The Cultural Landscape of Khinalig People and “Köç Yolu” Transhumance Route reflects the living tradition of long-distance transhumance of the Khinalig.
The semi-nomadic Khinalig people, a distinct ethnic group within the Caucasus with their own language, seasonally move their animals over 200km between the summer pastures in the mountains and the winter pastures in the lowlands. They live in the highest inhabited mountain village in Azerbaijan. Along the route monuments such as shrines and bridges can be found that testify to its traditional use by these people.
Community Perspective: Tamas visited in 2022 and found that it "reflects rather 21st century poverty than some kind of idealistic historical atmosphere".
Map of KhinaligLoad map
I visited Khinalig (Xinaliq, Khynalyg, Hinalug etc, the spelling is even more incoherent than in other cases in Azerbaijan) in April 2022, some months before it reappeared on the list as a highly potential contestant for WHC 2023/24. Though it's not too difficult to visit now, I'm not surprised that I became the first reviewer. Tourists in Azerbaijan seldom leave Baku and the closest surroundings - the Apsheron peninsula and Gobustan. Frankly saying - for good. The attractions the country can offer are generally low key, and the road network has serious deficiencies - all roads are radial, so if you want to drive from one region to another you most probably have to go through Baku, which makes short journeys incredibly long, and country roads sometimes are of terrible quality.
Khinaliq in this sense had a bad reputation, the road through the ravine to the mountains was horrible some years ago. However it has been improved, tarred so now it's doable with a saloon car - we drove a Hyundae minivan, and had no difficulties getting there and away. The way through the ravine is undoubtedly scenic, we stopped several times to catch the best lights. So are the mountains and valleys surrounding the village. We saw flocks of sheep and shepherds, whether they were actually transhuming that time, I don't know. Transhumance is one of the most elusive types of World Heritage anyway. There is not much built heritage to see, and even it is scattered, and usually in places that are difficult to approach or just out of the reach of the average traveller.
The original nomination did not concentrate on this aspect - at least as its name suggests - but on dry stone architecture.as it was referred to the 'medieval village of Khinalig'. The village does indeed consist of stone houses built in the traditional style, but - I assume - only the settlement plan or the foundations of the houses can be medieval in the reality. Most of the buildings are either visibly modern or at least partly modern - you can see metallic roofs, scettered building material, piles of new bricks and plastic foils everywhere. The image of the village reflects rather 21st century poverty than some kind of idealistic historical atmosphere. There's a small local museum where you can go inside a house, but otherwise what you can do - apart from trekking up the mountain, of course - is stroll through the streets dusty in dry weather, muddy after rains. There is a small shop and, I suppose, if you ask around, you can stay in one of the houses and get dinner. But it's really only worth staying for more than an hour if you intend to trek through the mountains, which can be of course a great experience for those who are into that sort of thing - I'm certainly not one of them.
The village is a contestant for the title of 'Europe's highest village', which of course would require us to accept the premise that Azerbaijan is part of Europe, which no one outside Azerbaijan takes seriously. However, it must be admitted that the other contenders - Ushguli or Shatili in Georgia - are far more spectacular than Khinalig. I suspect - although I have no positive knowledge of this - that the focus of the nomination was also changed because it became clear to the Azeris that architecture alone would be a weak argument for Khinalig in the necessary comparative analysis with Upper Svaneti. Transhumance, which is difficult to grasp but quite popular among the State Parties, could have come then into the picture. It is a telling sign that the documentation, which is beautifully designed and includes photographs of artistic merit, contains some pictures of individual houses, but hardly any pictures of the village itself. The only building with three pictures is the Ateshgah, the fire worshippers shrine, which is about 5 km away from the village, up in the mountains, and can only be reached on foot, and therefore reachable only for those who are willing to trek. The bulk of the material focuses on intangible heritage and the way of life - not necessarily a mistake for a cultural landscape, but a clear sing, that just visiting the place does not give your an incredible experience. As you can only get familiar with any of this if you can get away to the mountain with the shepherds, which is not an option for the average tourist with limited time.
As for the practicaléities: in theory - i think - there are marshrutkas to the village from Quba, but - unless you have countless time, and are ready to spend a night there - some kind of private transport is inevitable. Either you rent a car in Baku (as we did), or convince somebody in Qube/Guba to take you to Khinalig. Quba can be the ideal starting point of the tour - Kihnalig is an easy (half)day trip from there as you can reach the village in cca 1,5 hours. If you are there, Quba itself worth a visit. Hundred years ago - before the foundation of the State of Israel - it was the only town in the world of 100% Jewish population. There is a nice and informative Jewish Museum, and walking tours are also available in the former Jewish Quarter - where you can still visit some synagogues, a mikveh, and see the beautiful 19th century merchant houses. Btw I can see a high potential for a WH nomination there.
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