Ashoplan, the 13 year old featured in the Netflix documentary "The Eagle Huntress"
Mongolia, particularly Western Mongolia, is one of the most remote and inhospitable places on earth - temperatures fluctuate wildly, there is very little rain, and the topography is rocky and mountainous.
Eking out an existence is serious business, with no real opportunity for agriculture and a small number of animals hardy enough to survive in these difficult conditions. Some residents raise animals, primarily sheep and goats, moving across the plains in search of pasture during the summer season.
Another primary source of meat is hunting with eagles - this tradition goes back 1,100 years to the Khitans, a nomadic people from Manchuria. Fast forward 1,000 years - this form of hunting was still in practice in Kazakhstan. However, during the communist period many Kazakhs fled for Mongolia, settling in Bayan-Ölgii Province and bringing with them their tradition.
There are an estimated 250 eagle hunters in Bayan-Ölgii. Their falconry customs involve hunting with golden eagles on horseback - they primarily hunt red foxes and corsac foxes. They use eagles to hunt these animals during the cold winter months when it is easier to see the gold colored foxes against the snow. We will be living alongside these hunters as we make our way from Bayan-Olgii to Base Camp.
Each year, Kazakh eagle hunting customs are displayed at the annual Golden Eagle Festival. We will be lucky enough to be able to attend the festival in Sagsai (near Bayan-Olgii) and see a large gathering of hunters and their eagles compete in traditional contests to determine the best eagle (and hunter). This really is a once in a lifetime experience that will make an amazing conclusion to our adventure.
If you are interested in learning more about eagle hunting and life in Western Mongolia, I highly recommend the award winning documentary " The Eagle Huntress" on Netflix - it follows a 13 year old girl, who becomes one of the first female eagle hunters in the region. The protagonist, Ashoplan, actually competed in the eagle festival last year, so we are hoping to get to see her up close.
“Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one's lifetime.”
- Mark Twain