Eagle Hunting in Mongolia

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Land Cruisers drove through a river in western Mongolia. (Photo by Brad Ruoho/The Star Tribune)

“I’d come to the Altai Mountains on an Adventure Sherpas tour. Our group of 12 was made up mostly of Minnesotans who’d left warm weather and falling leaves for frosty Mongolia. We’d come to sleep in cozy ger tents, the traditional yurt abode of the Mongolian steppe; sip mare’s milk tea; climb mountain glaciers; ride horses to an ancient battle site; attend the annual Eagle Hunting Festival in Ölgiy, and to witness the traditional eagle hunting we were immersed in that day. When we arrived in Ölgiy the day before the Eagle Hunting Festival, the town seemed stark, dusty and barren, but it soon filled with honking cars parking at odd angles and pedestrians navigating the potholed sidewalks outside the Tsambagarav Hotel. After our time on the steppes, we were shocked by all the people – bundled Mongolians jostling to make their purchases at the open-air street market, blond-haired foreigners dressed as Afghani traders, boisterous beer-drinking Australians in huge parkas, eagle hunters in traditional garb – all here for the festival.

During the opening parade, the eagle hunters rode in front of the stands, showing off their high leather boots, elaborately decorated padded jackets and fox-fur flapped hats. Among the 70 male participants were two girls: Aisholpan, who had been featured in a recent BBC article and was drawing the attention of foreign photographers, and a younger girl of about 9 with a disarming smile. The girls rode their groomed horses proudly, aware of the sensation they were causing as they participated in this traditionally male activity. The games included picking up coins from the ground while riding on horseback and tug-of-war with a dead sheep, the riders hanging sideways off their horses. Hunters demonstrated their prowess by calling their eagles from the cliff above the festival grounds. The camel race was chaotic and fun, as the excited crowd surged forward into the staging area. The festival space was ringed with merchants selling delicately embroidered bags, thick felt rugs, colorful appliquéd clothing and eagle hunting paraphernalia. The dusty air smelled of savory skewered grilled meats. Dogs sauntered about, and one competing eagle snatched up a small white dog instead of the meat in his trainer’s hand. Aisholpan won the competition and was celebrated in the closing ceremony. We left early the next morning for Ulaangom to catch a plane to Ulaanbaatar. We drove up into mountainous high plains again, the distant peaks covered with snow. The sunrise colored the whole sky – red, orange, then pink against plates of clouds and the jagged black silhouetted hills. In the distance, an eagle soared, dark against the sunrise, a fitting farewell as we left our Kazakh friends and the majestic Altai Mountains”. – Kathryn Kysar via The Star Tribune.

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A 7-year-old girl (the youngest in the competition) competed at the Eagle Hunting Festival in Olgiy. (Photo by Brad Ruoho/The Star Tribune)

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An eagle grabbed a rabbit’s foot from it’s master in a timed race at the Eagle Hunting Festival. (Photo by Brad Ruoho/The Star Tribune)

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Aisholpan held a coloring book from Legacy Toys in Ely, Minn. It was a gift to her from Minnesotans. (Photo by Brad Ruoho/The Star Tribune)

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A husband and wife dressed in traditional Kazakh clothing during the opening ceremonies of the Eagle Hunting Festival. (Photo by Brad Ruoho/The Star Tribune)

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Eagle hunters headed to the mountain to go eagle hunting. (Photo by Brad Ruoho/The Star Tribune)

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A Golden Eagle at the Eagle Hunting Festival about to swoop down to his master in a timed race. (Photo by Brad Ruoho/The Star Tribune)

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Jeanette Cox, an Adventure Sherpas client, held an eagle while visiting a hunter’s home. (Photo by Brad Ruoho/The Star Tribune)

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The eagle hunter’s son. (Photo by Brad Ruoho/The Star Tribune)

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Hunter Berek and his eagle outside his home. (Photo by Brad Ruoho/The Star Tribune)

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Mongolian vista with motorcycle. (Photo by Brad Ruoho/The Star Tribune)

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A camel carries the wooden gram for a ger, or yurt. (Photo by Brad Ruoho/The Star Tribune)

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The sun rises in the valley near the Chinese/Russian border. (Photo by Brad Ruoho/The Star Tribune)

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Sheepskin tug-of-war in the games at the Eagle Hunting Festival in Olgiy, Mongolia. (Photo by Brad Ruoho/The Star Tribune)

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Sheepskin tug-of-war in the games at the Eagle Hunting Festival in Olgiy, Mongolia. (Photo by Brad Ruoho/The Star Tribune)

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Archery contest in the games at the Eagle Hunting Festival in Ogliy, Mongolia. (Photo by Brad Ruoho/The Star Tribune)

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A winding road outside of Olgiy. (Photo by Brad Ruoho/The Star Tribune)

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The camel race in the games at the Eagle Hunting Festival in Olgiy, Mongolia. (Photo by Brad Ruoho/The Star Tribune)

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A participant picks up a coin from the ground in the games at the Eagle Hunting Festival. (Photo by Brad Ruoho/The Star Tribune)

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Lake Tolbo, located in the Bayan Olgiy Province of Mongolia. (Photo by Brad Ruoho/The Star Tribune)

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Eagles wear leather hoods unless they are hunting. (Photo by Brad Ruoho/The Star Tribune)

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Eagle hunters Ushkish, at right, and Berik prepared to hunt atop a mountain. (Photo by Brad Ruoho/The Star Tribune)

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