Mongolia #18 Day 8 of the Trek (03/10/15 Part b)

DSC02069 © DY of jtdytravels

DSC02069 © DY of jtdytravels

The eagle competition was about to begin. This young handler, dressed in his elaborately embroidered clothes, had climbed up the rocky hillside with his eagle and awaited his turn to launch his bird. The stage was set for the main event!

Waiting to release eagle

The aim of the sport is simple really… the winner is the bird that takes the shortest time to fly from the point of release to the time it lands on its owner’s arm. When the starter gives the signal, the handler on the hill removes the eagle’s hood and sets the bird free. The eagle then SHOULD fly straight down to its owner on the horse and be reunited. The emphasis is on the word SHOULD! It doesn’t always happen that way.

[NB. I took lots of video but we are having no luck downloading it to WordPress at the moment…. so some photos taken from the video will have to suffice… my apologies.]

Eagle soaring

Several of the eagles had their own ideas about how to spend the afternoon… they soared the thermals giving spectacular flight displays. No prizes for that…  but it was really good to watch these majestic birds soar overhead.

DSC02130 © DY of jtdytravels

DSC02130 © DY of jtdytravels

Eyes skyward… watching eagles soar!  A wonderful sight.

Eagle landed

When those soaring birds finally came down to land, many decided to check out the crowd rather than return to their owners. It was fun for us …  frustrating for the handlers.

correct landing

A few did as they were trained to do … they returned to their owner on the horse…

this to great cheers from the crowd and a possible chance to win the event.

Eagle returned to handler

Reunited…  no winner… but the possibility of another chance on another day.

How do you remonstrate with a bird this size?

DSC02129 © DY of jtdytravels

DSC02129 © DY of jtdytravels

In amongst the crowd, I noticed this man with a wonderful face.

At times like this, I just wished that I could have understood his language;

heard his stories; learned so much more about his country, his people, his culture.

DSC02119 © DY of jtdytravels

DSC02119 © DY of jtdytravels

A grandfather with grandchild… taking in all the activity and the ambiance.

Perhaps, one day, this child will become an eagle handler… who knows?

DSC02124 © DY of jtdytravels

DSC02124 © DY of jtdytravels

In a nearby area, an archery competition was underway.

DSC02125 © DY of jtdytravels

DSC02125 © DY of jtdytravels

Archers, dressed in traditional archery garb, took aim with crossbows.

This is another sport taken very seriously by the Kazakhs, and other Mongolians.

DSC02083 © DY of jtdytravels

DSC02083 © DY of jtdytravels

Earlier in the morning, traders had arrived at the festival with there gers and their wares carefully packed onto their camels.  They set up a market near the event ‘field’.

DSC02120 © DY of jtdytravels

DSC02120 © DY of jtdytravels

There were lots of small beautifully embroidered items for sale.

DSC02122 © DY of jtdytravels

DSC02122 © DY of jtdytravels

I resisted the temptation to buy; well, almost!

DSC02138 © DY of jtdytravels

DSC02138 © DY of jtdytravels

Just a small embroidered ‘dingle-dangle’ destined for our Christmas tree.

I had to remember that we had a 15 kilo limit for the plane.

DSC02137 © DY of jtdytravels

DSC02137 © DY of jtdytravels

Oh… and a key ring of Kazakh boots – again for our Christmas tree

DSC02121 © DY of jtdytravels

DSC02121 © DY of jtdytravels

But when it came to the wide variety of Kazakh embroidered rugs and mats, I looked, but for once, I resisted buying a rug! Beautiful though they were, and much as we love our floor rugs and carpets from many parts of the world, and even though Jennie’s favourite colour is red…. these colours just wouldn’t go with our decor at home.

DSC02136 © DY of jtdytravels

DSC02136 © DY of jtdytravels

 Where ever there’s a festival, there’s always food. Lamb kebabs and fish were on offer.

DSC02139 © DY of jtdytravels

DSC02139 © DY of jtdytravels

After a great day watching something very different from anything that I’ve ever seen before, it was back to the gers for a short stop. On the way, we passed by a veritable line up of those Russian “oo-warz-ik”, the ‘boxes-on-wheels’ vehicles so popular in these parts.

DSC02145 © DY of jtdytravels

DSC02145 © DY of jtdytravels

Late afternoon scene back beside our ger camp.

DSC02143 © DY of jtdytravels

DSC02143 © DY of jtdytravels

This old poplar also looked great in the late afternoon sun.

DSC02146 © DY of jtdytravels

DSC02146 © DY of jtdytravels

We rounded out the day by attending a concert back in town. Performers at the concert were dressed in embroidered traditional garb and entertained us with their Kazakh music.

We still had another day at the Eagle Festival to look forward to… and so do you!

More anon

David

All photographs copyright © DY  of  jtdytravels

If you enjoy these armchair travels, please pass our site onto others

www.dymusings.com

more of our travel stories and photos can be found on

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More of our travel photos are on

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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

If you enjoy these armchair travels, please pass our site onto others

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more of our travel stories and photos can be found on

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Mongolia #16 Day 7 of the Trek (02/10/15 pm)

Before we left in the cars to travel onwards, we took time to farewell our cameleers and horsemen… and of course the camels and the horses.

DSC01964 © DY of jtdytravels

DSC01964 © DY of jtdytravels

Our four cameleers rest after their busy few days trekking with us.

DSC01965 © DY of jtdytravels

DSC01965 © DY of jtdytravels

On behalf of all of the group, each cameleer in turn, from oldest to youngest, was given some goodies, a tip and, most importantly, a blue silk scarf known as a Khata … also known as a Khadag or hadag.  The Khata  is a symbol of peace and well being and is the highest symbol of respect, well wishing and greeting in Mongolian culture. It’s always presented to the oldest or most distinguished person first.

The colour blue is also very important to Mongolians. It represents the eternal blue sky in this ‘Land of the Blue Sky’.  We had all certainly enjoyed those wide blue skies.

DSC01982 © DY of jtdytravels

DSC01982 © DY of jtdytravels

A cameleer and his camel… ‘led by the nose’ takes on a new meaning!

DSC01980 © DY of jtdytravels

DSC01980 © DY of jtdytravels

This camel seemed to shed a tear at our parting.

DSC01989 © DY of jtdytravels

DSC01989 © DY of jtdytravels

But as for this one…. the smile says it all… no more packs to carry for awhile!

By the shape of those humps, a long drink of water wouldn’t go astray.

DSC01987 © DY of jtdytravels

DSC01987 © DY of jtdytravels

The camels looked a little lost without our red duffle bags.

Still work to do for the lead camel.

DSC01969 © DY of jtdytravels

DSC01969 © DY of jtdytravels

We also thanked the horseman in the traditional way, again with a blue Khata. 

DSC01973 © DY of jtdytravels

DSC01973 © DY of jtdytravels

He seems happy enough with the tip!

DSC01991 © DY of jtdytravels

DSC01991 © DY of jtdytravels

A handshake of thanks from Tim, and we went on our way again, by car not by foot.

DSC01997 © DY of jtdytravels

DSC01997 © DY of jtdytravels

And just as well we weren’t walking!  We were back into the vast open landscapes so typical of Mongolia.  After a couple of hours we had reached this vantage point… and a well earned leg stretch.  Ahead, the multiple tracks that crossed the steppe were obvious.   Each driver had chosen his own way but, generally, the latest set of wheel tracks were followed.

DSC01995 © DY of jtdytravels

DSC01995 © DY of jtdytravels

Looking ahead, we could see, in the distance, a lake known as Achit Nuur. 

DSC01999 © DY of jtdytravels

DSC01999 © DY of jtdytravels

Achit Lake is the largest freshwater lake in the Uvs Aimag of Mongolia, in the far west of the country. It’s at an elevation of 1,435 m above sea level.  It covers an area of 290 km²; is 28 km long, 16 km wide, and 10 m deep.

DSC02003 © DY of jtdytravels

DSC02003 © DY of jtdytravels

With no wind the clouds were reflected perfectly in the lake.

DSC02009 © DY of jtdytravels

DSC02009 © DY of jtdytravels

Further on, we passed a nomad’s ger with the modern essential, a Russian ‘box-on-wheels’. The van’s Russian name sounds something like “oo-warz-ik” (phonetic). Although Mongolians still love their horses and camels, many have this form of transport as well. 

DSC02010 © DY of jtdytravels

DSC02010 © DY of jtdytravels

Not a lot grows on these stoney plains.

DSC02011 © DY of jtdytravels

DSC02011 © DY of jtdytravels

Where there’s some water, the larch trees grow, small in size but in abundance.

Location of Oglii

Our destination for the day was Olgii (Olgiy). It was near here that we were scheduled to witness the Golden Eagle Festival over the next two days; a much anticipated event.

Weather Chart for Oglii

Olgii (sometimes written Olgiy) is the capital of Bayan-Olgii Aimag (Province).  It experiences a desert climate with long, very dry and cold winters and a short warm summer.

Nestled beside the Khovd River near the Altai Mountains, Olgii is 1710m (5610 ft) above sea level. In 2008, its population was 28,496, mainly of Kazakh origin.  The area is known for the annual Golden Eagle Festival held in October, and also for embroidery and Kazakh music.

Olgii is 1600km (994mi.) by road from UB, and 1000km (620mi.) of this distance is unpaved. You can travel between the two cities by bus.  Even under ideal conditions, that journey takes 48 hours; and under not so ideal conditions, it can take 3 to 5 days. There’s no rail link but there is a small airport with one paved runway. Flights to UB are said to be ‘regular’… to other destinations they are irregular, whatever that means!

Because of this relative isolation, Oglii hasn’t developed as quickly as more eastern parts of Mongolia.  Much of the city centre was built during the 1950-1980’s and has only had a spurt of growth since 2005 when many new apartments, shops, restaurants and hotels were built.

DSC02012 © DY of jtdytravels

DSC02012 © DY of jtdytravels

We had dinner at one of those restaurants; a bit of a treat and it gave our cooks a rest. It was a Turkish restaurant and dinner consisted of tasty and very tender marinated lamb cubes with grated carrot, coleslaw, potato balls and rice with a dob of tomato sauce on top.

DSC02144 © DY of jtdytravels

DSC02144 © DY of jtdytravels

After dinner it was a 25 minute drive to our ger camp – not the place that we’d expected to be staying at in town; Tseren had decided that was too noisy and not suitable.  So we ended up at a temporary six ger set up much nearer to the site where all the activity of the Eagle Festival was to take place.  This was supposed to save travel time and be much safer and quieter.

However, there was no running water here. And, as Olgii offered the first chance since leaving UB of running hot water and a SHOWER, some of us decided to go back to town for just that reason.  So, at 21.00 it was back into the vehicles for most of us for the run back into town to the public bath-house.  It took a bit of a Cook’s Tour around town to find the place but, at last, our vehicles pulled up outside a low-set building.

Inside, there were two rows of back to back cubicles, ostensibly males on one side and females on the other; but, in the event, we were all mixed up.  Who cares?  Running hot water gushed from the shower head and it made no difference that the place needed a good upgrade to fix broken tiles and leaking and rusted fittings.  A wooden duck-board bridged the hole in the floor down which lots of brown water washed as the clean water from the shower head and the dust on my body mixed.  No need for a shampoo when you’ve got a No. 1 hair cut.  I just stood there luxuriating in the almost forgotten experience of hot water over body.

Olgii has a bath-house because the Russian era demanded that the collective approach be followed when it came to hot water.  Quite rightly. It’s so much cheaper to produce hot water in one place and pipe it around the city than for everybody to have smaller individual water heaters. We were therefore rubbing shoulders with the locals who use the facility all the time.  I’m not sure how often the locals strip off in the middle of winter when the temperature can be as low as -40ºC (-49ºF) even if the bath-house is steamy.

DSC02430 © DY of jtdytravels

DSC02430 © DY of jtdytravels

The large Stalinist era central powerhouse still provides the town’s hot water.  

After the shower it took another 25 minutes to drive back to the gers. By then, those we had left behind at camp, were fast asleep in their grubby skins!  I, on the other hand, felt good and clean and was ready for sleep. Once again, all of the others opted to sleep en masse in the six gers.  Not me. I opted once more to sleep in my own tent. I went to sleep thinking with much anticipation of the Eagle Festival that would be our lot on the morrow. And I did sleep, and very well, in my own tent, under the Mongolian stars! 

David

All photographs copyright © DY  of  jtdytravels

If you enjoy these armchair travels, please pass our site onto others

www.dymusings.com

more of our travel stories and photos can be found on

www.jtdytravels.com

More of our travel photos are on

www.flickr.com/photos/jtdytravels