic Travel Information: Transport, Accommodation, Food
- How to get there: A marshrutka leaves for Lahic every morning at 7 AM from Baku's main bus station near 20th January metro stop (6-8 manat). The return to Baku leaves from Lahic's main square at 8 AM (5 hours). From Ismaili, a rickety bus leaves at 7, 11 and 2, taking around 1.5 hours (2 manat). Or, you can get a taxi for around 17 manat from Ismaili. We don't advise an overnight in Ismaili – accommodation is atrocious and food choices are limited.
- Where to stay: Several families offer home stays for 10 to 15 manat per person, including breakfast. We stayed with Suleyman's family near the bridge. The Haciyev family also offers a home stay up the hill from the Mother and Child Memorial. Everyone knows everyone, so just ask around to find the right house. There is a foreign aid-funded tourist information office that likely has accommodation information. It was closed for no apparent reason when we were there, so we'll never know.
- Where to eat: Eating with your home stay family is probably your best option. There are two restaurants in town – one is near the square with the Mother and Child Memorial while the second is an outdoor affair about half a kilometer away near the school. Both menus are limited to – you guessed it – shashlik (barbecue), salad and bread.
- What to do: Stroll down the main street, visit the museum, shop for copper water pots and jewelry, and enjoy friendly banter with the local kids. Take in the mountain scenery and fresh air (relief after Baku's pollution).