Gakh

Established around Lake Ajinohur, this small district is conducive to hunting and fishing. The plains and foothills in the Qaniq-Ayrichay valley are good for hunting. Noted for its fruits, Gakh has several types of different-sized, colored, juicy and sweet pears. Duchess pears are the most popular. The lemonade made of it is always on the table. Due to the abundance of fruit, different compotes and jams are popular. Fruits are also dried to prevent perishing. Sherbet, floral water, medlar, grape juice and other healing drinks are served with meals to arouse appetite. The sherbet made of honey holds a special place. The water naturally flowing from the forests near Suskan village has become a recognized brand throughout the country.

Note

The distance to Baku is 409 km and to the Yevlakh railway station 116 km. It is 500 m above sea level, sitting on the right bank of the Kurmuk mountain river and on the Shaki-Zaqatala highway. Located in Azerbaijan’s north-west, Gakh borders on Georgia and Dagestan. The Kurmuk, Qasqachay, Ayrichay rivers flow through Gakh. In the south its climate is dry, in the center it’s partly hot and humid, while in the mountains it is cold. Its Great Caucasus slopes are vertical. The highest top, Ahvay, is 3480 m high. It was established as a district in 1930.

Historical monuments

There are over 60 registered historical monuments of national and international importance in Gakh. Most of them are in near-by villages. The archeological monuments and burial mounds discovered here are evidence of bronze age settlements. After seeing the Fortress Walls (16th century), Juma mosque (19th century) and Alaverdi church (1884) in the district center, it is worth visiting the most ancient, biggest and best known shrine of the Caucasus.

GakhKurmuk temple (5th century)

It sits on one of Gakh’s highest tops. It is possible to get to several hundred meters away from it by car through forests and then walk a little. The area is full of gardens. The temple commands a perfect view of the surroundings. It derives its name from a same-named river. The word Kurmuk is explained as follows: kur means crazy and capricious, while muq is the name of a Turkic tribe.
Since the 19th century it is also known as St George Church. People from Georgia come here on pilgrimage in April and November. It is one of a handful of holy places visited by both Muslims and Christians. A lamb is always sacrificed on a visit. It is curious that Christian pilgrims don’t sacrifice pigs here. Kurmuk is the oldest Albanian temple built in Gakh in the early middle ages. Before Christianity, Albanians worshipped the moon and built it in honor of the goddess Moon.

Strabo (64 B.C.)

He wrote a lot about the Albanians’ lifestyle, saying they worshipped Helios (Sun), Zeus (sky) gods and Spena (moon) goddess. Therefore, most temples of that period were built for goddess moon. The independence of the church on any other churches in the 6-7th centuries significantly strengthened the power and authority Christianity in Albania. The first written evidence of Albanian temples in Gakh, located in Albania’s north-west, was provided in 1898.

Place-name

The only mention of Gakh reminds everyone of dry fruit – this is what it means in Azeri. But the place-name has nothing to do with that. Gakh means a fortress, fortification. Another theory suggests that the place-name relates to a Gag tribe which lived here earlier. The word is said to have two bases: qa, meaning dwelling place, and ax, meaning river, i.e. a place where river lives. One of the a’s was subsequently dropped. Academician Iqrar Aliyev wrote in his “History of Media” that one of the 24 tribes that lived in and around Media was called Karx. This mountain tribe lived on a large area.

Residents of Gakh

Gakh is home to about 20 ethnicities. According to 1873 statistics, there were nine noblemen, 23 Sakhurs, 77 Mugals (Azerbaijanis), 130 Ingiloys, and a total of 239 families in Gakh. Their diverse folklore, customs and traditions makes Gakh very special. It is interesting to talk to these daring people. The mountain ethnicities have lived together for centuries and fought against the Russian occupation for 25 years. There are many things in Gakh that still remind you of that period of rebellions and wars.

Tanqit village

This small village bears the name of a large Turkish family that used to live here. The place attracts many historians. There is a narrow path into the old oak-tree forest off the Gakh-Zaqatala road. At the end of it there is a grave of Haji Murad, Sheikh Shamil’s governor. The Arabic sign on it says: “Great martyr Avar Haji Murad Xinzakli is buried here.” Haji Murad’s grave is in a historical cemetery in Tanqit.

Haji Murad (???-04.04.1853)

He was born in Dagestan in the early 19th century. The leader of the Avar people, he organized many attacks on the Russians, becoming Imam Shamil’s most successful governor. Despite the Czar’s numerous attempts on his life, he survived them all. On the Czar’s personal invitation he traveled to Tbilisi, was arrested there and, while being taken to prison, managed to escape by jumping into an abyss. Becoming lame, he joined forces with Sheikh Shamil and turned into a real nightmare for the Czar. Besides his inimitable belligerence, he could always find a way out of a predicament. His bravery, boldness and fearlessness have become a proverb. Those envious of him started to set him against Sheikh Shamil and even succeeded in that. In October 1850, Haji Murad’s cavalry entered Gakh, but Russian forces were reluctant to challenge it. In 1851, for reasons unknown to the present day, he suddenly joined the Russians. Some say this was part of a ploy designed jointly with Imam Shamil, others suggest it was the result of their relations going sour. Surrounded by the Russians, Haji Murad was imprisoned in Shaki. On 23 April 1852, Haji Murad went hunting with a group of soldiers, killed all but one of them and ran away towards Gakh. The Russians, informed by the surviving soldier, encircled him in Gakh’s Tanqit village. In an unequal battle, Haji Murad fought in a manner typical of him but was killed. On the order of Czar Nicolas I, his head was cut off and mummified. Korganov, commander of the Nukha fortress, personally took it to Tbilisi, submitted it to Vorontsov who sent it to St Petersburg where it was put on display at military units. It is now kept at the Military Academy’s Museum in St Petersburg. There are hundreds of legends about Haji Murad. Russian writer Lev Tolstoy even dedicated his 1896 “Haji Murad” novel to him.

A number of Turkish historians have been visiting a cemetery in another Gakh village lately. The reason is said to be the grave of well-known Turkish philosopher and poet Yunus Emre (1240-1320).

GakhOncalli village

It is believed that the grave of classical Turkish poet Yunus Emre is at an ancient Oguz cemetery in this village. It is a shrine. This is one of seven places where Yunus Emre, who died 700 years ago, is said to have been buried. In Turkey alone there are 22 gravestones of Yunus Emre, but which of them is genuine is not known. Unlike other places, in Oncalli the poet is said to have been buried together with his follower Haji Tapdiq. They had come to Gakh to convert the local Kipchaks to Islam. Preaching love for Allah, the Sufi poet toured the entire Anatolia, Azerbaijan and Iran.

Kipchaks

They are an ancient Turkic tribe originally from Altay. They came to the Caucasus with the Caspians in the 9th century. Kipchaks are Gakh’s oldest Turkic tribe. There are rivers and settlements named after them here. There is an Oguz cemetery above the ancient silk way that passed near the Kipchak village.

Home of Nizami

Gakh’s Qum village is known as home of great Azerbaijani poet Nizami Ganjavi (12th century). There are many legends about Nizami. Places named after him are also widespread. It is said that when Nizami was walking in the mountains of Greater Caucasus, we enjoyed the view of the Kapaz mountain from a Qum top. Knowing that, Atabay ruler Qizil Arslan presented the village to the poet and wedded him with village girl Agca, whose relatives, respecting the poet a lot, built a fortress for him in Qum. Nizami Ganjavi and his wife Agca are said to have come here in summer for rest. But the poet’s happiness didn’t last long. Agca died soon and he stopped visiting Qum, while the fortress presented by Qizil Arslan was left without an owner.

Qum village

It is linked to the Kipchak tribe. The name of Kipchaks was mentioned back in the 2nd century. Academician Ziya Bunyadov suggested in his book “Azerbaijani state of Atabaylars” that Nizami’s wife Afaq was a Kipchak from Qum. It is one of Azerbaijan’s most ancient villages. Its historical monuments are evidence of that. Qum is located 8 km from the center, at the hills of the Greater Caucasus range, 700 m above sea level. The Ardava mountain river flows through the village. Foothill areas are surrounded by thick forests full of medlars, cherry-plums, cornelian cherries, forest apples and pears. There are only 200 houses in the village. The village has many historical monuments attributed to the period of Caucasian Albania. On the outskirts there is a small Albanian temple, which used to be a church before.

Basilica (5th century)

It is a magnificent and impressive stricture. The Albanian temple is known as the Hun playing-house. It is 25 m high and 20 m wide. With porches on four sides, Basilica has three halls. These are altar and prayer rooms. The dilapidated monument is surrounded by trees and shrubs. Its huge columns and arches are very elaborate. Albanian historians suggest that Palestinian missioner Patrick Yelisey, who visited the place to promote Christianity, was killed in Qomenk (presently Qum). Subsequently, Albanian ruler Vachagan III decided to build a temple here. This is the only available theory about the Qum temple’s history.

Sakhurs

Sakhurs, residents of Qum, are very hospitable. They are one of Azerbaijan’s ancient mountain peoples. They call themselves yikhiy or yikhbi. Historically they lived in the valley of the Kura-Alazan rivers and upside the Samur river. There is 19th century evidence about Sakhurs living there. An Albanian tribe, Sakhurs mainly lived in Azerbaijan and Dagestan. Their total number is 20,000-30,000. Sakhurs speak their own language, which belongs to the Lezghin group. Their key occupations are cattle-breeding, farming and knitting. Sakhurs contributed greatly to the development of the Caucasian Albania and were among the first to adopt Christianity but then became Muslims. Residents of Qum grow fox grape in their gardens to make their well-known wine out of it.

Balli water spring

Located 5 km from Qum near the Cinarli village, this resort area is a tourism paradise. There are deafening waterfalls around the Qarachay river deep inside the forest. Falling from high above, the water creates numerous pools. Many swim here in the summer.
Sirt fortress (8th century)

It sits above Qum. Commanding an astonishing panorama, the fortress can be reached by a narrow path. There is no detailed information about Sirt. All surrounding villages are plainly visible from here. It resembles a watchman’s tower and is said to have been build for defense purposes.

GakhLakit village

This village is said to be 1600 years old. There are many same-named settlements in Azerbaijan. Some say it relates to the word “lokut”, or non-grainy rice. But the place-name actually relates to a group of Turkic tribes. Strabo wrote that in addition to the Gels, Legs lived together with Caucasians highlanders. The Liks mentioned in Urartu sources are the same Legs. The village is 12 km from the center. Lakit, with its thick forests, mountains, rivers, springs and fortresses, is a definite must-see in Gakh. There are many hazel-nut gardens here. In fact, local people say the hazel-nuts are larger and more delicious than elsewhere. The villagers are Muslim. The 18th century mosque was built of pebble and limestone. There was also a religious school under the mosque. Those who taught there are buried outside. There are two well-known historical monuments in Lakit: one at the entry, the other at the far end of the village.

Albanian temple (5th century)

It is located on the village outskirts, surrounded by hazel-nut trees. Built in a Byzantine architectural style, its foundation was laid before Christianity. According to Albanian beliefs, it was built for a God. It is considered one of the most notable historical monuments of Caucasian Albania. In 1968, late bronze and early iron ages buried treasure was discovered in Lakit-Kotuklu. It included different attire. The discovery suggests that there was life here in the late 2nd and early 1st millennia B.C. The territory was part of the Scythian kingdom in the 8th and Albania in the 4th centuries B.C. In 1985, archeological research carried out at the Lakit temple and the Qum village Basilica established that the monuments belong to the 4-6th centuries.

Gakh7 churches (5-6th centuries)

The words “7 churches monastery” are engraved on the monument. The monastery includes two basilicas and five small monasteries. It is located in the forest off the Lakit-Kotuklu road in the highest northern point of the village. Most of it is run down. There was an altar here. A large pot for storing grain and a small one for storing gold have been discovered here. There are traces of a fortress on a nearby mountain, where local monks found shelter in case of danger. The monastery resembles a small village. The monks are believed to have had small farms here. The monastery was built during the development of Christianity and monks lived and studied here. This is the biggest Caucasian Albania monument in the region. The valley near the monastery is called Albantala. From here one can walk through the forest down a steep slope to the Mamirli waterfalls.

Mamirli waterfalls

These are located in Lakit-Kotuklu, in a thick forest. The site is quite unusual: the water falling from rocks for centuries has formed moss on their surface. The moss is so thick that it resembles a green carpet. The trees are so close to each other that sun rays never break through and the place always stays cool. It is an ideal place for picnics. Those visiting Lakit and Kotuklu always come here. There are many more places worth visiting in Gakh.

Gakhingiloy village

The village, set up in 1897, is 2 km from the center, has a wonderful panoramic view and is noted for its hospitable people. The church in its center is a 19th monument. Inhabited by the Ingiloys, the village’s traditions differ from those elsewhere in Azerbaijan. Historically the Ingiloys lived on prolific lands surrounding the Alazan river. Their houses have large courtyards and stand quite apart from each other. There is an underground water pipe in every courtyard. The Khachapuri bakeries are worthy of note. There are two shrines in the village, and May and November are considered the pilgrimage period. The holy places are two gigantic trees with their bodies carved out. The tradition is to pray, make a wish and light a candle here. The magnificent top at the end of the village is called Uludag, and local people always take their guests there for a picnic. After three hours of climbing one can get a truly mesmerizing view from the top. There are ideal conditions for camping and eco-tourism. The abundance of waterfalls makes the place even more beautiful.

Puri-Khachapuri

Puri means bread, but its form and taste are different. It is protruded, resembling Turkish Pide. One can eat it all in one go. Khachapuri means bread and cheese. Made of puff-paste, it is very popular in the Caucasus. The Sulguni cheese is added to rolled-out dough, which is then folded like a square. Its surface is moistened with a brush so that there is a crust. It is then baked for about 20 minutes. The dough will rise when baking. While Khachapuri is cooking, its surface is pricked with a toothpick to ensure that it is well baked inside. These delicacies are always served by the local people.

Ingiloy feasts

They last for hours. Hospitable villagers love dining. Singing at a dinner-table, barbecuing, serving kebabs on skewers, cheese and Puri are all part of the local dining culture. Wine is a special component of local feasts.

Wine

Wine has been popular with Ingiloys ever since they were an Alban tribe. The development of grape-growing in the Alazan valley laid the groundwork for wine-making. Archeological excavations have revealed earthenware pots with wine remains caused to tar. Christian Ingiloys always “drink wine after dinner not to become ill”.

Wine is made in almost every household as every family grows grapes. Grapes ripen in late August and September, are picked, processed and filled into pots for fermentation. The pots are made of clay and can be of different sizes, ranging from 25 to 100 liters. Then they are buried and sealed to stop intake of air. The pots are closed for one year and opened for special guests or other occasions. Their opening is a ceremony worth watching. Everyone gathers around a pot, as the host digs his way to it, cleans the cork from sand, opens it, discards the substance from the surface and stirs the wine inside. The rest of the family stand by with empty glasses, Puri, cheese and kebabs in their hands. Then the host pours out the wine and everyone raises glasses to welcome guests. Glasses are drunk bottoms up, eats Puti, cheese and kebabs and only then wine is poured into a decanter and served. Everyone sitting at the table stands up and proposes a toast: nice words are usually said about everyone in attendance. Those coming here in a sober state will hardly remember leaving. The opened pots must be emptied by all means because after reacting with air the wine will turn into vinegar.

Gakh“Kurumukhi”

It can also be called Kurmuku. This is the name of a folk group of Gakhingiloy village boys. The rhythms, music genres, dancing elements, songs such as Cilveloy and Atabari resemble Turkey’s Black Sea region folklore. As the boys sing and dance, one can’t help dancing. The most important component of the boys’ Caucasian national attire is the dagger.

Dagger

It was an important part of life. A grown-up man would always have a dagger hanging from his belt. The dagger was carried for defense purposes and was typical of all highlanders.

Ingiloy-Kotuklu village

This is Gakh’s another picturesque village with an Ingiloy population. It is interesting to come here in early June, during the mulberry season. People with huge sheets in their hands gather underneath mulberry trees, speaking and laughing loudly. Laymen need to be cautious of the mulberry rain. Branches of the tree are shaken by someone who climbs it up, while those underneath spread out the sheets to catch the berries. As soon as the shaking stops, everyone falls upon the berries. Mulberry is full of vitamins and is usually eaten without washing. People also make jam or thickened must out of it.

Thickened must

This is a very sweet and thick substance made by cooking the fruit without any additives. Its cooking is a long and difficult process. For this reason, it is not made in every house. Since it is not easily available, it’s rather expensive. It is also eaten with pasta, as a sauce in winter, and as a drug. An exclusive mulberry drink is also made in Ingiloy villages.

Jeja

This is homemade vodka, also known as moonshine. Mulberries are fermented using special equipment to make 70-degree natural vodka. The day when the first mulberry vodka bottle is opened is celebrated as the mulberry holiday. It is often drunk in cold weather. Ingiloys see the vodka as a drug. It is also drunk with a lot of pepper when one has a cold and a sore throat. Vodka is also made of apples, pears, cherry plums, peaches, cornelian cherries, etc., while mulberry and cornelian cherry vodka is considered the best.

GakhIlisu

Regardless of the season, those visiting Ilisu feel like in a fairy-tale. In winter it is under a thick blanket of snow. Surrounded by mountain forests on all sides, the place has torrential rains followed by rainbows in spring and summer. It has clean air and quiet surroundings. Wherever you look, you can see pretty houses and old historical monuments… One doesn’t even want to leave the place. By spending a month or two in the Ilisu resort area, one can get rid of chronic stress.

Saying

If a competition was announced for a paradise on earth, Ilisu would be favorite to win.

Note

It is located 12 km from the district center, on the left bank of the Kurmuk river, 1200-1400 m above sea level. Ilisu used to be Gakh most recognizable place. It is a real tourism paradise. Caravan roads from the Greater Caucasus to Dagestan used to pass through Ilisu. This ancient settlement was the center of the Ilisu sultanate from the late 16th to the mid-19th centuries. Ilisu is still Gakh’s most popular travel destination.

Tourism in Ilisu

There are favorable natural conditions for mountain climbing and hiking. Green, community, health and recreational types of tourism are quite widespread. Visitors may tour the place on horseback or on foot. There are great conditions for hunting. The tourism infrastructure was established in Ilisu back in Soviet times. Local resorts, operating for years already, have also built cottages and hotels. Although the number of such places has increased, it is hardly possible to find a vacant room here in summer because those who have been here once always book a place for the next season. Local people say the number of visitors in the summer exceeds the local population at least 10 times. But when it gets colder, there is no-one at all due to a lack of a winter tourism infrastructure. Some places work in winter too. When all hotel rooms are booked up, local people hospitably open their doors to visitors. It is cheaper to rent a house, e.g. whereas a hotel room may cost AZN 50-100, a room in a local house would cost AZN 20. Besides, staying in a local house has a completely different flavor.

Ilisu houses

At first sight, Ilisu doesn’t look like a village. Its streets, roads and houses have a peculiar architecture. Houses built of red brick and pebble-stone are surrounded by pebble fences. There is a special odor inside. Almost all houses have the same design. There are dents in the walls, serving as shelves. Those opposite the windows are intended for storing mattresses, while smaller ones are for candles and lamps. Finally, the niches along the wall are for cutlery. There are also small rooms with wooden doors. These rooms have no decoration and serve as bathrooms. In cold winter months local people used to bath here. The youngest house here is at least 100 years old. The stone fences of most houses have signs indicating their age, names of the builder and owner. Doors, gates and balconies are of the same age as houses. There are fruit trees in courtyards. Pebble-stone is often placed on the sides of the road in line with the local architectural tradition.

Neighborhoods

There is a system of neighborhoods in Ilisu. Sangar, Bucaq, Qala, Qacar, Baytabun neighborhoods are the best-known and biggest ones. Baytabun was Sultan’s neighborhood. After the Russian occupation of Ilisu, the village was burned and there are no traces of Sultan’s houses. It started being rebuilt in the late 19th century. Some houses were built in the 1880s, while most of them have a historical status.

Water spring, river, waterfalls

The village is surrounded by mountains and thick forests. It is a junction of two mountain rivers, Kurmukchay and Agchay. The rivers are very deep and fast. The village center is a place called Besbulaq with five fresh water springs converging in one point.

Ulu waterfalls

These are located 1 km from the village. The waterfalls are a must-see for everyone visiting Ilisu. The relatively small waterfalls are on the right-hand side of the road to Hamaca.

Ilisu residents

Local people have historically been craftsmen. Having different occupations, villagers have always passed on their skill from one generation to another. Most of the 1,500 villagers are Sakhurs engaged in sheep-breeding and farming. The village is also noted for its well-educated people. There is a joke here that an educated Ilisu resident will become a scientist, while an ignorant will be a shepherd. Local people safeguard their traditions. For instance, pad-locks are not used in Ilisu. There are no dogs in kennels either. People are used to speaking loudly without seeing the interlocutor. Ilisu residents don’t like to ask anyone for help and try to resolve their problems themselves. Many explain this by their being descendants of noble men. The Tovlatala Sultan cemetery is still there and is known as a graveyard of martyrs. Most of the Ilisu ruler’s family members are buried here. The roots of the local aristocracy go back to the middle ages.

Ilisu Sultanate (1563-1844)

In addition to khanates, medieval Azerbaijan also had sultanates. The Ilisu sultanate (17th century) was noted for its governance system. It was inhabited by the Avars, Sakhurs, Ingiloys, Mugas (Azerbaijanis) and Lezghins. The sultanate was established on 3 August 1563. The present-day village was the capital of Ilisu Sultanate, which was part of the Car-Balakan region. Although Gakh was sultanate’s first capital, its ruler moved his residence to a more distant Ilisu village for security reasons. In the 18th century, following Russian-Turkish wars, the Russians started expanding into the Caucasus. Although northern Azerbaijan was completely occupied in the early 19th century, Caucasian peoples did not acquiesce to them easily. Despite stiff resistance, the Caucasus was seized by the Russians on 26 August 1844.

The Russian commander-in-chief, Gen Sisianov, sent an ultimatum to a north-western Azerbaijan ruler, Sultan Ali, that if doesn’t surrender, he would wash his shoes in sultan’s blood and wipe out Ilisu from the surface of earth. Despite that, Sisianov could not establish control over the mountain areas between Azerbaijan and Dagestan. In 1830, these stand-offs became more ferocious in the time of newly-elected Ilisu Sultan Daniyal Bay.

Daniyal Bay – last of the Mohicans

This Ilisu general was noted for his courage, nobility and fairness in work and service. He established in-house rules in the sultanate and suggested to the Czarist regime that all military action in the Caucasus be suspended and conflicts resolved through peace diplomacy. In 1842, Daniyal Bay received the rank of major-general and then the title of a prince. The Czar’s goal was to engage him in the fight against Sheikh Shamil, who was a major obstacle for Russia in the Caucasus. But he refused. In 1844, he crossed the Saribas village to join Shamil’s liberation army and swore on the Koran in the Dargo village that he would fight the Russians till his death. He arranged for his son to marry Shamil’s daughter and for his daughter to marry Shamil’s son. Together with Sheikh Shamil, he defeated Russian generals in this soil for 15 years. Seeing the pointlessness of the war with Czarist Russia, Daniyal Bay proposed to Shamil to sign a peace treaty to prevent further losses. But he was refused. Meanwhile, Czarist Russia promised to grant him mercy and return the sultanate if Daniyal agreed to join the Czar and help him establish Russian rule in the region. Rejecting the offer of serving the Russians, Sultan Daniyal emigrated to the Ottomans in 1859 where he enjoyed a hero’s treatment. He died there in 1870. Sultan Daniyal was buried with honors by the Ottoman dynasty.

Place-name

It has several explanations. Some suggest that the mineral water has a strong smell of sulfur, hence the name of “iyli su” (smelling water), others say “iliq su” means tepid water. The name of Ilisu relates to the abundance of hot water springs. Local people have always believed in its healing qualities and even thought it was sacred, “Ulu su” (Great water). The phrase comes from ancient Turkish words “il” and “su”, which means flowing from top to bottom. Accordingly, Ilisu means a river flowing from top. The word has two bases: ulus and cu, i.e. people living on a riverbank. In fact, there are many place-names starting with “ulu”, which also means sacred.

GakhHistorical monuments

There are 11 registered historical monuments in Ilisu. There are also very interesting monuments on mountain tops, but they are difficult to access in summer: 10-meter high Sentry fortress (14th century), the Shamil fortress and Cinqala. There are three Russian forts in Ilisu. After the occupation of Ilisu, the Russians built the forts while facing stiff resistance. Two are in the Ilisu village. One of these is on top of Yazdidag mountain. It can be reached by a mountain path starting from one of the neighborhoods. Another is easier to reach, it’s in Qalamahalla. Finally, the third is the Hasanxan fort in the Qaxbas village on the bank of the Kurmuk river.

Cinliqala

It sits on top of mountains surrounding Ilisu. Cinliqala is on the edge of an abyss and can only be accessed from one side. But even that is quite dangerous unless you are a professional climber.
Sumuq fortress
This historical monument in Bucaq neighborhood is an emblem of Ilisu. It is a four-storey defense tower commanding a great view of the surroundings. There are many similar fortresses in North Caucasus and Dagestan. Local people say Sumuq means bone, i.e. it is very hard. The fortress was built next to Sultan Daniyal’s house as a support fort. There are no traces left of sultan’s house. Some fragments of the well-known 1981 Soviet and Azerbaijani action film, “Don’t be afraid, I am with you”, were shot here.

Ilisu fortress (19th century)

Local people call it Burcqala. The Russians built it to defend themselves from Sheikh Shamil. Although there are many place-names and legends about him, Shamil has never been here. The two-storey fortress located in the village center was built on the road from Dagestan. It is still in decent condition and can even be toured. When inside, one feels like in a film studio.

Great Mosque

Ilisu’s Great Mosque was built in 1700 following an order from Sakhur Sultan Ali. It is one of the most valuable local monuments located in the center of the village. It is 10 m long, 7 m wide and 4 m high. It has no minarets. Several religious figures are buried at a nearby cemetery. Masadixanim Nematova has studied and deciphered the Ilisu inscriptions, engravings on the Great Mosque and the Tovlatala cemetery.

Great bridge (17th century)

The bridge over the Kurmuk river was built after the sultanate capital was moved to Ilisu. Local people are very proud of the bridge, considered the entrance to Ilisu. It is said that when Russians attacked Ilisu in 1844, Sultan Daniyal expressed his categorical objection to knocking down the Great bridge to stop the troops entering the town. Egg-yolk was used as solidifier in the bridge, which is said to be why the bridge is still in usable condition.

Ilisu State Nature Reserve

In order to preserv the historical monuments and natural environment typical of Ilisu and southern slopes of the Greater Caucasus, the state nature reserve was established here in 1987. Its territory is from 350 to 3600 m above sea level. The reserve covers an area of 54,000 hectares and is home to hundreds of plants, 35 mammal and 50 bird species, some of which are included on the Red Book. There are hundreds of mineral water springs and rivers. The Qanix (Alazan) and the Kurmuk, the second most affluent river in Azerbaijan, flow through here too. Even minor rainfalls are enough for the river to burst its banks, flooding everything on its way.

Hamamchay

Located 7 km north-east of Ilisu, the Hamamchay is known both as Istisu and Agchay. The left tributary of the Kurmuk river, Hamamchay is one of the most beautiful mountain rivers of Greater Caucasus. The slopes of the river valley are rocky. It is hard to walk here as the valley is often crossed by rapid rivers. The valley gets narrower up the hill. When it reaches the mineral water spring, its slopes almost converge. People take healing baths here. Many consider the valley sacred due to its miraculous geysers. There is a well-known hot water geyser here. Also here is the sulfurous water spring called Mohsu. Gakh’s biggest waterfalls Ram-ramay, Vazirchal and Qichal are also here. The charming mountain slopes, river and forest valleys make the local landscape very special. There are legends about the Hamamchay natural monument.

Legend

The legend goes that Hunter Pirim went hunting, wounded a gazelle and started following it. The wounded animal stopped by the river, recovered after some time and resumed running even faster. The surprised hunter also dipped his wounded hand in the water and saw the wound heal. This observation prompted him to set up a bath-house here.

Cuisine

The Ilisu cuisine is very diverse. Greens, dairy products and honey are very popular. There are also 35 pasta dishes in Ilisu. In such surroundings hot and calorific dishes are not so heavy as in the city.

Saying

“If you haven’t tried Surhullu, you haven’t seen real Gakh”

Surhullu

It is a pasta dish also called Surhula. It is a type of Xangal mostly eaten in winter. Its dough made of wheat flour is thinned out with hand and cut into small pieces. The pieces are then pressed with a finger until they become flat and look like macaroni. Then they are boiled in water for 5-10 minutes and placed on a broad plate. A soup prepared earlier is poured over Surhullu with a scoop. Pickled cherry-plums with garlic and greens added to the dish make it ready for being served. Although Surhullu is a typical local dish, not all outsiders are impressed with its special taste. Those not very partial to it are sure to like another Ilisu delicacy.

Girs

Girs is the most popular pasta dish mainly eaten in cold weather. It is the first dish guests are treated to, symbolizing tremendous respect for the visitor. This is a tradition with all ethnicities living in the region. When a local family invites someone over, both parties know Girs will be served. The dish is called dumplings in other regions and literary sources.

Ordinary dough is made of water and flour, and rounded lumps are thinly rolled out. Then thin dough sheets are cut into many pieces with a glass. Small portions of previously prepared minced meat are put inside them and wrapped nicely. Water is boiled in a large saucepan, Girs is poured in and left to boil for 15-20 minutes. Then it is filtered onto a large dish. Two special sauces are cooked for Girs. Sour clotted milk with garlic and with cherry-plum sauces are poured over Girs. Sumac is scattered over the dish in the end. Besides meat, the dumpling stuffing can be made of cottage cheese, pumpkin, greens, nettle, etc., but meat stuffing is the most popular.

Saribas village

It is located 18 km from the district center, 7-8 km north-west of Ilisu, 1800 m above sea level between the Qunaxaysu and Agbulaq rivers. To come here, one needs to pass through Ilisu. Cold in winter and mild in summer and surrounded by high mountains, Saribas is Gakh’s remotest village. Behind the village, there are several Greater Caucasus summits. The road to the village is barely passable, unless you have a four-wheel vehicle. It takes one full day to get here and back. The road is not asphalted, which is why when it rains and the Kurmuk river bursts its banks, the village is completely cut off from the surroundings. It is also dangerous to cross the river on foot. On the way here, one can meet shepherds summering with their livestock. They will treat you to a shepherd’s dinner. The trip to Saribas is one for those loving adventure and extremes. On arrival at the destination, one should always remember that there is always a chance of not going back soon. Local people say some visitors ended up spending months in Saribas waiting for favorable weather conditions.

Saribas emerged as a residential settlement in the 14th century. Its first residents were Jalairs. In 1556, Sakhurs merged with the local population. 400 years ago, migrants from the Sakhur village living in the Samur river valley set up the Saribas village in the west of the Caucasus mountain range. The most ancient monument in the village, which is quite rich in historical and architectural sites, is the 16-17th century Haji Tapdiq mosque. Women weave ornamental carpets and socks here. The women’s Tonqay Malik folk game originates from this village.

Tonqay Malik

This game is only played by women. Winters in Saribas are cold and nights long. Those who don’t have field work do housework together. In order not to be bored, they sing, recite poems and even dance. Every other line in the songs they sing must have the “Tonqay Malik” phrase. The women are usually managed by an old lady.

GakhPlace-name

In old times, Sari meant having a beautiful voice. Even the folk song “Sari galin” referred to the voice, not color (yellow). There are many other places in Azerbaijan starting with Sari, but none of them is yellow. The word means large and tall.
Saribas means mountain top. The name suits the village very well. As the Sun rises and sets here, the village becomes somewhat yellow. Saribas was part of Soviet leader Khrushchev’s development project in the 1960s. According to the project, instead of building some infrastructure in this remote and difficult to access place, the local population was to be resettled to the district center. Therefore, Saribas villagers were moved to a plain down the hill and the new village was named Jalair.

Jalair village

The name of the village relates to the Jalair dynasty. In the 13-14th centuries, about 200,000 Turkic families were settled in Azerbaijan, including Jalairs who were a ruling dynasty in Tabriz in 1358-1410. The Turkic and Muslim dynasty has left a significant mark in the history of statehood in Azerbaijan, the South Caucasus, Middle and Near East.

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