Mongola’s weather in the mountains out west might be unpredictable, but the kindness and hospitality of the Kazakhs never waivers. Spending a week exploring their territory involves moving our camp site every day or every other day. Depending on the size of the group we pitch at least a kitchen ger and a communal ger, sometimes two.
These get moved from place to place on an old Russian truck. At night this is a windbreak for the eagles. The food, tents and bedding go in on old Russian ambulance, hailing from world war II. These vehicles can go anywhere. When it is cold you just light a fire under it to thaw the diesel for about 45 minutes and then you are on your way.
We move on horseback riding for up to 8 hours. At lunch we get hot tea or coffee made on a stove that is carried on the back of one of the Kazakhs. Meanwhile our Toyota Landcruisers go ahead to meet us at our next destination (possibly the grazing grounds during a different season for one of our eagle hunters) and all the drivers club in to erect the camp so we can arrive to a comfortable place to eat, drink and sleep.
No sooner do we arrive to our new home and visitors from the surrounding area start arriving too.
All eagles need to be fed and put to bed around our gers. After the cooks’ have fed all of us and a mountain of local people most of our Kazakh riding companions disappear to spend the night in local family gers, leaving us to baby-sit their eagles. We have expedition tents to sleep in but in the cold we migrate into the communal ger with our sleeping bags and radiate around the central stove to keep warm. To make sure we have a comfortable night, someone comes in every 2- 3 hours to stoke the fires.
But as we start tucking into bed one of our friends comes in to serenade us with beautiful Kazakh music about eagles and love.
We also have a few of the eagle hunter’s dogs running along for the entire time. Pete’s challenge is to befriend them all so by the end they are eating out of his hand. Your horse just needs to stumble and someone is there to help. If you are not an experienced rider, someone will lead your horse. Where else can you ride for an entire day in the company of golden eagles, in spectacular scenery, crossing over mountain passes and through raging rivers, seeing no vehicles, no permanent homes and no fences. You camp anywhere, you stop everywhere and go into any ger for tea and an unending supply of homemade dairy products made from either sheep, goat, yak, camel or horse milk. These people are generous and fun and could not do more for us if we asked. Can’t wait to get back to Mongolia next year to laugh with and share our experiences and photos with our Kazakh friends who have become like family.
All images ©PeteOxford.