Where Eagles Dare
March in Mongolia
Stepping out on to the white powder snow looking down on twenty two Mongolian Kazakhs in traditional winter dress with Golden eagles on their forearms, riding shaggy little Mongolian horses is a sight I will never forget. Some were wearing traditionally woven Kazakh gowns others were wearing coats made of fox, wolf, marmot, rabbit, sheep, goat or cattle.
A truly amazing spectacle of man at one with nature...... besides the GPS’s and mobile phones they carried.
These Kazakh riders had come down from the north west of Mongolian where temperatures drop down below -60 C which is about -75F and they still fly the eagles during the winter, these are tough men, birds and horses (you don’t call them ponies despite their size). They had come down to Ulaanbaatar to have the second of only two festivals held each year honouring this ancient tradition. The other is in October in the actual Kazakh region of Mongolia.
I was fortunate to be able to see them last year near to Ulaanbaatar as well but Nigel hadn’t so it was a wonderful opportunity that this time the ceremony was on a Saturday.
The men are judged on their outfits and their horse’s tack, their riding ability while handling a 5 kg eagle on their wrist, the eagles and how well the eagles are trained..... some proved to be very wayward.
The faces of these men, constantly facing harsh elements, tells its’ own story. I have included many photos as they are just amazing to me.
We watched as they paraded in front of huge ger and were awed by every part of a tradition dating back hundreds and hundreds of years and for me it was like stepping back in time, except I had my lovely digital camera to my eye to record this auspicious occasion.
We then headed about 500 metres away from the ger to wider open spaces where the horseman could gallop towards the three judges and be awarded points from 7 to 10 on the things I have already mentioned.
Being smart I positioned myself very close to the camera man with the biggest camera, in the hope that we were in the right position. I wasn’t so sure when the first man horseman came at a flat out gallop straight towards us with arm aloft, snow flying and this enormous bird spreading it wings to retain its’ balance.
One camera man wasn't quote so fortunate with his choice of position as one of the eagles obviously thought he was a wolf, probably due to his very smart hat, and made a beeline for him. It was very lucky noone was hurt as those talons are huge.
I don't think I was in the way, there again he came fairly close.
There were great cheers when a favourite came through and awe from the westerners who watched these amazing horseman and beautiful eagles.
The riders then retreated further up the hill to release the eagle to the rider calling it below with the hope it would land on the fist holding a small reward.... many eagles decided it was way too small an offering and flew in the opposite direction, where they were hastily retrieved by the embarrassed horseman.
When they did fly to the fist it was amazingly impressive sight, seeing this enormous bird flying free to then soar down and land with talons outstretched on to the fist.
Some of the riders then dragged a lure (fox with rabbit’s ears) at gallop behind the horse where nearly all the eagles flew straight down to the lure.
Note the lure in the eagles talons.
Although it was about -15C it was not cold and I was able to take about 500 photos before we treated with friends to a car to enjoy bubbles and cheese and biscuits.... strange thing to have when it is that cold but it was thoroughly enjoyable.
A bit of local talent I fancy in his very smart hat!
Back out to watch the last of the activities and help some of the archers find arrows lost in the snow and then fortunately from a good distance, watch a live fox released to be caught very quickly by two eagles that were released. We then watched, once again from a good distance, to see what we thought was a dog that the riders were trying to chase away from them to enable to be hunted by the eagles. We then heard that it was a wolf with its’ back legs tied but whether it was or not is very hard to see in the pictures I took. We hope it was not a wolf or dog with it’s’ legs tied as that is cruel beyond belief but regardless an animal welfare issue.
Nigel has written to a few local Mongols and they are going to try and find out what was the true story.
An amazing day, another reason why we find Mongolia such a fascinating place to live.
Robyn & Nigel