Photos of the Altai Eagle Festival, Mongolia

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The Altai Eagle Festival

The Eagle Festival in Bayan-Ölgii aimag, far western Mongolia, is a celebration of the heritage of the Kazakh eagle hunters who catch small animals like foxes and hares with specially trained golden eagles. There are actually two of those festivals, with essentially the same program, The largest is the Eagle Festival, held in early October 8 kilometres east of the town of Ölgii and the Altai Eagle Festival in Sagsai, 27 kilometres tot the west of Ölgii, in mid-September.

Kazakh eagle hunter
 
Festival grounds
 
Horses and camels
 
Hunter and ''bürkit''
 
Eagle hunters arrive
 
Displaying his eagle
 
Registering for festival
 
Camel rider
 
Hunter with his ''burkit''
 
Camel riders
 
Eagle hunter parade
 
Eagle hunter parade
 
Riding camels
 
Calling the eagle
 
Kazakh singer
 
Qyz quar game
 
Kazakh horse game
 
Kökpar game
 
Kazakh tug-of-war
 
Kazakh Kökpar game
 
Eagle swooping down
 
Hunter and ''burkit''
 
Start camel race
 
The camel race
 
Camel race finish
 
Grabbing the goat
 
Struggle for the goat
 
Kökpar contestants
 
Whipping the man
 
Qyz quar horse game
 
Tenge Ilu game
 
''Snatch the money''
 
The winner
 
Qyz quar winners
 
Eagle with medal
 
Going home
 

There are probably still about 360 Kazakh eagle hunters in the province and a good number of them come to the festival, on horseback and resplendent in traditional dress, the "bürkit", hunting eagle, perched on their glove; the eagle wears a "tomaga", a hood that prevents it getting nervous from all the strange sights: the birds have excellent eyesight. The birds are all female, apparently more aggressive as hunters than males. They register as participants and there is a parade with the hunters and their eagles, followed by a procession of camels, a wonderful sight. The participants are judged on appearance in traditional dress. and the games begin.

The eagles are on the top of a hill, about 100 metres away from their master on horseback, who calls them, waving a piece of meat. If all goes well, his "bürkit" comes swooping down, grabbing the meat. In another competition, the hunter drags a piece of fox or rabbit fur behind his horse and the eagle, released from the hill, must come down and catch it. Sometimes the hunter dismounts and runs with the fur if the bird doesn't cooperate.

There is a camel race and various horse games: in "Qyz quar" (kiss the girl), a boy tries to kiss a girl at full gallop, while she, more successfully, tries to beat him with a whip. There is "Kökpar", a Kazakh tug-of-war on horseback with the headless carcass of a goat, related to games like buzkashi and others in Central Asia and "Tenge Ilu", where a rider at full gallop must swoop down to pick up coins from the ground; but as in Mongolia coins are no longer used, scraps of material are used instead.