When it comes to our tours we don’t like to pick favourites…but our Golden Eagle Festival Expedition to Mongolia is an unexpected *cough* new favourite. Prepare to witness the ultimate bird showdown – where eagles soar, and nomads roar. We take flight to Mongolia every September, and the festival caps off nearly two weeks of glammed-up gers, ancient bronze petroglyphs, Genghis Khan history, and fermented mare’s milk. Here are five things to know about this extra special tour.
5. The festival is new…the tradition is ancient.
Mongolia is an up-and-coming destination, thanks in part to the festival. But berkutchi (eagle hunting) has been practiced for an estimated 6,000 years. At the height of the Mongol Empire, Genghis Khan owned thousands of hunting birds. His falconry expeditions were even documented by Marco Polo. But the Golden Eagle Festival of today is only a quarter century old. It began in 1999 to celebrate an iconic part of local living.
4. The eagle hunters are Kazakh.
The Kazakh people are an ethnic minority with their own language, religion and culture that transcend the borders of Eastern Europe and Central Asia. There are over 12 million Kazakhs worldwide, with a small but distinct subset of 100,000 in Mongolia. The festival preserves their culture and heritage for the next generation and highlights the deep connection between hunter and eagle.
3. It’s held in the gateway to the Altai Mountains.
Kazakh migration to Mongolia was first documented in 1840. People were fleeing separatist fights in what is now Western China. And Bayan Ulgii was an ideal landscape for nomadic living. Its lush pastures, glacier-capped mountains, and shimmering alpine lakes became a Kazakh refuge. By 1940 it was designated a semi-autonomous province and is now home to almost 90% of Mongolia’s Kazakh population. Today it’s also popular for mountaineering, hiking, and archaeological adventure.
2. It’s about more than eagles.
Never mind that you’ll immerse yourself in ancient cunning and craft. You’ll see a whole new take on practical fashion in the local Kazakh clothing. Understand horsemanship. Listen to traditional Mongolian throat singing. Even taste local delicacies like airag (fermented mare’s milk).
1. The festival is breaking down gender norms.
Berkutchi was traditionally a male sport and the festival a masculine environment. But today, women are participating thanks to Aisholpan, a 13-year-old Kazakh girl who was the first female eagle hunter to compete (and win!) in 2014. You can watch her story (and get a taste of what awaits) in The Eagle Huntress, a 2016 documentary. Even female eagles are more popular today. Turns out they’re better companion hunters because they’re heavier – and more aggressive – than their male counterparts.
We return to Mongolia every September on our Mongolia Golden Eagle Festival & Expedition. Visit the trip page for more information including departure dates, cost, and a day-to-day itinerary.
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Our all-gay Mongolian adventure will see us traverse the rugged countryside like Genghis Khan at the height of the Mongol Empire. But to reach the region's more remote destinations we'll need to slumber in traditional gers (also called "yurts"). Read on for everything you need to know about this unique 'glamping' experience. Read More