When Vasilii and Anna mentioned they were going on a hike with Camping Azerbaijan, I immediately perked up. I’d seen the company’s Facebook page and liked the thought of dipping my toes into the Azeri hiking scene with a guided tour.The trek for the coming day would cover 9 km with almost 700 meters of ascent while visiting three villages in the Ismayilli region of Azerbaijan: Kohnedakhar, Dere, and Keneye. Transportation, lunch, dinner, and the guides were all included, making it an absolute bargain at 55 AZN. I didn’t have to think for long to decide that I wanted to join!
Come Fairies, take me out of this dull world, for I would ride with you upon the wind and dance upon the mountains like a flame!William Butler Yeats
Hiking with Camping Azerbaijan
We started the day early, meeting the group on the other side of Baku at 7:30 and piling into a cramped van with a number of other travelers. The conversation was muted on the way there, all of us still groggy with sleep or gazing out the windows. The dry, arid landscape surrounding Baku seemed endless at first, but slowly the hills a coating of grass began to dust the hills. That thin coating turned lush, and then the trees began to appear. It was if an artist had taken a barren canvas and slowly added color and life to it, one brush stroke at a time.
Some distance from the main highway, we pulled over and boarded an old Russian military van, the same variety I’d used during my tour of the Gobi back in 2013. Vasilii told me how they’re referred to as bukhanka (Буханка) — which is Russian for ‘loaf’ — because of their loaf-like shape. Our loaf of bread trundled up a mountain road unsuitable for commuter cars, and we finally found ourselves in Kohnedakhar.
We filed into the courtyard of a home, greeting our hosts with a chorus of ‘hello’, ‘priviet’, and ‘salam’, then sat down for an amazing meal of plov, stew, and more. Every time a plate piled high with food came out, I was positive it would be the last, but more dishes kept coming. As my first encounter with home-cooked Azeri food, it was a resounding success! I mean, c’mon… look at this plov…
When we finally set out on our hike, I felt my spirits lifting. I’d enjoyed my time in Baku, but this was what I’d come to the Caucasus for — to explore the mountains and get away from the crowded city centers.
We stopped often, members of the group clicking away with their cameras as the scenery constantly changed around us. We walked through green meadows dotted with wildflowers, cool forests hugging the sides of the hills, and even crossed a few small streams.
After a few kilometers, we reached the village of Dere. Unlike Kohnedakhar, Dere is not connected to any road, and can only be reached on foot or horseback. There is no school either, so some of the kids in the village have never been.
We greeted our new hosts and sat down for some tea, enjoying the break as we stretched our legs and rehydrated.
From Dere, the views grew steadily more epic as we gained elevation. After one particularly brutal stretch, we all sprawled on the grass, soaking in the view. We were completely unaware that just around the bend, a view to end all views awaited us…
The tree cover opened up and we found ourselves in a lush meadow looking out over the craggy peaks across the valley. The sky was a stunning blue, unchoked by the haze so prevalent in Baku. It was a pristine, marvelous day, and we could barely contain our excitement as we ran about in the field just soaking it all in.
There was a moment in the meadow that I’ll never forget. I heard some exclamations of excitement from the hikers below, then saw a flurry of movement. A rider on horseback galloped up the hill, nodding at us as he rode past. It’s a small, silly thing, but — at that moment — I felt so giddy about the entire day that I knew there was no place I’d rather be.
We left the meadow, and made our way to the final village we would hike to that day — the village of Keneye. This village is small, comprised of three brothers and their families. Like the villages of Kohnedakhar and Dere, the people of Keneye are Tats, an Iranian people who speak a distinct Persian dialect — very different from the Azeri language, which is more akin to Turkish.
The walk down from Keneye to the road was the toughest part of the hike, the dry sand on packed earth making for treacherous footing. I managed to fall quite spectacularly, hiking poles and all, prompting a few well-deserved inquiries as to how well they really worked. My knee survived the hike, though, so they worked well enough 😉
Our last little treat was a bridge we had to cross in order to get to the road. The wooden planks seemed flimsy at first glance, but the bridge was built well and all of us were able to make it across. No casualties.
Dusty and worn, we piled in the van for a short drive to the village of Gandov, where a family had prepared a feast fit for royalty to feed us and one other group. This meal was as good as the first, with the noteworthy addition of dolma. Oh, dolma, what I wouldn’t do for you…
By the time we got back to Baku, it was nearly 11:00 pm. It had been a long day — over 15 hours — but we couldn’t complain. The chance to see the villages of Kohnedakhar, Dere, and Keneye was pretty special, as I never would’ve found them on my own. And I loved how generous the meals were. To be honest, the cost of the tour would’ve been fair if it ONLY included the lunch and dinner… the hike was just a freakin’ giant cherry on top!
Camping Azerbaijan Review
I was so impressed by my experience with Camping Azerbaijan. Tural — our hike leader — was on top of communication when I was inquiring about and booking the hike, and did a great job of leading the group all day. The planning and organization were impeccable; this was among the most well-organized tours I’ve ever been on. If you’re looking for an affordable and unique way to experience the countryside of Azerbaijan, you’ve found it. Camping Azerbaijan is the best!
Hats off to Tural, Leyla, and all of the other Camping Azerbaijan staff for running an awesome operation. And thanks also to the families in Kohnedakhar, Dere, and Keneye who stuffed us to bursting with delicious food and tea. It really was a perfect day 🙂
Want to follow this route? I highly recommend going with Camping Azerbaijan, as they coordinated all the mouth-watering meals we enjoyed. But if you want to try and go it alone, check out my Ramblr trip HERE.
How about you? Have you ever done a tour or group hike which surpassed your expectations? Where was it and how was your experience? Let me know in the comments below!