Country #28 – Azerbaijan: The Land of Fire or the Distant Cousin of Polo

This was another case of go-off-the-rails trip. “Emotional roller-coaster” is by far the best way to describe it.

Unfortunately, our Georgian driver, who helped us to go to Armenia, couldn’t drive us to Azerbaijan because of a bizarre Azerbaijan law prohibiting more than eight-year-old vehicles vehicles from crossing the borders.

Fortunately, we managed to find the driver on the Azerbaijan side to pick us up.

Unfortunately, he was late by 40 minutes, destroying our hopes for a long ride.

Fortunately, the car was a very comfortable Mercedes-Benz E-Class.

Unfortunately, we understood each other incorrectly, so we had to pay for the trip twice as much as initially planned.

Fortunately, the place we were going had very nice stables, a hippodrome, and many beautiful horses.

Unfortunately, a terrible cloudburst occurred, and we were not allowed to trail ride because of fear of mudflow.

Fortunately, the rainfall stopped the minute our horses were saddled.

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Unfortunately, spending hours to get here just to ride circles on a horse, which was too short for me, on a local hippodrome was pretty disappointing as my husband is mostly a trail rider (preferably without trot and canter included :-), so he got bored after a couple of circles around the hippodrome.

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Fortunately, they told me to get my husband a horse when he had enough of “pointless riding” (circles don’t bring you anywhere, according to him).

Unfortunately, rain started again. :-(

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Fortunately, I noticed how one of the grooms was chasing a football across the field using a polo-like mallet, and from this moment, I felt like we made the right choice coming here. :-) For another 30 to 40 minutes, I was working on my chovgan skills, practicing passes and strikes, and I even scored a couple of times to the empty gates. :-)  Chovgan is the Azerbaijan cousin of the polo game and is included in the UNESCO list of intangible heritage of Azerbaijan. Considering that my last polo lesson was about four years ago, I was surprised at how much I still remembered.

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Unfortunately (and this was the last “unfortunately” of the day), we noticed another interesting thing when our riding time was already over. This is the hoop for another famous local equestrian game sur-papaq, which is also known as “equestrian basketball.” My husband is an avid basketball player, and he even managed to teach me a pair of tricks—so it would be an absolutely perfect opportunity to try a game that combines both of our passions . . . hopefully next time.

We left Azerbaijan at dawn with a pleasant feeling that we tried and learned something new that day.

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PS: Two days after our visit, the news about an armed conflict on the Armenia-Azerbaijan border came, meaning that the timing for our one-day trip couldn’t be more right. There is no way we would have been allowed to Azerbaijan with the Armenian stamps in our passports.

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