Golden Eagle Festival, Mongolia is probably one of the most surreal and captivating festivals you will ever have the privilege to see! A Mongolian tradition which gathers the great Mongolian Eagle hunters from all over western Mongolia (Bayan-Ulgii province) to take part in this annual tradition.
Eagle hunting is a deep rooted practice of Central Asia and has been around for thousands of years. Similar to many other traditions, hunting with eagles is close to extinction elsewhere in the world, but not in Mongolia…where this yearly extravaganza will leave you feeling like a soaring eagle across the Mongolian plaines.
When is the Golden Eagle Festival 2019?
There are 3 Golden Eagle Festivals in Mongolia, between September and October. These are as follows:
1. Altai Kazakh Eagle Festival- 14-15 September 2019
2. 21-22 September 2019
3. 5-6 Oct 2019
While the general hunting season starts at the end of October and lasts for around 4 months.
Golden Eagle Hunting, a great Mongolia Tradition:
In central parts of Asia, hunting with eagles and falcons has been around for thousands of years. Especially around the area of lake Issyk Kul. While hunting with birds of prey has been an ancient tradition in many parts of the world, Mongolia seems to be the only nation to still be keeping this skilful tradition alive.
Hunting with birds, is a skill which requires immense dedication and takes years to master. On average to teach a bird to hunt it takes approximately 4-5 years of training and discipline.
To train a bird of prey, the same master must be used at all times in order to get the bird used to the tone and voice of the man. In Mongolian, this man is called a “Berkuchi” which means master, friend and teacher. From the masters out stretched arm the bird will spot their prey and attack on command.
The chosen prey of falcons are everything from little rodents to rabbits and foxes. Whereas a golden eagle, being more powerful can hunt roe deer, bobcats and even young wolves stranded in the snow in winter.
When the golden eagle or falcon attacks their prey, they target the neck/spine and kill them instantly. Leaving the skin and furs relatively untouched.
Why a Golden Eagle?
The golden eagle is extremely powerful with unbelievable vision. You may have heard the phrase “eyes like a hawk” but really it should be “eyes like an eagle”. Their sharp vision can scan a few kilometres and spot a rabbit, snake, lizard and even a small mouse!
A purpose built deadly hunter, the golden eagle uses it’s sharp and powerful talons to carry large animals such as foxes and i’ve even seen a goat and lamb being lifted up! Although usually these larger animals are not killed by the eagle but just collected after another predator has done the deed.
The golden eagle also looks the part with over 2000 tightly packed and feathers keeping it warm during the winter. They are not afraid to look after them selves either as they take real pride in grooming and preening their feathers…which is not easy task with a wing span of up to two meters!
The beauty and majesty of the golden eagle makes it perfect camera bait for a festival such as the Golden eagle. I definitely don’t think it would have the same ring to it, if it was called the “grey pigeon festival” !
Another wondrous trait of the Golden eagle is it’s superb hearing, which is so good it can hear the cries of it’s chicks when flying some distance from it’s young.
Now you may have wondered why the golden eagle, looks so majestic and beautiful when swooping through the air.
Where apart from their physical attributes, if you see two together you could be watching a mating ritual! The two eagles dance in the air, excite each other by swooping, soaring, chasing and even diving down until they lock their talons together finally!
The eagles high pitched calls and majestic swooping adds a theatre to a standard walk through the forest. So it’s a real shame to think that they may be coming close to extinction!
One factor which has seemed to cause eagle numbers to dwindle is the fact that they require around 2000-3000 acres of hunting ground and as man chops down forests and industrialises areas this does not help the eagle population.
The good news according to the U.S fish and Wildlife service.
“As of August 9 2007, the bald eagle was removed from the federal list of threatened and endangered species. After nearly vanishing from most of the United States decades ago, the bald eagle is now flourishing across the nation and no longer needs the protection of the Endangered Species Act.”
So thats good news at least but we still have a long way to go especially for other species of eagle. But the Good news is festivals such as the Golden Eagle festival help to raise awareness and keep them at the fore front of a culture at least.
Which Golden Eagle festival to attend?
As I stated earlier on, there are three golden eagle festivals run between September and October. What is the difference between these festivals? While they are very similar in terms of the activities at each event but tend to differ in size. For example, the first two in September (14-15 Sep & 21-22 Sep) are smaller and thus more intimate. A plus of this is they allow you to really get closer to the action with less tourists and more availability of the Eagle Hunters.
The late September one (21-22 sep), is definitely a more local occasion and is not really advertised in many places like the others.
The last festival of the season in early October (5-6 October), is the largest Golden Eagle Festival and probably the one with the most tourists. With many photographers eagerly taking snaps of the 80-100 golden eagle hunters, in traditional costume. There is also more activities and events happening at this Golden Eagle Festival.
The golden eagle festival is a true test of the eagles skill, the masters concentration and the unbreakable bond which has been forged between the two after many years of hunting together.
A variety of awards are on offer from, the best eagle at hunting prey (Of course!) to the smartest eagle who can locate it’s master from a great distance. There is even an award for the most well groomed eagle.
It is an breath taking sight to see these Majestic eagles perched on the arms of the Kazakhs dressed in full traditional costume and regalia. You can even have a unique opportunity to allow a Golden eagle to come and perch upon your arm (with a proper glove of course!)
This festival is definitely one to tell the grandkids about and it really does feel like your a Character out of the popular Game of Thrones Netflix series.
Events at Golden Eagle festival?
Golden Eagle Festival takes place over 2 full days and includes a variety of Compeitions and events which are listed below:
– Golden Eagle Hunting Competition:
A baiting competition which tests the eagle and it’s master.
– Golden Eagle & Hunting:
Where the eagle has to land on it’s trainers arm, while he is galloping horse! Real Genghis Khan Style!
– Camel race:
This is nothing like the great Thousand Camel Festival, in the Winter. With only around 10 camels racing over a short distance.
To find out about Mongolias Fantastic Winter Festivals inc the Thousand Camel, check out this Epic article!
– Horse race:
This is also a small race with only 10-20 horses taking part. For more info on taking a horse riding trek through Mongolia, check out this informative article.
In Mongolia, Archery is one of the “Games of three men” and is extremely popular at Naadam Festival.
– Tenge Ilu:
This is a Horse riding competition, where the skilled rider has to grab a coin from ground.
– Kiz- Kuar (Mongolian Kiss chase)
This game is an hilarious one think “kiss chase” on horses. Where a girl chases the man on a horse and then whips him while he acts embarrassed about taking a kiss…definitely a funny one!
– Kuk- Bar (Goat Competition)
This is a whole goat skin competition, where both of the teams fight to grab goat skin and take it to another area. Think horse riding ruby!
Photography of Golden Eagle Hunters?
Before taking a photo of the hunters, especially portrait shots it’s best to get permission first, find a good scenery and setup. If you book a trip with a good local tour company, then you can take advantage of the relationships they have with the local herdsmen.
For info on Mongolia packages and help with flights, hotels or even staying in a GER camp, drop us an email at: Mail(at)townandtourist.com and one of our Mongolia experts will get back to you! (Maybe even me!)
How to get to the Golden Eagle Festival?
As with most trips to Mongolia, fly first to the Capital Ulaanbaatar. Then take a domestic flight to Ulgii town (this takes around 3.5 hours) and is part of western Mongolia.
Ulgii town is the capital of the Bayan-Ulgii province and home to 30,000 people. It is a culturally unique place with more Kazakhs rather than Khalkh Mongolians in the town.
Here you will find everything you need from: Supermarkets, Restaurants, a Museum and of course a Bank ATM! There is also a nice open market (Bazaar)
Fancy riding a Reindeer in Mongolia? Check out this Epic article on Reindeer tribes and Horse riding tours in Mongolia.
For Cultural Faux Pas to avoid while in Mongolia check out:
For more on the Golden Eagle Festival, these guys have a nice video.