Veteran travel industry insider (and our Director of Operations) Sanjay Saxena has circled the globe. He’s climbed many mountains, had a firsthand look at a headhunter’s crypt, and tracked countless wildlife. In other words, “been there, done that,” best describes him. But even an inveterate traveler has several places or experiences left to discover. Case in point? While Sanjay had traveled to Mongolia before, he was never able to attend the annual Golden Eagle Festival. This annual tradition was co-founded by our founder and CEO, Jalsa Urubshurow, 19 years ago as a way to honor, celebrate, and increase awareness for the centuries-old Kazakh tradition of hunting with golden eagles. Nearly two decades later, the festival is a prime example of sustainable tourism. It’s been on Sanjay’s radar for years, but he was finally able make it this year. As you’ll see from his Q&A, this lens-loving traveler was captivated from the very beginning. Maybe that’s why he shot 1,500+ photos in just two days.
Question: What were your impressions as a first-timer?
Answer: First of all, it’s really and truly a festival for the locals – and we just get the chance to attend. It’s not a festival that’s put on for the tourists at all and that authenticity comes across from beginning to end. You really get the chance to see the action up close.
Question: What were the accommodations like?
Answer: Nomadic Expeditions selects a site that best suits the size of the group that is attending. Our site was nestled alongside a river that carved its way through the stark and dramatic landscape and with the mountains in the background, it was really just stunning. I’ve camped in a lot of different places, but this experience was so much better than your typical campsite. The gers are very comfortable and elegantly appointed and the gourmet food was delicious. I can guarantee that we were the only camp that was opening bottles of Opus One! No, but seriously, we had a better stocked bar in a ger in the rugged Altai than many bars have here! Shoulder Monkey, single malt whiskey, you name it.
Question: How much attention is paid to sustainability when it comes to the temporary ger camp?
Answer: Sustainability is at the core of everything Nomadic Expeditions does but I really got to see it in action on this trip. First, the site selection is very important. Our guides selected a site that was right for our group but they took great care to also select a place where they wouldn’t have to disturb the land. No boulders had to be relocated, there was no removal of brush, etc. Naturally, the camp was very clean and well-tended during our stay. Many guests commented on how much garbage was generated by other camps. I asked our guides to send me a few photos of the site after we left and I was delighted to see that there was not a single trace of our visit. If we didn’t have such fond memories, you’d think we were never there!
Question: Did you have any moments that will stay with you?
Answer: Absolutely! There were many fantastic experiences, but the one thing that will definitely stay with me forever is the bond that you see between the hunter and his eagle. I’m a dog owner, so I thought I knew a little something about the bond between animals and their masters, but this was totally different. You see the beautiful relationship between this bird of prey and her human (most eagles that are selected for hunting are female, as they are larger and more aggressive). It’s very palpable – you see the raw emotions. I took many photos, but there are several that show that relationship that I will treasure.