If you are looking to experience a traditional way of life, with a scenic and diverse landscape, and awe-inspiring wilderness, then a visit to Mongolia will give you a fascinating insight into invigorating eastern culture. Why not take an opportunity to experience old Kazakh traditions and ways of life, and coincide your trip with the fantastic Golden Eagle Festival.
Recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage Cultural Event, the Golden Eagle Festival is annually held in Mongolia during the first weekend in October. The festival was founded in 1999 to preserve the Kazakh's unique heritage, a tradition that has been practiced thousands of years, and to protect golden eagles. The Golden Eagle Festival is one of the best opportunities to catch a glimpse into the area’s unique culture.
15 – 16 September 2018, 6-7 October 2018
This province is a home to ethnic Kazakh nomads who train Golden Eagles for hunting. While enjoying breathtaking scenery of the Altai mountains that offers endless opportunities for photography, you can observe an ancient and disappearing art of eagle-hunting.
Mongolian Kazakhs, who honor the tradition of hunting on horseback with Golden Eagles, continue to hunt with trained Golden Eagles today. Once a year, dozens of them, from teenagers to old men, gather in a valley of the Altai Mountains to celebrate the Golden Eagle Festival and to participate in the hunting competition to the view of locals and tourists. The Eagle Hunters compete with each other in catching animals with specially trained eagles, who follow commands of their owners.
What the tourists can’t see, though, it’s the hard work of the eagle domestication that comes before. To tame the eagle, the eaglet is starved of food for days, until it begins to accept food from humans, and then the hunter can start training the eagle. As the bond between the hunter and eagle develops, they head to the mountains, sometimes for days, to hunt their prey – usually foxes, hares or wolves – during the winter months, when it is easier to see the animals against the snow.
Eagle huntsmen compete in the hunting skills, eagles’ agility, speed and accuracy as well as in huntsmen’s clothes: the more extravagant the coat the more respected the hunter is. The hunters are dressed in traditional Kazakh costumes, with fur coats made of marmot, fox or wolf skins which have been caught by their eagles.
The festival includes an opening ceremony, parade, cultural exhibitions, demonstrations and handcrafts taking place in the centre of the town of Ölgii, followed by sporting activities and competitions outside of town towards the mountains. The other activities held during the Golden Eagle Festival include horse racing, archery and Bushkashi, where horse-mounted players attempt to place a goat or calf.
Keeping with the tradition, no women can participate in it. However, in 2014 the 13-year-old Kazakh girl Aisholpan, who was taught to hunt with her eagles by her grandfather, challenged a male-dominated tradition and became the first female to enter and won the competition. It was featured in the documentary ‘The eagle huntress’.
Tourists, coming from all over the world to participate in the Festival, help to keep this ancient tradition alive and thus support the local community, where people still live in harmony with nature, practicing the lifestyle that ancient Kazakhs lived centuries ago.