Azerbaijan’s secret to longevity? Mountain air in the town of Lerik

(CNN) – There are many destinations around the world that are famous for the longevity of their residents.
In Japan, the faithful centenarians of Okinawa have earned the nickname “Land of the Immortals.” Campodimele, Italy’s “City of Eternity”, is a testament to the Mediterranean diet. In the sunny town of Loma Linda, California, a Seventh-day Adventist community reaping the fruits of pure living.
There’s a long corner of the world you won’t hear much talk about, and it’s home to the world’s only Living Museum. That’s Lerik in the south of Azerbaijan.

There are several regions in the South Caucasus country known for producing triple digit populations, including Lankaran and Nagorno-Karabakh. But another one, Lerik, seems to have the highest concentration in centuries.

In this emerald land above the clouds of the Talysh Mountains, reached by a serpentine road loop after loop, people seem to have discovered the secret to a long and healthy life.

Longitude Museum

Built in 1991 and renovated in 2010, the two-room Longitude Museum has more than 2,000 exhibits documenting the lives and memories of the region’s oldest residents.

It marks the lifespan of an individual, with household items that have survived, such as three generations of clothes irons. There are boxes full of scarves and shirts, silver jugs and bowls, beautifully knitted socks and hand-dyed rugs that are still brightly colored despite their age.

And then there are the letters, written in both Azerbaijani and Russian, personal artifacts so old that the ink is fading.

Perhaps the most attractive features are the centenarian portraits that cover the museum’s walls. These images, from the 1930s, were provided by the French photographer Frederic Lachop.

The museum, and Azerbaijan’s official statistics, define “centenarian” more loosely than you might think: Here, it means anyone over 90 years old.

However, in 1991, there were more than 200 people registered in Lerik who were over 100 years old, out of a population of 63,000.

The numbers have not been as impressive since then, which locals blame on radiation from communications towers and environmental degradation, but they may be moving towards stricter records.

Today, there are 11 people over 100 years old, out of a population of 83,800.

The story of the 168-year-old man

Is this the oldest man in the world? Maybe not

Kamilla Rzayeva

The current oldest citizen of Lerik is Raji Ibrahimova, at 105 years old. The harvest is good, but it pales in comparison to the age of the region’s most famous centenarian, Shirali Muslumov, a shepherd who is believed to have lived to be 168 years old.

Those pages in his passport say he was born in 1805 and his tombstone says he died in 1973. If true, he would be the oldest person to have ever lived.

Unfortunately, the XIX. In the early 19th century, birth records were rarely kept in his native villages as far away as Barzavu, so there is no verifiable record of when he was born.

Several letters from around the world leave no doubt that this was a very respectable age, but perhaps it is better to consider a margin of error of at least 20 years.

Among those who corresponded with Muslumov was the Vietnamese communist leader Ho Chi Minh, who sent him a postcard with the affectionate greeting “Dear Grandfather”.

This longevity gene seems to run in the family. His 95-year-old daughter, Halima Qambarova, told CNN Travel that — while she may not live to be 168, like her father — she hopes to live to be at least 150, like her grandfather, or 130, like her. his aunt

‘Silence of Mind’

When the weather turns cold, most centenarians tend to relocate to the more pleasant climes of the Lankaran coast, but Qambarova was still in the village of Barzavu Lerik when CNN Travel descended on her father’s modest two-story house, surrounded by towering apple and pear trees (probably contemporary). of his famous father).

Sitting by the window, wrapped in a shawl, she speaks with a slight accent, often switching to her mother tongue, Talyshe, a dialect spoken by only 200,000 people and classified as “vulnerable” by UNESCO.

He shows his passport, with no month or date of birth on it, just the year: 1924. He may be 95, but he’s totally present, interacting with his great-grandchildren and showing his lively sense of humor. When asked his age, he cheerfully replied: “15”.

“The silence of the mind is part of their secret,” says the museum guide. “They stay away from stress, thinking about life quite philosophically, living one day at a time, without much planning or concern for the future.”

Good nutrition and natural remedies

For the story about the Longitude Museum of Azerbaijan

Halima Qanbarova is 95 years old. His grandfather is said to have lived to be 150, his father to be 168 and his aunt to be 130.

Kamilla Rzayeva

Qambarova’s day begins at dawn; doesn’t let him sleep. “I get up as soon as I open my eyes,” he says.

He works all day in the garden or around the house. Her room is small, with a thick soft carpet and pillows on the floor. Many people here prefer to sleep on the floor, with only a thin blanket instead of a mattress, as it is believed to be the healthiest way to rest the back.

Contrary to popular belief, Lerik’s centenarians eat meat, but their love of fresh dairy products such as shor (cheese), butter, milk and the yogurt drink ayran was inherited from the previous centenarians, for whom abstinence from meat was more important. due to the economic situation.

Qambarova’s daughter brings a large plate of pears and apples from her garden and fragrant tea.

It’s herbal, floral and refreshing. Back at the museum, the guide shows Lerik a table with various local herbs.

“The secret to a long life is good nutrition, the minerals in the tap water and the herbs we add to the tea to prevent disease, people don’t need to take medicine, using only natural remedies,” says the guide. In fact, Qambarova insists that she has never taken any medication.

Generations living side by side

Beyond his windows, the town seems quiet and still. But the physical work that the villagers do every day is enormous. From dawn to dusk they work in the gardens and fields, as well as around the house. They sew and knit and take care of large families.

Such was the life of Mammadkhan Abbasov in the village of Jangamiran for 103 years. Sitting on the carpet, opposite the window, the centenarian has almost completely lost sight and barely hears his son say that the guests have arrived, but when he finally catches him, he starts singing, offering prayers and good wishes.

At Abbasov’s side is his grandson — a century apart.

Like Qambarova, Abbasov has been a busy villager all his life, working in the fields until about seven years ago when his eyesight began to deteriorate.

‘God gives’

For the story about the Longitude Museum of Azerbaijan

It is a demonstration of the benefits of the fresh air of Mount Lerik.

Kamilla Rzayeva

“He has always been a good man and lived his life properly,” says the son.

When it comes to food, he eats “what God gives” with only one limitation: he never drinks alcohol.

Abbasov attributes his long life to daily physical activity, not to the point of exhaustion, but just enough to challenge the body.

Along with a good diet of farm produce, he also drank ice-cold spring water, which is rich in minerals, said to aid longevity.

Altitudes that cause mountain headaches can also be a factor.

The age of some of these centenarians may still be disputed, but here in Lerik their legacy lives on through people who adhere to Lerik’s simple secret to longevity: physical activity, good nutrition, plenty of water and an attitude towards life. says: We only live once, but if we do it right, once is enough.

Museum of Longevity, 22 A.Asadullayev Street, Lerik, Azerbaijan; (025) 274-47-11