Hunting with Golden Eagles in Mongolia
Our TVs and cinema screens bring us evocative images of the Kazakh Eagle Hunters of Western Mongolia; The Eagle Huntress, BBC Human Planet and more give us a brief glimpse into their lives. But how about actually joining them, staying with them and flying an eagle yourself? Well you can...
Starting with the basics; the Altai region of Outer Mongolia is a long, long way from anywhere so allow for 11 days to get the most out of this extraordinary journey. You will start in Ulaanbaatar, the capital of Mongolia before taking an internal flight to Bayan Ulgii in the far west. It's then into a 4x4 for your journey to an Eagle Hunters home. You'll stay in a private ger (yurt) alongside the family ger joining them to eat and learn about nomadic life. For a couple of nights you will lie in bed listening to the murmurs of the livestock as you drift off to sleep dreaming of your days activities.
The Altai region has an air of the Wild West about it and you'll spend two of days learning about hunting with a Golden Eagle, how the birds are treated with love and respect before being re-released into the wild, helping train the her (hunting eagles are usually female) and riding out on horseback across breathtaking plains and mountains.
Time your journey right to join in on an Eagle Festival where many of the just 200 eagle hunters come together to celebrate their nomadic life and this ever dwindling tradition. Full Kazakh regalia, best furs and decorated horses make this a spectacular event, an eagle on the back of a motorbike is quite intriguing; horse racing, camel racing and Bushkashi - goat skin tug-o-war on horseback will demonstrate awesome horsemanship. You may even meet Aisholpan, star of The Eagle Huntress movie. These celebrations last two days and you'll get to know the charcters involved and be able to immerse yourself in the drama of the competition.
You'll get used to a slower pace of life here learning about nomadic culture so spend you last day in the Altai riding or hiking in the mountains and aborbing the sheer grandeur of the landscape - don't forget to take a good camera.
Then fly back to Ulaanbaatar where we recommend allowing a day to explore the country near the city - visit the huge 40m tall Chinggis Khan (Ghengis Khan) monument and the beautiful Gorkhi-Terelj National Park - a striking contrast to the West - it even has trees.
Where to stay:
When out in Western Mongolia you will be staying an a traditional ger (yurt). For a couple of nights next to your eagle hunter hosts where you can help with the daily tasks such as milking the animals, collecting wood and of course learning about the eagle. You'll enjoy very basic facilities, a long drop toilet and a bowl of water to wash in.
When attending a festival you will be staying in a private PJ ger camp with a 'dining' ger, a rudimentary pump shower and long drop toilet tent. This is an extraordinary adventure after all.
Top and tail your trip with a hot shower and soft carpet in Ulaanbaatar in the comfortable Tuushin Hotel or upgrade for a bit more luxury in the Shangri-La.
James' Top Tips:
- Learn a bit of Kazakh. Most Kazakhs do not speak Mongolian in this region, and any attempt to speak the local language will endear you to locals. Also, have a song ready for any after dinner sing-a-longs.
- Ride to the festival with your host on the first day of the competition. An electric atmosphere of excitement and camaraderie builds as hunters from across the province gather and greet each other. Once introduced, you can follow their progress in the different events and cheer them on throughout the festival.
- During the festival, climb to the place on the cliff where the eagles are released for spectacular views and great camera shots.
When to go:
The main festivals are held in September and October so this is the best time to visit to join in the celebrations. This is the beginning of Autumn so you need to be prepared that it may be cold, especially at night, however your hosts will keep the stove in your ger hot at all times.
How much will it cost:
For two people this journey would typically cost from $6,000 per person inclucing internal flights but excluding international flights.