Friday, November 11, 2016

Eagle Festival

Hi everyone, We apologize for not posting much lately. Hopefully we can get back to a more regular schedule now. We've got quite a bit of catching up to do, starting with the recent trip we took.

At the end of September / beginning of October, Caleb and I took a trip to the far western region of Mongolia to see the annual Eagle Festival.

Our route from east to west and back again

Since our travel destination of Bayan-Olgii province is the farthest you can get in Mongolia from our site, most of our time was spent travelling there and back. We took a 6 hour bus from our site to Ulaanbaatar. We flew about 3 hours from UB to Uvs aimag, the province to the east of Bayan-Olgii. And then we took a 9-10 hour mekr trip to Olgii, the aimag center of Bayan-Olgii. Then, we did it all in reverse to get back home. We were gone for a total of 7 days.

On the road to Bayan-Olgii
We arrived in Ulaangom, the aimag center of Uvs, on the last Thursday in September. Eric and Emily, another married PCV couple, took us in. I also got to catch up with Lexa, another PCV who was in the same training site as me. Friday morning, the five of us plus two other Uvs PCVs, one KOICA volunteer, two visiting family members of one of the PCVs, and two random Mongolians piled into a mekr to begin the long ride west. It took us about 10 hours to get there, across bumpy roads or no roads. Some of the passengers had a rough trip. We had to stop several times for people to be sick. The rest of us took pictures of the scenery in the meantime.

On the road to Bayan-Olgii, one of the many lakes we stopped at in Uvs aimag
The scenery on the ride was amazing. We passed several lakes and went through some beautiful soums with a mass of trees. Khovd soum in the southern part of Uvs aimag was breath-taking. We stopped there for food, and all the PCVs were longing for this to be their permanent site.

Khovd soum, Uvs aimag
It was dark by the time we got to Olgii. The PCVs split up into two groups to stay with the two PCVs living in Olgii. After a bit of socializing with the mass of PCVs who had come in for the Festival, we went to sleep.

The next day, Saturday, was the first day of the Festival. We piled into cars to travel the 15 minutes to the outskirts of the city where the Eagle Festival was being held. There were over 90 participants in the Festival this year, ranging from age 12 to age 80. All the participants were either Mongolian or Kazakh.

One of the many eagle hunters
In the province of Bayan-Olgii, since it borders Kazakhstan, there is a lot of cultural influence from there. Most of the aimag speaks Kazakh instead of Mongolian. The clothing they wear is bright and colorful, and the Kazakh gers are generally bigger, taller, and more ornate than Mongolian gers.

An eagle hunter calling his eagle
The first event during Saturday’s festivities was the parade of participants. Each Eagle hunter/huntress presented themselves in front of a panel of judges, who judged their clothing, their horse, their eagle and their overall appearance. Seeing all the different garb, eagles, and horses was fascinating, but it did get a little long after a while. 90 participants is a lot to get through.

An eagle hunter catching his eagle
The second event was more exciting. Each hunter had a friend/friends to help them out. The partner would take their eagles up a nearby mountain. The hunters on their horses would then have to call their eagle. The eagle, ideally, would fly off the mountain and soar down to land on their hunter’s arm. This was so much fun to watch! About half of them were successful, it seemed. At some points, the wind was really blowing and probably made things a bit difficult for the eagles.

Caleb haggling for a Kazakh knife
These were the two events that happened on Saturday. Before, in between, and sometimes during the events, we walked around to check out the vendors. They were selling clothing, knives, wall hangings, hats, purses, bags, food, etc. Caleb and I bought two colorful table runners and several hot pads. Caleb bought a knife and a “duster” as he calls it. In a Kazakh ger, we ate some really tasty khuushuur followed by the obligatory milk tea. We also made sure to take pictures holding an eagle, too!

That evening, we looked around in some of the souvenir shops back in the city. I bought a backpack and a small purse. We had the pleasure of eating at a Turkish restaurant for dinner, which is not a type of food that exists anywhere else in Mongolia (except maybe UB). We socialized more that evening before bed.

On Sunday, some PCVs returned to the festival. Unfortunately, we needed to leave in the early afternoon, so we didn’t have time to go back. Instead, we walked around the city and went to the open air market. We looked around in some more shops, and after that, it was time to start to journey back to Uvs aimag. It took us somewhere between 8-9 hours to get back.

Caleb and I at the overlook in Ulaangom, Uvs
We had a full day in Ulaangom, so we went with Eric to a popular mountain not far from the city center. It gave us some great views of the city and the towering snowcapped mountains in the distance. We enjoyed spending time with Eric, Emily, and Lexa that night at their apartment.

The mountains in Uvs aimag, outside of Ulaangom

The next day, we flew back to UB, stayed the night, and took the bus the following day. Overall, it was a great trip. It was great to experience the western part of the country. 


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