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August 26, 2009

Mongolia's Golden Eagle Festival

A proud golden eagle hunter and his magnificent pet.
Photo: Nomadic Expeditions

by Brook Wilkinson

No matter how many places I travel to, there are always dozens more I'm dying to visit--like Mongolia. What's not to like: some of the world's last nomadic herders crossing the plains on horseback, a name that is synonymous with the middle of nowhere. But it's not an easy place to visit, which is why I'd want to book my trip through Nomadic Expeditions, a New Jersey-based tour operator founded by Mongolia native Jalsa Urubshurow. If I had the time and funds, in fact, I'd be booking a trip right now to the Golden Eagle Festival, which takes place in northwestern Mongolia every fall. Several tour operators now run trips to the festival, but Urubshurow himself started it back in 2000, as a way to revive this traditional Kazakh hunting technique, and to bring money into these subsistence-based communities. All proceeds from the festival go to the Berkut Association, which works to uphold the traditions of the country's largest ethnic minority group.

The Golden Eagle Festival has revived this ancient hunting method, which uses the graceful birds to catch small prey. I'm not a fan of hunting as a sport, but in places like Mongolia where it is done sustainably, hunting can be an essential means for survival. You can join one of Nomadic Expeditions' trips to the Golden Eagle Festival, which runs from September 30 to October 10. It's not cheap--prices start at $1,950 per person--but your money will be supporting the revival and preservation of an ancient way of life. 

If you've got a bit more to spend, follow the advice of our 2008 Dream List and book two days with a Kazakh eagle trainer as he prepares for the festival. As I wrote in that article, "You'll learn how the hunter improves his bird's speed and accuracy and will spend time with his family as they tend livestock and construct a ger (you can even stay in one)." Now that's a homestay to remember.

Further reading:
* The 2009 World Savers Awards: Honoring the airlines, cruise lines, city hotels, resorts, hotel chains, and tour operators that are dedicated to saving their communities and our world
* Responsible Traveler: Making a difference


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