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The 17th Annual Golden Eagle Festival

In September 2016 Shobha Gopinath joined ORYX on our Mongolia Exploratory Photo Tour which focused predominately on the sensational Eagle Festival in Western Mongolia. Staying with some local families in their Yurts and learning about the Mongol culture and traditional way of life enabled Shobha and the other guests to experience this ancient culture in an intimate way, and relate their experiences through a collection of striking photographs.

Shobha has documented her Mongolia experience through a variety of posts, and today we would like to share with you her post on “The 17th Annual Golden Eagle Festival”.

Grab a beverage of choice and enjoy the splendours of Mongolia through the eyes of Shobha!

We said our goodbyes to Saliukhan’s family and thanked them for their hospitality and drove first to the Blue Wolf Ger Camp – a commercial ger camp in Bayan Ulgii, to deposit our luggage.

Other than the excitement of the Eagle Festival in Mongolia, it was the excitement of being able to have a shower that dominated our thoughts. We were promised hot showers, but our showers would have to wait till later tonight …

The festival is held in the open plains of Bugat in a valley of the Altai Mountains. There was such excitement as we saw the proud and dignified horsemen riding in the plains with their eagles majestically perched on their arms. It was quite a magnificent sight.


© Shobha Gopinath


© Shobha Gopinath

The announcements were made in dual language – Kazakh and English so we were able to follow the happenings at the festival. There were 92 participants, the largest number since this festival began in 1999. The oldest participant was in his eighties and the youngest, a girl of 12! (I shall, in a later post, write about Aisholpan, the 15 year-old girl who won at the festival when she was only 13!).

It was a spectacular moment when all the participants rode by in a parade around the arena stirring up dust and excitement in equal measure! The grand display of eagles and hunters was quite an extraordinary sight!


© Shobha Gopinath


© Shobha Gopinath

A particularly joyous moment for us was when Bashakhan rode by with an eagle! We learnt later that he borrowed the eagle to participate in the competition. We cheered out loudly, I’m sure leaving many of the other spectators wondering at our enthusiasm. That he could put aside his grief, find another eagle and still participate, tells you a little bit about the resilience of these folks.

There were several events at this two-day festival:

Eagle calling, best dressed participant, how fast and accurately the eagle catches the fox or rabbit lure, a race to pick up a coin on the ground while on horseback, “girl chase” – a man and woman race on horseback while the woman whips the man, tug of war with a decapitated goat while on horseback … The horsemanship was nothing short of amazing. What strong cores they must have!


© Shobha Gopinath


© Shobha Gopinath


© Shobha Gopinath


© Shobha Gopinath

For the next two days, we were spectators to these wonderful ancient sports.

We were treated that night to a traditional Kazakh folk performance.

Shobha Gopinath

For more wonderful stories on Shobha’s experiences of Mongolia and other countries, make sure to click here to go to her travel blog. https://www.travelpod.com/travel-blog/shobhagopinath/10/tpod.html

To view our Mongolia – Eagle Hunters & Cultures of Western Mongolia Photo Tour 2017, please click here.

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