Xinaliq, a high-mountain village in Azerbaijan's portion of the Caucasus mountain range, is its own little world. Not much is known about the origins of the settlement, but its roughly 800 present-day inhabitants are committed to preserving a unique cultural identity, centering on the distinctive Ketsh language.
Getting to Xinaliq required a bumpy 36-kilometer ride from Quba through various terrains and micro-climates. A dense forest gave way to a damp canyon, where thick fog and the Qudyal Çay River kept temperatures cool, and where frosted tree branches offered a sharp contrast against the orange ravine walls. The drive, featuring winding roads and patches of ice, along with the ever-present threat of a rock slide, was one in which a sense of wonder could gave way to fright very quickly.
At four points, the road had eroded. But my driver, Nobruz, and his trusty UAZ-469 jeep, deftly found detours. Gaining altitude, the trees disappeared, replaced by winter grass, black rocks and snow capped mountains. Arriving in the village, situated between the peaks of Tufandag (4,191 meters) and Qizilqaya (3,726 meters), we shared a grin.
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Jonathan Makiri is a freelance journalist and photographer who covers Turkey and the South Caucasus.