14 October 2016

Hunting With Eagles In Western Mongolia

Spend time with the Kazakh eagle hunters of western Mongolia 

Mongolia is a harsh land -  unforgiving and at times barren. Frequently windswept. Especially so in far western Mongolia. 

 Bayan Ulgii Province in west Mongolia
Photo by our guest - photographer Massimo Rumi
It is in these harsh and unforgiving landscapes of western Mongolia where you will find the ancient sport of  hunting with eagles.  Berkutchi is a form of falconry traditionally found throughout the Eurasian steppe - it is still practiced by the Kazakhs of western Mongolia. (Kazakhs are the largest minority group in Mongolia with approximately 100,000 living in the provinces of western Mongolia.)
A Kazakh eagle hunter
Image by our guest - photographer Marius Coetzee
If you want to truly experience the way of life of a Kazakh eagle hunter, then you need to be prepared for -40 degree temperatures. And no, that wasn't a slip on the keyboard. I really did mean -40.

Autumn in Bayan Ulgii.
Photo by our guest - photographer Massimo Rumi
Yes, it is possible to experience the Kazakh way of life in temperatures warmer than -40 but it is the deep winter that you would get to understand the bond between the hunter and his eagle. In the words of Australian photographer Palani Mohan:

'They have an extraordinary bond with the golden eagle, which to them represents the wind, the open space, the isolation and the freedom found at the edge of the world.'
Although tour companies advertise one day experiences, typically the eagle hunters go for longer - leaving their homes and heading into the mountains on horseback. 

It takes time. Eagle hunters have no where else to be. No time constraints. You wait. No-one typically talks. You listen to the sound of the wind. From a rocky outcrop, the hunters scan the landscapes looking for prints left by foxes or wolves in the snow. And then, like a bullet the released eagle descends on its prey. 

 The eagles are captured as chicks (eaglets) and trained by the hunters. After several years of hunting, eagles are released back in to the wild to breed and live out their final years in freedom. 

A female golden eagle flying
Photo by our guest - photographer Massimo Rumi
Winter in Mongolia is not for everyone. But it is a remarkable experience for those willing to take themselves outside of their comfort zone. Bring a down jacket and come and challenge yourself. Things will not happen on a perfect schedule and conditions will be very rugged - you will be required to step outside your circle of comfort. Winter expeditions can be susceptible to unforeseen problems which might result in last minute itinerary changes.  Please base your expectations on this important point.

Why am I writing this post? For the last few years we have offered trips focusing on western Mongolia - working directly and independently with local families  - not through an agency or representative of another company.

And now we can offer something just that little bit different. First you'll enjoy the hospitality and way of life of the Kazakh families we work with.

Yak milking

Morning duties at the winter pasture of the Dakhar family at Tsambagarav

Receiving Kazakh hospitality at the home of the Janatkhan family in Bugat district of Bayan Ulgii Province

And then, you'll undertake a four day expedition travelling alongside the eagle hunter. The expedition itself we leave entirely in the hands of the eagle hunter that hosts us - the arrangement of the hunting, the location and the families with which we stay en-route.  

What can you expect? Incredibly beautiful landscapes. Bitter cold and a biting wind.  Accommodation will be only with local families, leaving very little chance for any privacy. And you will be deeply affected by the solitude and space. Of that there is no doubt. 

So pack your thermals and come to Mongolia this winter and do something a little out of the ordinary. 
Sailaukhan - one of the Kazakh eagle hunters we work with
Image by our guest - photographer Marius Coetzee
Read any 'how to' book or blog post on how to write a business blog and they'll probably recommend that the end of the blog post there should be some kind of 'call to action.' Sometimes I even do that. Not this time. I'll just leave you with the above images and look forward to hearing from you if you're looking for something just that little bit different this winter.

As always, thanks for reading. Jess