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Take Me to the Eagle People

I missed the annual Kazakh Eagle Festival in Ulgii, western Mongolia by less than two weeks. I knew this before I got there, but I didn’t realize that the reasonably established tourist industry of the region shuts down completely the day after the eagles finish shaking hands and thanking everyone for coming.

But the only time you can really see the traditional hunting with eagles is in the autumn and winter, after the birds have molted and are in the mood, so I poked around the few agencies in town to see if anyone could hook me up to see some eagle hunting, maybe stay with a Kazakh family. Everywhere was shut for the season but one outfitter had a note in English on the door with a phone number.

And so it turns out I’d be able to see an eagle hunt and stay with the hunter’s family.

“How long is normal to stay with them?”

“I think after a week or ten days you’ll get bored.” Yeah, I would think so. I decided to visit for four days and nights with a Kazakh family who wasn’t used to tourists much but had put up a few travelers in their summer ger, primarily for one-night stints (note that’s “stints,” not “stands”).

The next day my tour operator Nurjan drove me two or three hours south, which doesn’t seem that far out on the surface. But we were starting in an outpost community in the first place, so really as soon as you pass the last house in town you’re pretty much in the sticks. Or, in this case, the stones.

We reached the hamlet of Tolbo, which seems far from anything ever. But, as memorialized in the scene in the photo at top, it was one more frontier battle site of the Russian Civil War. As WWI wore on, in 1918 Allied forces (including 15,000 American soldiers) found themselves on Siberian and Mongolian soil in an effort to keep war materials out of Bolshevik or German hands and resurrect the Eastern Front (according to Wikipedia anyway). Far-flung fronts apparently included this isolated swath of Mongolia, where the Commies apparently were victorious. Enjoy the spoil of Tolbo, boys.

We turned right at Tolbo and headed a half hour into the marsh and hills, came over a hump and were upon two houses in the side of the hill about a hundred yards apart. Mr. Eagle Man lives with his eldest son’s family in the one pictured below.

Last look back at Ulgii, nestled somewhere in one of those cozy white nooks.
The clouds weren't expecting us so soon.
These kinds of roads always make me feel like I'm about to watch a Jerry Bruckheimer movie.
A lot of these roads look like they might end in a mountainside. I always tell the driver to stay alert, just in case. Keep it safe. We're not trying to meet Buckaroo Bonzai in the 8th dimension or nothin'.
The house had a remote moat, to disparage escape attempts.
Home is where the house is. Over on the right.

One Comment

  1. guinevere

    hamlet–i like it.

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