The Greater Caucasus Mountains lie to the north of Azerbaijan and form one of the country's remotest regions. Hiking there gives you a chance to visit villages and canyons, and experience rural life.
A village that dates back 5000 years
The village of Khinalig sits on a mountaintop 2,350 metres above sea level and is surrounded by some of the highest peaks in Azerbaijan, up to 4,400 metres. Rugged cliffs of limestone and granite have cut the village off for centuries. Even today, it is difficult to reach.
Locals like Rahman Sarkarov are used to hosting visitors and showing them around.
"The village of Khinalig dates back 5000 years," he explains. "Today around 2,100 people live here. Since ancient times, villagers have mainly worked in agriculture and sheep breeding.”
Khinalig’s isolation has preserved the traditional way of life of its inhabitants. Ceremonies are held following the rites passed down from generation to generation.
One of the special features of Khinalig is its old stone houses which stand compacted together in terraces.
"Khinalig is built on a hill," says Rahman. "The houses are built in a way that they are the continuation of each other, where the roof of one house is the balcony of the one above. This is why Khinalig looks like a fortress."
Rahman took me to see one of the oldest houses in the village. On the way, every step offered me such an incredible view that I had to stop at every corner.
Once at the doorstep, I was welcomed by 80-year-old Mushtakh Agayev. He shares his house with his son’s family and has lived here his whole life.
"I remember this house since I was born," he says. "All my ancestors lived here. I think it’s 500 years old."
In a traditional Khinalig home, floors and walls are covered with carpets. Each family has its own patterns. In the past, girls learnt carpet-making from childhood to produce items for their dowry.
"My sister was a carpet weaver," says Mushtakh. "My mother taught her. We have an ancient history. We sleep and we rest in this room."
A community with its own language
A two-hour hike from Khinalig in one of the most outstandingly scenic parts of Azerbaijan leads us to the village of Griz.
"We climbed to 3000m and now we are back down at 2000m," says Rahman. "There are only 200 people living here. They have their own language and the history of the village goes back 4000 years.”
We continue our hike and come across the spectacular Griz canyon, with its 400m drop. The Griz waterfall sits at the top of Ag Dagh mountain and is also the end of our hike.