Mongolia is a home to an amazing old tradition of hunting with trained Golden Eagles, that has been in existence across the Central Asian steppe for 6,000 years. Genghis Khan and Kublai Khan both had thousands of hunting birds, and their falconry expeditions were well documented by Marco Polo. This tradition has been passed from generation to generation among the Kazakh nomads in the beautiful Altai Mountains.
So, you've traveled around the world a bit, but you want to experience something different? Somewhere you're off the beaten track, as soon as you get there? To have a once in a lifetime experience… meet the remarkable eagle hunters and their birds, to learn about their techniques of capturing and training an eagle. Escape to Mongolia and witness the most dramatic and primal relationship between man and beast...
“An eagle hunter I met told the story of one of his friend's eagles, which was honourably discharged after 8 years of service. Years later, the hunter was out riding with his friend, and they looked up and saw two eagles circling high overhead. The hunter said, "that's my eagle." His friend scoffed, but the hunter gave a high-pitched whistle and, sure enough, the bird came down and landed right on his arm!”
Ethnic Kazakhs make up the majority of the population in Western Mongolia. Each year, they hold a few festivals for their renowned Eagle Hunters in Bayan-Ulgii province in late September. The thrilling festivals feature about 30-70 eagle hunters or the “Berkutchi” (a Kazakh word for falconers that hunt with eagles) each, and their mighty eagles that show off their hunting skills in several competitions starting with chasing a fox skin. The festival also includes other unique events such as competitions between the eagles, horseback racing, archery and great Kazakh traditional games such as Kokbar, where nomadic men compete for a goatskin on horseback. The others are Tiyn Teru (a race to pick a coin off the ground from horseback) and Kyz Kuu (a flirtatious event where men and women race - if the man wins he gets a kiss). Winners are selected and awarded in each competition.
Festivities begin with the hunters parade, displaying their hunting outfits, accessories and traditional dress. Still, the cloaks, hats and other clothing the hunters wrap themselves in during the winter are made from fur pelts, and the eagles themselves are treated with honour by the hunters, and are always released back into the wild after 8-10 years.
Watch first-hand as the hunters pamper their birds and cheer for them during the competitions. Here’s this year’s dates and venues:
- Altai Eagle Festival is organised on September 17-18th in Sagsai soum, Bayan-Ulgii province.
- Golden Eagle Festival is on September 30th - October 1st in Bugat soum, Bayan-Ulgii province.
- Hansonar Eagle Festival is on October 7th in Sagsai soum, Bayan-Ulgii province.
*If you are interested to attend one of these Festivals, please contact us for more details.
Mongolian Nomad Kazakhs are only people in the world, who still keep their unique nomadic lifestyle, which has strong connection with hunting with golden eagle. Immerse yourself in the unique landscape, culture and traditions of Western Mongolia and gain an intimate insight into the lives of local eagle hunters. Accompany these fascinating mountain nomads on their hunts, and explore the breathtaking countryside.
PHOTO CREDIT: Sasha Leahovcenco | Jennifer King.