Greetings from the rainy Azeri mountains!
The rain had run a river in the middle of the street. I was hopping from stone to stone, trying to keep my feet dry but my hiking boots – the ones that so faithfully served me on the Camino – have started to spout holes and I could feel water seeping in.
Someone once described Lahic as “cobblestoned”. I don’t know who they were or if they knew what cobblestones are, but the streets laid with uneven slabs of stone – laid? more like sporadically tossed – are a far cry from the fairytale streets of Old Europe. I was trying hard not to twist my ankle as I skipped along, my camera hidden from the rain under my bright blue rain jacket. (A true fashion icon: it’s a kids’ size XL but hey, I got it for free.)
Still, Lahij (that’s another way to spell the name of the town) definitely has its own charm. On this rainy afternoon, the streets were almost empty of the regular flow of tourists that travel up here for a day trip from Baku or a mountain stopover for the weekend. Most of the vendors have still opened their shops, and they sit inside, looking rather forlorn for the lack of customers.
I guess they don’t have a choice if they want to make any money. For centuries, the land around Lahic has been pretty badly suited for farming, so many locals got crafty. Because of this, Lahic is known as the centre for Azeri craftmanship, and especially these days it relies heavily on tourism to flourish.
As I skipped down the street – looking for motifs to photograph – I glanced at the goods at sale. Traditional rugs woven from earthly reds and oranges hung on hooks side by side with hats and heavy vests made from sheep wool. (Even if cultivating land here is hard, there are plenty of sheep to go around.) Colourful bags of spices were laid out on display. Over the steady drum of rain, a clinking echoed through the town, as craftsmen worked on ornamental pans and plates, windchimes, jugs, decorative items, pitchers and picture frames made from copper.
I could picture Lahic the way it was centuries ago: isolated on the mountains, far from the wealth that the oil-rich soil would bring to the capital. I’d imagine these days most houses have Wifi, and the Azeri family taking selfies dressed in traditional garbs in front of one of the shops is probably a modern addition to the street view. But the boxy Ladas parked on side streets, babushkas wearing long dresses and headscarves, chicken dashing across the street scared by the roaming tourists – I’d imagine this could have been the picture through my viewfinder ten, twenty or fifty years ago, too.
There was just a knock on the door – the mum of this family that I’m staying with came to tell me that dinner is ready. I guess I better get going.
See you soon though!