Mongolia is a vast but sparsely inhabited nation on the Eurasian steppe. It is famous for the massive Mongolian Empire that swept over the world under the mighty Genghis Khan, which spread all the way into Europe. These days Mongolia continues to preserve many of its ancient traditions, with a large percentage of the population continuing to live a nomadic existence.
In the west of Mongolia, the Kazakh minority continues to preserve the age-old tradition of eagle hunting. Visiting the eagle hunters is one of the great trips of a lifetime and feels like something straight out of a movie. Mongolia is the stuff of medieval fantasy still being lived today – spending days trekking across Mongolia on horseback is another must for intrepid travelers. Excellent tours around Mongolia are offered by Mongolian companies like Top Tours Mongolia.
Tourist with golden eagle in Mongolia
Why The Kazakhs In Mongolia Preserve The Tradition Of Eagle Hunting
Most of the population of Mongolia are ethnic Mongolians, but there are also minorities. These include the reindeer-herding Tuvans in the north (most live in the Republic of Tuva in Russia) and the Kazakhs in the west (most live in the independent country of Kazakhstan).
During the Soviet Union, many of the traditions of the countries of Central Asia were lost. The Kazakhs (and Kyrgyz) were nomads living in yurts across the steppe, much like the Mongols. But in modern times, the Soviets compelled them to settle, and today, almost all the people in these countries live settled lives.
As a consequence, the ancient Kazakh tradition of eagle hunting was partly lost in Kazakhstan. But during the Soviet period, Mongolia remained independent and preserved many of its traditions. Even so, Kazakhstan is proud of its heritage, and the eagle features prominently on its flag. Today the Kazakh minority in western Mongolia preserves the age-old tradition of eagle hunting.
Traditional Kazakh Eagle Hunter in Mongolia
The Practice Of Eagle Hunting In Mongolia
In the past, eagles were trained for hunting to help people survive in the harsh climate of Central Asia. These days, they are still used for limited hunting, but the main reason to train the eagles is to keep the tradition alive and to pass it on to the next generation.
To train the eagles, the chicks are caught from the nest when they are young. Only the female chicks are taken as only the female golden eagles hunt. The eagle hunter trains the eagles and enters them in competitions around Mongolia. When the birds are a few years old (soon after they reach maturity), they are released back into the wild. The hunter typically never sees the bird again.
This practice can also aid in preserving the eagles as they are tended to through in their vulnerable years as a chick, but when they are released, they are still as able to survive in the wild as any other eagle.
Homestay with Kazakh eagle hunter in Mongolia
What To Know About Visiting The Kazakh Eagle Hunters Of Mongolia
Some of the eagle hunters welcome visitors to their homes as homestays. Eagle hunters are often nomads and live in yurts (so where they live changes through the year).
Visitors need to be prepared for what it means to visit. Nomads live in remote regions off-road, without electricity (other than a solar panel to charge their phones, etc.), without running water, and without a recognizable toilet or bathroom. Clothes need to be washed by hand in the freezing water by the tourists themselves.
But the trip is a once-in-a-lifetime experience and one that every adventurous traveler should try to do. Visitors get to don traditional Kazakh fur clothes and hold the mighty eagle on their own arm (caution, the birds are surprisingly heavy).
While it may be possible to visit by oneself, by far the best way is with a guided tour. Remember that these are nomads – there is no fixed address, and they typically do not speak English. Getting there typically includes some serious off-roading.
21-Day Tour Of Mongolia Inc. Visiting Eagle Hunters:
- Cost: $2,100 Per Person (four people & more)
- Includes: Food, Off-Road Transport, Admission Fees, English-speaking Tour Guide, Accommodation (Homestays, Yurts, Camping)
- Duration: 21 Days (2 Days with the Eagle Hunters)
Traditional yurts of Kazakh eagle hunters in Mongolia
One of the best companies to choose from is Top Tours Mongolia. As the Kazakh Eagle hunters live so far away from the main Mongolian city of Ulaanbaatar, guided tours to them are normally part of much larger tour packages around Mongolia. Top Tours Mongolia is a very flexible and friendly tour company in Mongolia that has extensive experience with guiding foreigners around Mongolia. They have 15 day and 21 day tours in Mongolia that include visits to the eagle hunters.
The 21-day tour also visits the ancient Mongolian capital of Karakorum – once the capital of the largest empire the world ever knew (until the dawn of the larger British Empire).