Lahij is a small village in the Ismailly Rayon, buried deep in the mountains. The dirt road to Lahij winds up the Girdimanchai river gorge from the vineyards outside Shemakha, crossing the torrent on a flimsy bridge and skirting the sheer walls on narrow, roughly hewn ledges. Ice and snow cut Lahij off from the valley for weeks at a time in winter.
The drive up to Lahij is as stunning as dangerous, animals appear out of nowhere in winding roads that hug the cliff face that plunges down into the valley below. You remember forever the forests of this land, its rivers and springs, curative air of the mountains. But nature reserve-Lahijhan unique corner in Ismailli evoke your love and admiration.
Isolation made Lahij a very atypical Azeri village: Tat, a dialect of an old Persian tongue remains to this day the primary language in Lahij and a few surrounding villages. For centuries, the valley people have spoken, at various times, Azeri, Russian, Farsi and Arabic, but here in this mountain village of about 2000 people Tat remains as strong as ever.
The town was originally a copper mining hub, but that has died down. The mountain terrain above Shemakha is ill-suited to agriculture, hence Lahij's developed into a craft center. Carpet weaving and copper and brass work (pots, samovars...) sustain the village's economy.
It is town of copper-smiths and carpet-makers. Your any step in Lahijh will be accompanied by the knocking of hammers. You feel the spirit of history in this town. The nature is very generous in the colours here. All their variety affect at the carpets of Lahijh women where any of them can self-expresses. Can't be two the same carpets weaved in Lahijh. All groups of symmetry, all eastern symbolism, all reaches of ornament, women's intuition and experience accumulated for centuries affect at the small wonder named Carpet.
Due to frequent earthquakes the village developed it own building techniques, a traditional stone-and-wood cross-tie technique known in Tat as divarchu ("wood wall"). This technique has proven results - the damage provoked by quakes in places like Shemaka remains unseen in Lahij.
On the streets of Lahij you'll also come across "attar" (folk medicine) shops. Not far from Lahij is a cold water source with a high sulfur content; many people go there in hope of curing their skin problems. Also, make sure to see the history museum, the 13th century sewage system, the aging Caravanserai (hotel for travelers with camel caravans) and Ghirdiman Fortress, which dates back to the 5th century.
Why is Lahij so different from its neighbor village across the way? Local legend tells that Iranian Shah Kay Khosrow retired to this village in the Caucasus because of its pleasant climate and picturesque scenery. The people consider themselves to be Persian in origin, in particular descendants of Kay Khosrow's original court, and say that the village was named after a place called Lahijan in Persia. They maintain that the Shah died and was buried in Lahij. In the Zavara cemetery, there's even a grave with a tombstone that clearly reads "Kay Khosrow," along with other tombstones that date back more than 1,000 years ago.
Perhaps a 1,000-year-old tombstone doesn't seem out of place in such an ancient village. Such an artifact fits an observation made about Lahij in a recent U.N. report about Azerbaijan: "Lahij has preserved its communal harmony and social cohesion across the centuriesThe spirit of the Middle Ages still lingers there."
You can spend a few interesting hours in Lahij. Walk along the cobblestone streets, visit the History Museum and the Mosque, browse the shops, have a look the the copper workshop or try to visit the carpets cooperative.
There's no accommodation so try to finish your day early or negotiate to stay at a private house. (220 km northwest of Baku)
The village of Basgal is built like a fortress. In fact, the root "gal" ("gala") means "fortress." The people are Turkic in origin. There are about 1,000 houses in Basgal, clustered along the side of the mountain. In this village, no house is allowed to face the facade of another. If you want to build a house, you have to build it so that it doesn't face the windows of another person's house. Therefore, every house faces only the back of the preceding house. Consequently, very few houses have windows looking out onto the street.
Everywhere there are stone pavements and cobbled roads. The houses are not like village cottages surrounded by big gardens or yards; rather they are multi-storied houses, much like city buildings. Most of them have balconies. The streets are narrow and winding, with barely enough room for one car to drive through.
Each quarter of the village has its own water source, as there are no wells there. Mountain water that comes from springs further up the mountain is referred to as "light water" because it is more filtered and tastes better. Unfortunately, not every quarter of Basgal has easy access to "light water."
Basgal used to be famous for its silk industry. Some people believe that it was Basgal that made Azerbaijan's silk especially "kelagays"-world-famous. Ancient silk-weaving machines are still kept in some Basgal houses today.
There are two mosques in Basgal: one dates back to the 11th century, the other to the 14th century. Near the older mosque stands a huge tree that is supposedly 900 years old. It is so large (7 meters across) that there used to be a "chaikhana," or teahouse, in the cavity of the tree. The chaikhana has since been closed for fear that it might cause damage to the tree.
The village's bath house dates back to the 16th century. There is a legend that this bath house is heated by only a single candle. In fact, there is only one oven where wood is burned for heating the water. The amazing thing about this bath house is that the oven not only heats up the water; the heat somehow gets underneath the floor and heats the whole bath house.