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Golden Eagle Festival in Mongolia: Program and what to expect

Golden Eagle Festival in Mongolia: Program and what to expect

Ati 3 days ago
By Ati | Sunday 10 December, 2017 10 December, 2017
Mongolia tours guides

Golden Eagle Festival in Mongolia: Program and what to expect

Western Mongolia is known for the Kazakh people and their tradition of hunting with golden eagles. Kazakhs are proud of this tradition and are happy to share it with the world. There are possibilities to visit eagle hunter families or there are even two festivals that celebrate this unique tradition. One is the smaller Altai Eagle Festival (near Sagsai) and the other one is the bigger Golden Eagle Festival (near Olgii). Here is what you need to know. 

What is Eagle Hunting?

Eagle hunting is a nomadic tradition that has been practiced for centuries and has not changed since then. Eagles are used to hunt foxes, hares, and even wolves for their fur and flesh. There are different ways how the hunter gets his eagle. The most traditional way  is to take the eagle from their nest when they are still young. The ’Birkitchi' (Kazakh for eagle hunter) raises the eagle by hand thus forms a close relationship and builds up a trust bond. The birds are part of the every day life of the Kazakh families. Most of the time they wear a cap made of leather to keep them calm. In the summer they are held outside the ger sitting on poles. In the harsh winter time they stay inside the ger with the family. Unless they are on the hunt. Winter time is the primary hunting season. In the summer, when the birds change their feathers, no hunting takes place. Thats why they eat significantly more meat (up to 2 kg) in the summer. In contrast to the winter time when they are given less food to have a healthy appetite for prey. While hunting, the Kazakhs wear traditional clothing. Both the Birkitchi (on his hat) and the eagle (on his back) wear a feather jewels made out of owl feathers to protects the hunter and his eagle from evil spirits. The connection of the Birkitchi and its eagle is very strong knowing that they both benefit from each other. But this intimate relationship will come eventually to an end. Usually an eagle hunter sets his eagles free when it is 10-12 years old so they can enjoy the rest of their lives in freedom and reproduce. 

Nowadays up to 250 Kazakh Eagle Hunter still practice eagle hunting in Western Mongolia keeping this fascinating tradition alive and passing it on to the next generation. If you want to be a part of this unique experience, you can find tours and guides for the Eagle Festivals here.

What to expect from the Golden Eagle Festival?

The UNESCO World Heritage Cultural Event listed festival is a great opportunity to witness this tradition. The festival is held on the first weekend in October. It takes place around 8 km outside of the city Olgii in Bugat Sum. The festival is essentially a 2-day tournament with different competitions. Around 70 eagle hunters from the area participate in front of a jury. In previous years there were around 300 spectators mostly tourists, photographers and locals. 

The competition ground is not more then a big space marked with a lock tape and a tent for the jury and a little stage. But that is also what makes it still so authentic. It is all very simple and the focus lies on the actual hunting competition. There are some locals who sell Kazakh handicraft work and traditional cloths as well as hats. There are small snacks and drinks available, but it's better to bring your own food and drink.

Festival Program

The festival starts on a Saturday around 9 am. But don’t expect a Swiss punctuality. Mostly it starts when it starts. At the “entrance” you will have to pay a fee (30-40 dollars) to enter the festival - if you're not with a tour. Around noon, there's break of one hour for lunch. Either way you can stay at the festival ground or make your way back to Ölgii to go to a restaurant and have a proper meal. Or stay with the eagle hunters and lunch with them in one of the many Russian vans. The afternoon program starts at around 2 pm. But to make sure you don’t miss anything is is advisable to stick around the festival. Both days finish in the late afternoon. On Saturday evening, there is a traditional concert with Kazakh music and dance performances held in the city hall/theatre in the center of Olgii. Makes sure you are there early to get a seat. The price of the concert should be included in your ticket for the festival. 

Day 1

  • The parade: All participating eagle hunters take part at the opening ceremony. 
  • The presentation: The eagle hunter present themselves before the jury. They evaluates the appearance of the eagle hunter, the horse, the traditional clothing as well as the equipment.
  • The call: The eagles are placed on the hillside and must follow the call of their Birkitchi and land on his arm. The fastest eagle wins the most points. 
  • Horse racing: The children and young people from the region take part in a spectacular race around the mountain .
  • Tiyn teru: The men show their riding abilities by lifting up cloths/coins from the ground.

 

Day 2

  • The hunt: This is the highlight of the festival. The eagles hunt a dummy which is pulled by the eagle hunters. The faster the eagle catches the prey, the more points they will get.
  • The camel race: Camels and riders take part in a unusual but amazing race. 
  • Kiz Kuar: A horse race between man and woman. The woman has to chase the man with a swinging whip. The couple, who masters the course the fastest, wins.
  • Kokpar: A contest among the men. Two participants battle about the headless body of a dead sheep. Whoever can pull the sheep on his side wins.
  • Presentation ceremony: the winners of each category will be announced and rewarded. 

 

What to bring?

  • Warm clothes because it can get already cold in October
  • Good and comfortable shoes because you will stand and walk a lot
  • A scarf or something to cover your face if it is windy and the sand gets blown in your face
  • Money to pay for the entrance fee and to buy souvenirs
  • Maybe a folded chair because there are no sitting opportunities available
  • Sunscreen to protect your skin
  • Gloves and a hat
  • Sunglasses
  • Binoculars
  • Camera
  • Food & beverage

 

Comments (3)

Khanat

Khanat

4 years ago

For the Kazakh eagle hunters the hunted animal itself is not the main goal. A hunting with a berkut is spectacular. The Berkutchi with horse standing on a hill, sets the fox and at the same time removes the special cap (tomaga) from bird’s head that covered its eyes. The bird falls like bullet from the skies, all the while remaining in total control of its flight and hitting the target with superb precision. The berkut sinks its talons into its prey in death grip. To observe one’s own trained bird, diving from a dizzying height as it catches the target, is an incomparable pleasure.

Dildabek

Dildabek

3 years ago

Is this girl that famous Kazakh girl from the film, which was created and recently presented in Europe? She was trained by her farther. What is her name? 

Do you know what tribe are that Kazakh people from the photos: Kerey or Naiman? Sorry for this foolish question.

Ati

Ati

3 years ago

Yes, that's her. Her name is Aisholpan. Some of the Eagle hunters are Iyteli, from Altai sum.