Where Eagles Fly: Mongolia’s Eagle Festival
Mongolia’s westernmost province, remote Bayan-Ulgii, is where the Altai Mountains unite Western China, Russia, Mongolia and Kazakhstan. Here on the rocky ridges overlooking the snow-dusted steppe, a dwindling number of ethnic Kazakhs living in Western Mongolia carry on a 6,000-year-old tradition, hunting with magnificent golden eagles, one of the world’s largest predatory birds.
Steppe nomads have used birds of prey for hunting for thousands of years. The birds’ keen eyesight and ability to survey the grasslands from far above give them an advantage that humans were able to harness to their own ends. Today, youngsters are being taught to tame and train their own birds, and enter the competitions to test themselves and their birds. In a recent development, the first female eagle hunter, , is training in a discipline that has been exclusively male up until now.
(click on photo to see larger version)
The hunters take pride in the handmade tomaga, the hood that covers the eagle’s head and helps to domesticate it; the bialeye, the protective glove that the eagle perches on when it’s being handled; and the tomach, the special hat made of fox-fur that signifies an eagle hunter.
The next day’s competition finds the eagles attacking fox skins dragged by their trainers on horseback. Judges evaluate their skill at hitting the target, their diving speed and gripping technique. This is what birds of prey are made for, and they are naturally gifted at this form of hunting.
Kazakh horse-games, such as ulak tartysh (or buzkashi as it is called in the Pamir Mountains of Tajikistan), a sort of polo played with a goat carcass, may also be on the agenda during lulls in the action.
Travel to Mongolia with MIR
MIR has more than 30 years of experience handcrafting tours to Mongolia. Our full service, dedication, commitment to quality, and destination expertise have twice earned us a place on National Geographic Adventure’s list of “Best Adventure Travel Companies on Earth.”
Join MIR’s new for 2018 small group tour: Mongolia’s Golden Eagle Festival. Travelers can attend the annual Golden Eagle Festival, where every autumn, ethnic Kazakh eagle hunters test their birds’ speed, skill and training, as they sight “game,” strike, and return to the hunter’s wrist. The journey includes an exploration of Mongolia’s capital, Ulaanbaatar, and a jaunt through the fabled Gobi Desert.
Chat with one of our destination specialists by email or by phone at 1-111-111-1111 to start planning your travels today.
(Top photo: Eagle hunters take the field at the Eagle Festival, Mongolia. Photo credit: Nomadic Expeditions)
PUBLISHED: February 5, 2015