Mongolia #5 – Olgii’s Golden Eagle Festival – Day 2 – October 2014

January 25, 2019

It was 23°F outside under a blazing blue sky as the second day of the 16th Annual Golden Eagle Festival began. Different from the previous day’s event where eagles had to attack a dead rabbit or fox being drug behind their trainer’s horse, today they had to zero in on their owner who held a chunk of meat in his gloved hand while riding at full speed across the field. Sharp talons extended, as soon as the eagle had landed on the glove, breakfast was served. This too was all timed by officials and the Kazakh hunters would race by the judging stand with his eagle enjoying the ride with wings open in an impressive display of the close relationship of man, horse and bird.

Hunters demonstrating their Skills

Once the eagle landed on her trainer's glove the galloping horse was quickly brought to a stop.

Once the eagle landed on her trainer’s glove the galloping horse was quickly brought to a stop.

While the next competition was being organized, we wandered around the gers (yurts) where beautiful “tus kis”, (hand-embroidered tapestries), used to decorate the ger walls and other souvenirs were for sale. Several locals had set up grills to cook “shashlik”, skewers of mutton and fat sprinkled with their own special spices, served with raw sliced onions and bread.

Among the local Kazakh Mongolians, there were several archery contests. In one competition, instead of pointed arrows, they used blunt tips and the goal was to hit small leather balls that had been lined up about 30 yards away. It looked like billiards with a Mongolian twist. Their accuracy was impressive.

Bloody Knuckles in Tug-a-War 

It was a fierce battle to the end until one of the riders ended up with the sheep carcass in his lap.

It was a fierce battle to the end until one of the riders ended up with the sheep carcass in his lap.

Meanwhile, the camel race was being staged. It was not as action-packed as we might have imagined, since the ungainly bactrians are not really into galloping across the stony desert. They were encouraged on by men on horseback riding along side with whips.

Archery Competition

There were several archery contests.

There were several archery contests.

Back in the main arena, the final competition for the eagle hunters was getting under way. A sheep carcass was tossed on the ground and the riders, two at a time, would pick it up and get a firm grip for an exciting tug-a-war that could last several minutes until one of the riders succeeded in wrestling the bloody carcass away from the other. The horses played a critical role in the battle and the skill of the riders was amazing as they kept their grip on the carcass and used the power of their stocky Mongolian horses to the best advantage. Competition was fierce and we spotted quite a few who were nursing their bleeding knuckles. Apparently there were some rules because there was an umpire watching the battle.

Ashol-Pan breaks the Male Tradition

The big sensation was 13 year old Ashol-Pan, the first female to become an eagle hunter, or is it huntress?

The big sensation was 13 year old Ashol-Pan, the first female to become an eagle hunter, or is it huntress?

In past years, the winner of the eagle contest was allowed to send his eagle after a live fox or a small wolf pup as a final demonstration of the eagle’s skill for the crowd. The fox this year died or was killed, so a wolf pup was to be used. However, there were so many sympathetic foreign spectators that someone purchased the poor wolf to spare its life. How it will manage in the wild of the coming winter in the mountains full of other hungry eagles is a good question. As cruel as some may think it is to hunt cute little foxes or wolves or rabbits and other small animals with an eagle instead of a rifle, we meat-eaters regularly kill deer, moose, elk for sport, and slaughter cows or cute baby lambs to eat. Eagle hunting has been a tradition in this part of the world for over 2,000 years.

Hand-embroidered Tus Kis were tempting

Beautiful “tus kis”, (hand-embroidered tapestries) used to decorate the ger walls were for sale.

Beautiful “tus kis”, (hand-embroidered tapestries) used to decorate the ger walls were for sale.

Nothing goes to waste. In these deserts and high mountains, natives eat basically only meat just like the hunter/gatherers in Paleolithic times. Gathering winter pelts is part of the hunter/herder’s livelihood and still provides the warm clothing for the severe winters. Some of their beautiful coats were a testimony to their hunting success.

It made us feel better to learn that when the trained eagle has reached the age of about 10 years, she is taken to a mountain top, presented with a dead sheep as a going-away present and released to the wild to once again live a life of freedom and to breed.

The comical Camel Race 

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The camel race was quite funny. A couple of them refused to budge.

All in all, a very exciting two days of a spectacle we could probably not see anywhere else in the world. Now it was time to make a new plan. As much as we would have liked to drive back to Ulaanbaatar, taking our time to visit some of the remote families herding their sheep, yaks, cows, horses, camels and goats along the way, and then heading for the Central Gobi desert to celebrate Monika’s birthday, The Turtle V needed some repairs on the rear suspension and a full check-up after its grueling 900-mile crossing of the Altai Gobi. The first step was to wash off the mud and dust. Clean trucks run better. An email to Hellwig Products in Visalia, CA, set our rescue mission for replacement parts in motion. We get emergency product support from all of our sponsors and Hellwig was a great example. A new bracket and bolts were in the express mail the next day.

 

4 Responses to “Mongolia #5 – Olgii’s Golden Eagle Festival – Day 2 – October 2014”

  1. Wow, thanks for the awesome report.

    God Bless

  2. Great series of blogs on Mongolia…really enjoying your images and commentary. I’m not sure we’ll make it there with our rig, but it looks like a real adventure!

  3. Thanks for the pictures. These are some of your best.

  4. When filming The Jewel of the Nile in Morocco, the camel (a Dromedary, or one-hump) ridden by Danny DeVito’s stunt double decided it didn’t like running along side a train, so made a sharp left turn and took off at a gallop across the desert. We didn’t see them again for an hour . . . camels can run very fast when inspired, and can out-run a horse for short periods of time.

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