A history buff and a mountain lover, my fascination with Mongolia took root a couple of years ago. Let’s just say it was the result of a night long discussion on Genghis Khan (Chinggis Khan), but that is a story for some other day. So, returning to the topic in hand, I am all set to take a 20-day long trip to the country of raw landscapes picked straight out of heaven.
Initially, my itinerary read straight – the golden sands of Gobi Desert and the pristine architecture at Ulaanbaatar. I dived into the internet head first and that is when I came across the Golden Eagle Festival for the first time. It is exactly like it sounds!
The Golden Eagle Festival is a competition between Kazakh Eagle Hunters, who unlike the rest of the world use eagles to hunt their prey.
Eagles make for such fantastic beasts!
“Fine horses and fierce eagles are the wings of the Kazakhs”
Going back to the 15th century, Golden Eagle festival is a celebration of the Kazakh heritage and culture. The Kazakh eagle hunters or Burkitshi, are originally from Kazakhstan and train their falcons to hunt its prey. Held in the rocky terrains just outside Bayan-Olgii in Western Mongolia, the Festival is all about the regal bird and its coordination with its trainer.
Dressed in ethnic Kazakh outfits, the Burkitshi perched on their royally adorned horses is a sight worth seeing. The fur coats, glorious hats and thick gloves for their birds – the eagle hunters come prepared to carry forward the 2000-year-old tradition!
The Golden Eagle Festival has a number of rounds, which requires the hunters to get their eagles to perform various tasks. One of the rounds would involve the hunters luring their eagle to their hand upon the bird’s release from the mountains. The winner is decided basis the time taken by the eagle!
Another round includes having a bait, usually a dead hare or fox, attached to the back of the hunter’s horse; the eagle then has to attack his prey and earn its price.
The entire affair is extremely nerve-racking as the contestants here are the birds, creatures trained to hunt and do it in their own time with their own quirks. In the past, bloggers have reported instances, wherein the eagle unaware of the prey being dead, takes time to circle over the prey – enjoying their freedom and scaring the prey. When the instinct to hunt takes over, the eagles are also known to go for stray puppies in the surrounding area.
The Golden Eagles Festival can get pretty vicious!
A dying culture?
Dressed in their sharp hunting attire, the Burkitshi are struggling to keep this custom alive, now prone to the evils of urbanisation, causing migration of birds and hunters. In 2014, only 72 hunters were said to have participated.
The festival is also a debated affair as animal’s rights activists have pointed it out as cruelty towards animals, condemning the whole process.
The Golden Eagles Festival could soon become history!
A Mongolian Affair!
Regal hunters sporting their golden birds, with icy bursting winds between edgy mountains – Golden Eagle Festival is indeed a rare sight.
Eagle hunting is a rite of passage of sorts, fathers passing on their skills and heritage to young boys and even girls now. The festival even boasted teenage girl winners a few years ago!
If you plan to be a part of this festival, is slated to take place on September 30th and October 1st. The two-day festival will be packed with eagle hunting competitions and sports such as horse rides, camel rides, and the kazakhs will compete in their traditional game called Kukbar.
For long term travellers, a month long trip should give you enough time to experience the heritage, landscapes, and the festival of talons.
All Images Courtesy: All that is Interesting
Featured Image Courtesy: Flashes of the Altai.
Neither a wordsmith, nor a traveller! Saloni is an inquisitive soul with a knack of being at the wrong place at the wrong time. But, that’s how memories are made, she believes! An ardent Ruskin Bond fan, she discovered her love for mountains in his words. When not making travel plans, she is hooked to the world of TV series or Googl-ing conspiracy theories. To the world, she is known as Head – Content at Social Samosa. Follow her @SaloniSurti.