Mongolia #17 Day 8 of the Trek (03/10/15 Part a)

Today was the day many of us had been waiting for; the first of two days of the famous Eagle Festival which shows off Mongolian/Kazakh prowess at eagle handling and horsemanship.

DSC02014 © DY of jtdytravels

DSC02014 © DY of jtdytravels

The day dawned cold and windy but not frosty.  Instead of the beautiful blue sky we had become so used to, the sky carried a heavy load of cloud.  This was the view looking down the road leading to our overnight ger camp.

DSC02015 © DY of jtdytravels

DSC02015 © DY of jtdytravels

We shared our location with a family who had a couple of gers, animals and two cars. Their site was sheltered by some old trees. It was amazing to see how they had managed to get their roots through the rocky river bed to a subterranean water source.

When in town, the cooks had taken the opportunity to buy some fresh bread, so that was good. Both black and white bread were on offer at breakfast.

And after breakfast, it was time for us to enjoy the Golden Eagle festival, an event of great significance in Mongolia which has been held in Olgii on the first weekend in October since 1999.  This event, the largest gathering of eagle hunters and their eagles in the world, is now recognised by UNESCO as a World Heritage Event.  The eagles are the stars of the show; prizes are awarded for their speed, agility and accuracy.  Their trainers are inspected to find the best traditionally dressed individual. The festival also showcases other Mongolian pursuits such as horse-riding, archery and the goat carcass  tug-of-war (Kukhbar) on horseback.

DSC02019 © DY of jtdytravels

DSC02019 © DY of jtdytravels

The schedule of events looked very interesting and so it was with great anticipation that we headed off to the festival grounds for the opening ceremony.

DSC02081 © DY of jtdytravels

DSC02081 © DY of jtdytravels

The ‘Welcome’ sign with rows of white rocks demarcating the event ground where all of the activity for the next two days would take place.  

DSC02082 © DY of jtdytravels

DSC02082 © DY of jtdytravels

The grand march of horses, handlers and eagles began.

This area was backed by a rocky hill (to the left) from which the eagles would be launched.

DSC02093 © DY of jtdytravels

DSC02093 © DY of jtdytravels

The official line-up… an impressive backdrop for the day’s events.

DSC02047 © DY of jtdytravels

DSC02047 © DY of jtdytravels

Some of the eagle handlers/trainers were quite young.

I loved his hat…fur and feathers! It would look good in my hat collection.

DSC02024 © DY of jtdytravels

DSC02024 © DY of jtdytravels

Contestants wore their finest clothes and head gear.

Note the hare hanging from the saddle… it would be eagle prey later in the contest.

DSC02040 © DY of jtdytravels

DSC02040 © DY of jtdytravels

An old timer’s hat made from multi-coloured skins.

DSC02028 © DY of jtdytravels

DSC02028 © DY of jtdytravels

Although eagle handling has traditionally been a male only ‘sport’, there were two young female trainers at this festival. Imagine having a mighty bird like that so close to your face! It’s all about trust… and, of course, the bird was hooded!

DSC02036 © DY of jtdytravels

DSC02036 © DY of jtdytravels

The eagles hoods, or burqas, are preferably made from soft but strong kangaroo hide.

DSC02087 © DY of jtdytravels

DSC02087 © DY of jtdytravels

An unhooded bird looks intently at something in the distance. Eagles have 10 times better seeing power than humans. This eagle’s handler is very trusting… over time, bird and handler become as friends. Note the tethering bands and the thick leather gloves that protect the handler’s arm from those very sharp talons.

DSC02044 © DY of jtdytravels

DSC02044 © DY of jtdytravels

Horses also sported special tackle for the occasion.

DSC02140 © DY of jtdytravels

DSC02140 © DY of jtdytravels

A beautiful old engraved and coral studded silver saddle

DSC02114 © DY of jtdytravels

DSC02114 © DY of jtdytravels

An old saddle cloth, and saddle. Some saddles can be 100+ years old.

  The spiral “Y” shaped stick is an extra support to help hold the weight of an eagle.

DSC02132 © DY of jtdytravels

DSC02132 © DY of jtdytravels

A rider, and his bird, contending with the wind show how the arm support is used.

DSC02073 © DY of jtdytravels

DSC02073 © DY of jtdytravels

One of the festival competitions is for the best dressed handler. This young man must surely have been in the running for that with his beautifully embroidered coat and fur hat.

DSC02086 © DY of jtdytravels

DSC02086 © DY of jtdytravels

Detail of the intricate Kazakh embroidery on the back of one of the coats.

DSC02108 © DY of jtdytravels

DSC02108 © DY of jtdytravels

More fine embroidery… the full ensemble on a horse.

DSC02110 © DY of jtdytravels

DSC02110 © DY of jtdytravels

Traditional Kazakh style of embroidery is all done in chain stitch.

DSC02102 © DY of jtdytravels

DSC02102 © DY of jtdytravels

Some of the ladies were also dressed in their best.

Many hours of work must have gone into this coat… now a family heirloom, no doubt.

DSC02100 © DY of jtdytravels

DSC02100 © DY of jtdytravels

This baby’s chubby cheeks caught my attention… no need for any fine embroidery!

DSC02097 © DY of jtdytravels

DSC02097 © DY of jtdytravels

I only saw two raptors that were not Golden Eagles.

DSC02100 © DY of jtdytravels

DSC02100 © DY of jtdytravels

What a beautiful bird!

DSC02128 © DY of jtdytravels

DSC02128 © DY of jtdytravels

While waiting for events to begin, all visitors had the chance to inspect and photograph the contestants; humans, birds and horses. There were some really big cameras in use. Although this guy wasn’t being ‘pushy’, many of his colleagues were absolutely awful, in your face awful. Some of them obviously thought that, if your camera wasn’t BIG, you had no right to be taking photos. How wrong can you be. All of my photos and videos were taken on my small hand held Sony HX90V and I’m very pleased with the results… and I hope that you are too.

More of the main events anon.

David

All photographs copyright © DY  of  jtdytravels

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