Xinaliq is a rustic mountain village in the Caucasus, with dark houses built of mudstone and wood crowding the top of a hill. Looking for a homestay, the three of us were unlucky here, as our host not only charged a hefty price for accommodation and food, but fed us bread and cheese while the family got something warm. Out of respect for the shepherd dogs, we wanted a guide for the hike to the village of Lasa in the next valley, which our host gladly offered to do, for the outrageous price of $100. We could hardly agree to this, whereupon he said that hiking to Lasa would not be possible without a permit. He also “kindly” called his friend at the army post and no, it is indeed not possible. Since some of his stories contradicted each other, we suspected he wanted to make it impossible for us for less than $100. Of course we tried to find another one, but in this village everyone knows everyone and everyone has a mobile phone and we hear the same story about the permit and that it is not possible.
The next day we get two hiking poles and set off without a guide. An army patrol checks our passports, but then we are allowed to continue. The shepherd dogs that keep running towards us yelping and baring their teeth scare us the first time, but we only have to wait until the shepherd comes to us and leads us past the herd. In this area, the wealth of the people can be seen in the number of gold teeth, and they can’t be completely poor. So we walk past towering limestone mountains covered in clouds, a short shower, some fog, we pass many sheep and some dogs. Lasa is quite nicely situated (as far as we can tell with the clouds getting thicker) and has a completely different flair than Xinaliq. Not so medieval, even though there is no mobile phone mast here and no connection in the village….