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Mongolian Countryside: Kazakh Eagle Hunters and Travel Rituals

As we headed out into the Mongolian countryside from the capital Ulaanbaatar we passed by modern colorful houses clashing against simple traditional gers in a landscape of sun splashed undulating hills and open steppe.

1. Landscape of colorful houses and undulating hills

2. Modern brightly colored houses

Not far from the city we stopped on the roadside for a close up look at a majestic golden eagle with its Kazakh eagle hunter.

3. Kazakh eagle hunter with golden eagle

Kazakh Eagle Hunters

Many Kazakhs fled over the border to western Mongolia several hundred years ago during the advance of the Russian empire into Kazakhstan bringing with them the ancient tradition of eagle hunting.

These eagle hunters usually train the larger, more aggressive female golden eagles, hunting with them from horseback during the extreme winter months, when the pelts of rabbit, marmot, fox and wolf are most luxuriant, before turning their prey into the famous Kazakh fur hats.

During summer, some offer passing tourists the chance to hold these giant weighty yet noble birds for a fee.

4. Magnificent golden eagle

5. An ovoo dominates the landscape

Ovoos

Throughout our travels in the countryside we passed ovoos. At crossroads, mountaintops and other high places, these piles of rocks and stones crowned with prayer flags fluttering in the wind color the landscape.

Mongolians customarily stop at ovoos during their travels, circling clockwise three times on foot and adding a rock to the pile believing this ritual would grant them a safe onward journey. Hasty travelers on four wheels suffice with a passing honk on the horn.

Ovoos are spiritual sites for worshiping the mountains, the sky and the revered sky deity Khokh Tenger (translating to “Blue Sky”). They’re also used for Buddhist ceremonies and act as landmarks in a terrain with almost no signposts. Worshipers insert sticks tied with traditional ceremonial blue (symbolizing the revered sky) silk scarves called khadag into the ovoo, chant prayers and leave food offerings.

6. Close up of khadag atop an ovoo

7. Another ovoo

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4 responses

  1. Como siempre muy interesante, es bello y una forma de conocer otras culturas, gracias por dejarnos ver fotos magnificas…
    Un saludo para ti…
    C.

    August 17, 2011 at 10:16 am

    • Muchas gracias como siempre Cruz! Saludos.

      August 17, 2011 at 12:40 pm

  2. Just wow! I like mongolian horses, a few of them arrived years ago in Germany. Beautiful pictures, especially the eagle!

    Greets :)

    August 20, 2011 at 11:17 am

    • Thanks! The eagle was incredible. I had no idea how big and heavy they were but they’re so elegant when they fly. I love Mongolian horses! I felt so free riding out on the open steppe with no fences or houses in sight. Incredible experience! I’l be posting more on my trip.

      August 21, 2011 at 11:02 am

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