Samantha Anderson takes us on a journey to the Alma Kuk Golden Eage Festival in Western Mongolia’s Ulaankhus
There is a special allure of a moment so vast and empty, free of modernity and the pressures of time. In that moment every horizon is visible in all directions at once. Nothing interrupts your thoughts or disturbs your sense of freedom.
That moment for me, was a 10-day journey across western Mongolia to the provinces of Uvs and Bayan-Olgii – which share mountainous borders with Russia and Kazakhstan.
This was my second horse adventure in Mongolia. I rode the 2018 Mongol Derby, but I was injured and had to go back.
I chose a more judicious option, an epic horse trek with 12 experienced riders expertly pieced together by Kate Willings and Morindoo Tours and Adventures. It was the perfect fusion of adrenaline and time to soak up the world around you.
We had three back-up vehicles to carry our tents and gear, with a mobile kitchen that was nothing short of a miracle.
Traditional Mongolian food is both really delicious and awful. It depends on your taste. Boiled sheep grizzle and cabbage with noodles was my least favourite. But after a day’s riding, who was going to complain. My favourite was kuushuur – deep fried little “pies” stuffed with chopped up bits of sheep.
Every single day was an adventure on its own. River crossings, climbing up snow- covered mountain passes and galloping across wide open plains. Not to mention a shot of vodka next to a warm fire at night.
After nine days on a horse and camping in the most remote locations, arriving in the town of Olgii – the capital of the Bayan-Olgii province – and finally having a shower felt like five-star treatment.
This was our overnight stop before heading out to Ulaankhus to mount local horses and ride in Kazakh tack to the Alma Kuk Golden Eagle Festival.
This part of the journey was nothing short of an out-of-this-world experience.
The tradition of hunting with eagles on horseback dates back over a thousand years to a nomadic people known as the Khitans. Today it is their decedents of the Kazakh origin who continue to hunt with eagles.
The festival was organised over two days, with a variety of games for the local hunters and huntresses to compete in. It began with an impressive opening ceremony – with the hunters dressed in full regalia parading their majestic eagles on horseback.
The first competition saw hunters calling their eagles who had been taken to a nearby mountain top, and the eagles were to fly down and land on the hunters’ arms. No easy feat, even for seasoned hunters. Only about one in three accomplished this. Each hunter has their own unique call for their eagle, and just listening to them put me in a space that was hundreds of years away from the present.
Another competition was what I termed “Dead Goat Tug of War”. Two mounted riders grab hold of a dead goat’s front or rear legs and hang on for dear life whilst galloping around until someone gives up by letting go.
Then came a camel race. It took a long time to get going, and camels are nothing like horses when it comes to speed. One camel gave up and ran off, and the others moaned but kept on to the finish with their riders whipping them and each other.
The prize-giving at the Alma Kuk Golden Eagle Festival was as entertaining as the opening ceremony. It went on for a couple of hours and the winner of each discipline was honoured and rewarded with a certificate and a medal.
This experience, a moment in time when everything felt surreal, will live in my mind forever.
When Samantha Anderson is not off on an adventure somewhere in the world, she is hard at work finding suitable warehousing space for her clients. If you need a warehouse anywhere in South Africa contact her at the Deal Core Property Group on 031 266 7750.