Eagle Festivals In Mongolia
There are two eagle festivals in Mongolia that take place in the autumn in Bayan Ulgii Province in western Mongolia. Both are included in the Mongolia’s festivals calendar – one in Sagsai and the other in Ulgii.
Meet Baibolat – Kazakh eagle hunter and also a skilled competitor of Buzkashi – tug-of-war with a goat carcass on horse back. This is our Mongolia through the lens of our guest Tammy McCorkle.
Introducing Mongolia’s Kazakh Eagle Hunters
The Kazakhs are Mongolia’s largest ethnic group with around 150,000 residing in western Mongolia – representing 3-4% of Mongolia’s population (Mongolia’s entire population is just over 3 million people).
A percentage of the Kazakhs that live in western Mongolia are eagle hunters (the numbers vary depending on the source). They train and then hunt with golden eagles. It is primarily a winter sport.
Introducing Mongolia’s Kazakh Eagle Hunter Festivals
Two eagle festivals take place in Bayan Ulgii Province each autumn.
- Sagsai Eagle Festival – third weekend of September
- Ulgii Eagle Festival – first weekend of October.
Both help to promote Kazakh culture and the sport of hunting with eagles and are said to be the start of the eagle hunting season.
Run by the Mongolian Eagle Hunter’s Association, and sponsored by local tour companies, competition is typically fierce. The main focus of the festivals is the working relationship of the hunter with their eagle and the main competition focuses on the speed, agility and accuracy of the ‘berkut’ (the female Golden Eagle) to come to the prey which is held by the hunter.
Both the Sagsai and Ulgii eagle festivals are a celebration of the Kazakh culture and will provide you with a wealth of cultural experience as you mix in the company of small town folk, nomads and the Kazakh hunters.
Horse games are central to both festivals and focus on the power, dexterity and courage of the rider and their horse and the relationship between them.
- Kumis Alu (pick up the coin) – the essence of the game is that while galloping at full speed the horse rider should pick up a coin off the ground.
- Buzkashi (literally “goat grabbing” in Persian). Also known as kolpar, the version of the game played in western Mongolia is when horse-mounted players attempt tug-of-war with a goat carcass.
- Kyz-Kuumay (“Catch the girl”) is a race contest between men and a woman – on horseback, in traditional dress, with a whip! – where the man has to try to catch up the woman. It was traditionally a race between those soon to be betrothed. If the man catches the woman, then he will get a kiss as a reward. Otherwise, the woman will hit him with a whip.
Logistics of Mongolia’s Eagle Festivals
Both of these two eagle festivals in Mongolia are very popular (expect a lot of visitors. And a lot of cameras). Tickets can be purchased on the day (around US$ 30 pp)
Of course, there will be delays and plenty of waiting around. But that’s all part of the experience.
There are year-round domestic flights to Ulgii (provincial capital of Bayan Ulgii aimag) with both Hunnu Air and AeroMongolia. There are no daily flights and if you’re considering travelling at any point either side of the two eagle festivals (Sept and Oct) then book those flights early. Combine a festival experience with a longer trip or fly into Khovd first or last and experience a little more of the landscapes to help put the culture and way of life of western Mongolia into perspective.
If you did choose to travel with us, your hosts in western Mongolia would all be Kazakh families including eagle hunters. These are not contrived experiences but people that we have personally built up relationships with over the past 13 years. We use no agents or tour operators – we work directly with all the families as this leads to a more personal insight for you as our guest.
For more information on either of these eagle festivals in Mongolia, look at our Mongolia Festivals page. We look forward to welcoming you to our Mongolia.