Preservation of Falconry tradition in Mongolia

Each October, deep within the gold and crimson mountainous terrain of Bayan-Ölgii province in Mongolia’s arid western region, some 100 traditional falconers gather to compete in a remarkable two-day event – the only one of its kind on earth. Donning colorful garments made of yak fur and wool, they mount strong horses accustomed to the rugged landscape and prop golden eagles proudly upon their leather-clad arms. The hunters then partake in feats of agility, accuracy and speed that test both their skills and the special bond that they each share with their magnificent birds of prey.

The festival reenacts the age-old tradition of using eagles to hunt, though no live animals are hunted in the competition. Instead, the event allows the region’s indigenous community to celebrate their cultural heritage by testing the skills of local eagle trainers using knowledge that has been passed down for generations. The festival also provides travelers with the opportunity to witness an authentic cultural experience based upon centuries-old traditions in a stunning landscape, while directly supporting the livelihoods and heritage of local communities.

Nomadic Expeditions invites you to take a front-row seat at this unique event, which was co-founded in 1999 by our company founder and CEO, Jalsa Urubshurow, as a way to preserve their traditions. A decade later, UNESCO designated Mongolia’s eagle hunting tradition as an example of living human heritage on its “Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity” list. While we are proud to have helped protect and bring this venerable heritage to the world’s attention, today we take even greater pride in sharing this spectacular event with our guests in a way that benefits the local people and provides a truly once in a lifetime travel experience.

Beyond the competitions, our guests also have the chance to learn about the local way of life and support traditional artisans who sell their distinct handicrafts – including embroidered hats and jackets, decorative felt bags, and striking handwoven rugswhich further provides income for rural community members. For photographers, the Golden Eagle Festival offers endless opportunities to capture unforgettable images against a backdrop of imposing mountains rising dramatically from vast plains. At the end of the day, our guests retreat to the comfort of Nomadic Expeditions’ classic private camp to enjoy multi-course meals that fuse Mongolian delicacies like khuushuur dumplings with international cuisine, private performances by local musicians, and the opportunity to exchange adventure stories with our guides over a glass of wine.

Hunting with eagles in Mongolia dates back to the reign of Genghis Khan. However, as with many ancient traditions around the world, the practice was slowly disappearing with time and by the 1990s less than fifty families in western Mongolia kept the heritage alive. As the last true eagle hunters aged, and with little interest from the younger generations, the long-upheld tradition appeared destined for the history books.

Driven by our commitment to preserving Mongolia’s rich cultural heritage while building a more sustainable future for the country, Nomadic Expeditions co-founded the Golden Eagle Festival together with three men from Bayan-Ölgii province – the ancestral home of Mongolia’s eagle hunters – as a way to save the tradition from being lost forever. Word of the festival spread and began drawing anthropologists and curious travelers from around the world, while the release of the 2016 documentary The Eagle Huntress captured increased global attention. The film tells the story of a 13-year-old girl named Aisholpan who actively challenged gender roles in the male-dominated world of eagle hunting by participating in, and winning, the coveted competition – a true badge of national honor. In turn, a new wave of young Mongolian women was inspired to learn falconry and compete with the local men, infusing the festival with newfound diversity.

Today, there are more than 300 eagle hunters in Mongolia and the cultural renaissance is a testament to the Golden Eagle Festival, which celebrated its 20th anniversary in 2019 and remains a strong source of cultural pride for participants and a fascinating experience for visitors. Nomadic Expeditions played a key role in reviving and protecting this tradition for a new generation of Mongolians, and we are proud to provide our guests with an unmatched opportunity to experience the national heritage firsthand in a committed and caring way. This is the hallmark of our company as a sustainable tourism pioneer.

In our continuous pursuit of protecting Mongolia’s cultural and natural heritage, in 2020 we formed a new partnership with the Wildlife Science and Conservation Center of Mongolia. Together, we have created a comprehensive five-year project funded by Nomadic Expeditions to support field research and the conservation of golden eagles in Mongolia, which will employ citizen science techniques established by the California Academy of Sciences to monitor and track their population in the wild. These actions form part of our larger commitment to sustainable tourism best practices, including environmentally-friendly operations, protecting nature, preserving culture and improving the well-being of local communities across Mongolia.

Our individual travel choices make a difference. When you travel with Nomadic Expeditions, your trip supports our diverse initiatives that help make tourism a force for good by bringing direct benefits to local people and the planet.