Mongolia - Truly an unforgettable experience
Words + photographs by Tony Frazer-Price
Photographs taken on a Fuji XT2 camera
Certainly not a holiday. An experience and great adventure for sure. And outside our comfort zone but much the better for the having of it.
Beijing was our entry and once more stayed in Cote Cour. A wonderful boutique hotel, just as good as it was on our first visit 12 years ago. Once a monastery snuggled, deep into the Hutong area well away from the glistening buildings and Malls of the capital’s bustling streets. And from there, by air, to Ulan Bator or Ulaanbaatar or simply UB, take your pick - Mongolia’s capital city with glistening glass architecture and skyscapering tall buildings.
Supposedly the world’s coldest city and whilst on ‘ests Mongolia is the world’s 19th largest landmass but the least populated. A comfortable stay and then onto the purpose of our adventure travelling through the Steppes and then on to the Eagle Hunters.
Mongolia renowned for its tents - Gers - pronounced gear. No longer called the Russian style Yurts and as with Genghis Khan now ditched into pure Mongolian Chinggis Khaan. Our experience is that gers come in regular shapes - not unlike a sponge cake with a domed top.
Interiors varying from being adequate to Homes and Gardens style. Adequate being basic with no sanitation, no light, but comfortable with handworked carpets in a myriad of colours on floors and walls. Ample warmth from a roaring stove in the middle with the chimney stack bursting through the roof. Necessary nightly visits into the freezing night air or an arrangement!
Our first camp, Mongolia Nomadic, with much celebration on my 83rd birthday. All very comfortable with an introduction to gers and Nomadic Customs - staged but interesting with Nomads suitably attired and our first sight of Mongolian athletic horsemanship.
Drive on through endless Steppes, all seemingly pretty flat and green or at least greenish but with the occasional outcrop and often with ger camps nestling aside and then to Mandala.
Mandala a real Homes and Gardens set up with dressed tables and 'low and behold' an attached bathroom ger - can’t ask for more than that.
MAGICAL DAYS WITH THE EAGLE HUNTER
Then to the Eagle Hunters. Flying to Ulgii and its rum airport. Meeting up with Nurka our lovely guide with her happy smile and perfect English. On the way to Sagsai and the Eagle Hunter domain we visited the local town where we were able to see colourfully embroidered crafts. We stayed for four nights with the Hunter's lovely family and had the honour of eating en famille and being treated as welcomed guests.
Since arriving at Ulgii we were driven off tarmac and onto ruts and more ruts. The experience not eased by being driven in a Russian UAZ vehicle much akin to the bastardisation of a coach and a van with a pretence of suspension. Nothing to hang onto - always has to be a downside - nevertheless the Hunter’s eagle didn’t seem to complain when being driven to the Festival, the major part of our experience, as it balanced beautifully, in the boot of the UAZ.
Sagsai, with an hours time change is the home of the Kazakh nomads who live in harmony not only with the terrain but also with the abundant wildlife. Our Hunter, his lovely wife and three adorable children were amazing hosts. Just two gers one large one not only for the family but also squeezed into it was our guide Nurka, driver and our cook. Ours was sans everything other than very comfortable beds, lovely decor and a roaring stove - riddled throughout the night by Nurka at two hourly intervals. 'Why do you keep on jumping out of bed to do this' we asked. Simply said. ‘No problem it’s my job’.
Our must see was the two day Sagsai Festival, stuffed with tourists waiting to see the Eagle Hunter championship but with other traditions added in, such as wrestling goats and ladies, astride her galloping horse attempting to thrash a male rider who had the temerity to attempt to steal a kiss.
And we did manage to catch a glimpse to the Eagle Huntress -but this time not managing to repeat her TV appearance and win.
Seeing that the prime purpose of the Mongolian trip was to photograph the Eagle Hunters our unforgettable bonus was spending two days ahead of the festival with him as he practiced with his mighty eagle over desert and mountainous terrain.
We were able to see the eagle, both hooded and unhooded working with his partner with endless flights and recalls, as the Hunter yoddled for its return. And up close we were able to see the might of the eagles talons as it grabbed for the Hunter’s arm.
A solo performance - Magic.
Living with the family for these four days was an unforgettable privilege and seeing how they all lived in complete harmony in a big tent was a treasure.
But I can’t wrap up without mentioning our Golden Eagle - sits on a stump for 365 days and although fed doesn’t move an inch during the summer months and only gets into gear in the winter when, his mate, the Hunter takes him out looking for foxes and the like. It was fascinating to see the bonding of eagle and hunter - just like man and his best friend, the dog.
Mongolia is opening up and more and more will visit. Give the 5 star hotels a miss and enjoy Mongolia, as it is, and relish in an amazing experience.
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