Azerbaijan’s secret to a long life? Mountain air in the village of Lerik

(CNN) – There are a number of destinations all over the world famous for the longevity of their residents.
There is a long-lived corner of the globe that you may not have heard so much about and it is home to the only Museum of Longevity in the world. That’s Lerik in the south Azerbaijan.

The South Caucasus country is home to several regions known for producing residents living to a triple-digit age, including Lankaran and Nagorno-Karabakh. But another, Lerik, is known for having the highest concentration of centenarians.

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

The Museum of Longevity

The two-room Museum of Longevity, built in 1991 and renovated in 2010, houses more than 2,000 artifacts documenting the life and memories of the region’s oldest inhabitants.

Track individual lifespan with household items that have survived, such as three generations of flat irons. There are crates full of scarves and T-shirts, silver jugs and bowls, beautifully knitted socks and hand-dyed rugs that are still colorful despite their age.

And then there are the letters, written in both Azerbaijani and Russian – personal artifacts so old that the ink starts to fade.

Perhaps the most eye-catching features are the portraits of centenarians that cover the walls of the museum. These images, dating back to the 1930s, were donated by the French photographer Frederic Lachop.

Azerbaijan’s museum and official statistics define “centenary” more loosely than you’d expect: here it means anyone over 90.

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

The numbers have been less impressive since then, which locals blame in various ways for communications tower radiation and environmental decline, but could easily be traced back to tighter registration.

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

The story of the 168-year-old man

For the story about the Azerbaijan Longevity Museum

Is he the oldest man in the world ever? Maybe not.

Kamilla Rzaeva

Lerik’s current senior citizen is Raji Ibrahimova, 105 years old. It’s a good year, but it pales in comparison to the age presumably reached by the area’s most celebrated centennial, Shirali Muslumov, a shepherd who presumably lived to be 168 years old.

The yellow pages of his passport state that he was born in 1805 and his tombstone states that he died in 1973. If that were true, he would be the oldest person who ever lived.

Unfortunately, in the early 19th century, birth records rarely occurred in villages as remote as his birthplace of Barzavu, so there are no certifiable records of when he was born.

Countless letters sent from all over the world on his various birthdays leave no doubt that he was indeed a respectable age, but perhaps it is best to consider a minimum margin of error of 20 years.

Among the correspondents with Muslumov was the Vietnamese Communist leader Ho Chi Minh, who sent him a postcard greeting him with affection: “Dear grandfather”.

This longevity gene appears to run in the family. Her 95-year-old daughter, Halima Qambarova, tells CNN Travel that she – although she may not live to be 168, like her father – she hopes to at least live to 150, like her grandfather, or 130, like here aunt.

‘stillness of the mind’

When the weather turns cold, most centenarians move to the milder coastal climates of Lankaranbut Qambarova was still in the Lerik village of Barzavu when CNN Travel passed her father’s modest two-story house, surrounded by huge apple and pear trees (probably contemporaries of her famous father).

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

He shows his passport, which doesn’t list a month or date of birth, just the year: 1924. He may be 95, but he’s fully present, interacts with his great-grandchildren, and demonstrates his lively sense of humor. When asked about her age, she cheerfully replies: “15.”

“The quiet 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 Azerbaijan Longevity Museum

Halima Qanbarova is a 95-year-old young woman. Her grandfather is said to have lived to 150, her father to 168 and her aunt to 130.

Kamilla Rzaeva

Qambarova’s day begins at dawn; she does not let herself sleep. “I get up as soon as I open my eyes,” she says.

Spends the whole day working in the garden or around the house. Her room is small, with a thick, soft carpet and cushions 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 their back.

Contrary to popular belief, Lerik’s centenarians eat meat, but have inherited a preference for fresh dairy products such as shor (cottage cheese), butter, milk, and the ayran yogurt drink from the early centenarians, for whom meat abstinence was more due to economic circumstances.

Qambarova’s daughter-in-law brings a large plate with pears and apples from their garden and some aromatic tea.

It is herbaceous, floral and refreshing. Back at the museum, the guide shows a table with the various indigenous herbs of Lerik.

“The secret to long life is good nutrition, the minerals in spring water and the herbs we add to tea to prevent disease, so people don’t have to take any medications, just use natural remedies,” the guide says. In fact, Qambarova insists that she has never taken any medications.

Generations living side by side

Beyond its windows, the village may appear to be peaceful and quiet. But the physical work the villagers do every day is immense. From sunrise to sunset they work in the gardens and fields as well as around the house. I cook and knit and take care of large families.

Such was the lifestyle of Mammadkhan Abbasov, a 103-year-old from the village of Jangamiran. Sitting on the carpet, facing the window, the centenarian has almost completely lost his sight and can barely hear his son telling him that the guests have arrived, but when he finally catches it, he starts singing, offering prayers and good wishes.

Beside Abbasov is his great-grandson: a century of distance between them.

Just like Qambarova, Abbasov was a busy villager all his life, working in the fields until about seven years ago when his eyesight deteriorated.

‘Whatever God Gives’

For the story about the Azerbaijan Longevity Museum

Lerik testifies to the benefits of fresh mountain air.

Kamilla Rzaeva

“He was always a good man and lived his life right,” says his son.

In terms of food, he eats “all that God gives” with one restriction: he never drinks alcohol.

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

In addition to the good nutrition of the farm’s produce, he also drank gallons of frozen spring water, rich in minerals that are said to contribute to longevity.

Headache-inducing mountain altitudes can also be a factor.

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

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