Mongolia tour, hunting with Eagles
Description of Mongolia tour, hunting with Eagles
Join the Kazakh eagle hunters of Western Mongolia to experience their traditional way of life and understand why and how they hunt with eagles. The imposing Altai Mountains dominate the west of the country and form the spectacular physical and cultural backdrop to this 9-day winter tailor-made tour. Why a winter experience? The eagle hunters only hunt in the winter months (early November through to February) as they hunt specifically for the winter coat of the prey.
The Altai have been a homeland for the nomadic cultures of Eurasia for thousands of years, including the Kazakhs, Mongolia’s largest ethnic minority group with approximately 150,000 living in the provinces of western Mongolia. Hunting with eagles (‘berkutchi’) is a form of falconry traditionally found throughout the Eurasian Steppe, and it is still practiced here. All the families you will stay with - headed by eagle hunters - we have built up a long-term local community partnership with over the years.
Part of the itinerary includes travelling alongside the eagle hunters and witnessing them hunting with their magnificent golden eagles. We leave these days entirely in the hands of the eagle hunters - the arrangement of the hunting, the location and the families with which we stay. Why? It makes for a more genuine style of trip. However, we do not arrange contrived experiences where live prey is pre-captured, held and then released on purpose for our guests to be able to photograph the experience. We will never arrange any artificial experiences as they damage the culture, the way of life or wildlife itself.
For those concerned about the welfare of the eagles, the Kazakh eagle hunters have a respectful yet practical approach to their eagles - they have a close connection with their eagles - they are virtually family members although it is sometimes hard for outsiders to recognise this. The eagles are released back into the wild after about ten seasons so that they can breed. Once released, the birds are observed to make sure they successfully reintegrate back into the wild.
This tailor-made adventure provides a refreshing and individual taste of Mongolia. All the images you see here were taken by our guests. This is the Mongolia that you will also experience! We can also offer this trip as a private tailor-made holiday, to suit your timings, budget and personal preferences.
We are a very small holiday provider and supporting local life is at the core of our philosophy. It’s also central to each experience we offer. Supporting the rural communities through which we travel, working directly with them and accessing their local knowledge leads to a more personal style of holiday for you. We make sure the itineraries provide variety, are flexible and will help you to get under the skin of this wonderful country, to experience the real local Mongolia.
Our team has been working together in Mongolia for over 13 years now, and consists entirely of Mongolians with just one westerner. We research, design and operate every detail of the holidays we offer, working independently. We don’t follow the typical stereotypes of a tour company either. We have nothing to do with big groups, must-sees or all-inclusive packages.
1 Reviews of Mongolia tour, hunting with Eagles
Reviewed on 26 Jul 2019 by Suzanne Smith
1. What was the most memorable or exciting part of your holiday?
So many highlights. Every day was memorable...Witnessing the Naadam Horse Racing and Opening Ceremony. Walking and camping in beautiful mountains, valleys and flower filled meadows. Staying with wonderfully hospitable people and families - especially yak herder and a market gardener. Visiting Hustai National Park to see the Przewalski horses, the main reason for going to Mongolia in the first place
2. What tips would you give other travellers booking this holiday?
Take toilet roll and an open mind
3. Did you feel that your holiday benefited local people, reduced environmental impacts or supported conservation?
The operator is committed to supporting all of the above, would happily travel with them again
4. Finally, how would you rate your holiday overall?
Experience of a lifetime
PlanetAlways a tricky one this. We can promise you the world but how do we prove it? Responsible, sustainable or ethical travel - in recent years, it has developed many labels and is now a widely-used selling tool in the tourism industry. But, what does it mean? Although there is no real clear definition, it has to be more than ensuring that we collect all of our rubbish, asking before taking a photograph or being aware of the cultural norms. That’s what we should be automatically doing anyway.
Below are some of the elements of our responsible travel philosophy for our Hunting With Eagles experience where we can show real evidence of our practice:
Tourism Declares A Climate Emergency
We focus solely on Mongolia and over the past 15 years, we have seen the impact of the climate emergency on this vast country. Annual precipitation has decreased (the (previously reliable) seasonal rainfall pattern has become erratic) but localised severe weather events have increased. There’s also an increase in desertification and a loss of biodiversity. This is combined with Mongolia’s annual mean air temperature increasing by 2.24°C from 1940 to 2015 – triple the global average.
We are aware that tourism is part of the problem and as a business working in tourism we feel we have a responsibility to help combat problems including those created by tourism itself. We already work responsibly on a local level – we’re a registered Mongolian company and social travel enterprise, focusing on creating positive social change in Mongolia. We believe that travel can and should be a positive experience for both the visitor and for the destination country itself – its natural environment, people, culture and traditions. We can provide evidence of our work. However …
Although we believe travel has to be beneficial to all concerned we also understand that it is not currently beneficial to our planet. But we can’t solve this alone. The problem surrounding climate change can only be solved by working together. This is not about cancelling international travel but it is about travelling better – travelling in a more conscious way. As an industry, we need to come together and act to make our sector more sustainable.
That’s why we have signed up to Tourism Declares, an initiative that supports tourism businesses, organisations and individuals in declaring a climate emergency and taking purposeful action to reduce their carbon emissions.
Managing Our Carbon Footprint
It is well documented that the tourism industry is a major contributor to global carbon emissions which are a major part of the climate emergency. As a tourism business – especially one working in Mongolia, a country where a majority of our guests have no option but to fly to – we have a moral responsibility to make sure the way we work is as sustainable as possible. It’s a long road with no definitive answers but below are the achievable steps we are taking to reduce our emissions.
1) We’re creating an environmental management plan and climate action plan with the help of postgraduate students on the Responsible Tourism Management Postgraduate Course of Leeds Beckett University in the UK – the only responsible tourism management MSc certified by the UNWTO.
2) We will be working with C-Level to measure our carbon footprint. Carbon offsetting is not the answer to fixing the climate emergency. But, offsetting is part of our wider environmental management and climate action plans and helps us to take responsibility for our current carbon footprint. Using C-Level we will be balancing our CO2 emissions by investing in Plan Vivo Certificates – environmental service certificates, each representing the reduction or avoidance of one metric tonne of carbon dioxide. The Mongolian Nomad Project we invest in through our carbon offsetting is of Plan Vivo Standard – based on ethical principles intended to deliver long-term climate, livelihoods and biodiversity benefits.
3) Our Hunting With Eagles experience includes two domestic flights. Emissions per kilometre for domestic flights are always much higher because such a large proportion of the flight is spent taking off and landing. With this in mind, as a company, we will be calculating the offset for all domestic flights used by our guests and paying the offset to buy Plan Vivo Foundation carbon certificates which are used to support the Plan Vivo Mongolian Nomad Project - working in partnership with the Mongolian Society of Range Management.
Because of Mongolia’s geographical location and climate, it faces a strain on its freshwater supply which the impact of tourism will only exacerbate. We’re creating looking at how we can limit our own impact on Mongolia’s future freshwater shortage which looks at the accommodation we use, the way our team uses water as part of each trip and also how we provide drinking water to our guests. Two examples of this are:
1) We do not provide bottled drinking water as apart from in the capital city, there is just no way to recycle the bottles. Instead, we take fresh drinking water from local water supply points. We provide two 20 litre water containers in each tour vehicle and provide a Lifesaver carbon filter or an Adventurer Steripen in each vehicle. In addition, we have formed a partnership with Water-To-Go. Our travellers are now able to purchase a Water-To-Go reusable filtered water bottle and receive a 15% discount. From each purchase, an additional 15% is put towards buying Plan Vivo Foundation carbon certificates which are used to support the Plan Vivo Mongolian Nomad Project - working in partnership with the Mongolian Society of Range Management.
2) Also, for a majority of all of our trips we do not use the typical tourist ger camps that often have very bad eco-credentials. Instead, we use a mix of accommodation and use the locally provided town shower houses. This is where a majority of Mongolia's rural population come to shower including the families that will host you on our Hunting With Eagles experience. The shower houses are small business enterprises operated for the local communities and a great way to support local, meet the locals and do as the locals do themselves. It also helps us to manage our own environmental footprint.
The disposal of rubbish is a major issue in Mongolia - especially plastic. As part of our Sustainable Tourism Strategy, we are working on limiting our general use of plastic and as part of this, we have created our Mini Plastic Free Mongolia Challenge which we invite our guests to be part of - as well as our team members.
As part of our Responsible Travel ethos, we work with a local Mongolian NGO (Mongolian Quilting Centre) to make fabric tote bags for our guests which we hand out for free as a welcome pack at the start of each trip. This is a souvenir for our guests but it also helps to support the project and helps us to cut down on the waste we produce. As part of your Hunting With Eagles experience, you will also receive such a tote bag.
Also, you can book knowing that we finance our annual community two-day rubbish collection in a national park in Mongolia. Arranged through the local community and protected area rangers, we have been arranging this since 2014 - even in 2020 despite a lack of income due to the Covid pandemic.
Unlike a majority of the larger tour companies, where small group travel can mean being in a group of up to 12-18 people when we say small group travel this is what we mean. Our group size on this trip has been kept small - a maximum of six. This means that the family experiences during the Nauryz celebration become more personal and authentic for you and more respectful towards the local people you will meet and the local families you stay with. We are not an overwhelming presence - on the local communities or the local environment.
At the moment our vehicles are driver owned as it gives each driver more flexibility in the low season months. We use Russian 4x4 Furgon vans (diesel & petrol) as these are the most suitable vehicles for handling Mongolia’s rugged terrain. However, we are always looking at ways to manage our overall impact including the impact made by our tour vehicles and this includes providing cycling and trekking experiences as well as using the Trans-Mongolian railway for transport throughout the country. We also have a limited number of departures for each of our itineraries. We also do not concentrate specifically on one area. Mongolia is a country of incredibly diverse yet fragile ecosystems. By limiting our presence in certain areas, we help to preserve and protect and help to avoid the area changing environmentally due to repeated and extended exposure to tourism.
On this experience, you will be hosted by Kazakh eagle hunters. We do not arrange contrived experiences where live prey is pre-captured, held and then released on purpose for our guests to be able to photograph the experience. We will never arrange any artificial experiences as they damage the culture, the way of life or wildlife itself. For those concerned about the welfare of the eagles, the Kazakh eagle hunters have a respectful yet practical approach to their eagles – they have a close connection with their eagles – they are virtually family members although it is sometimes hard for outsiders to recognise this. The eagles are released back into the wild after about ten seasons so that they can breed. Once released, the birds are observed to make sure they successfully reintegrate back into the wild.
PeopleOur company is not a world or a multi-destination specialist. We concentrate on the country we know, live in and love – Mongolia. We research, design and operate each itinerary ourselves and do not source our itineraries from other agents. That means we’re part of the community that we work to support.
A Fair Deal
As a registered social travel enterprise, we look to make sure we work responsibly within tourism and to make sure our work benefits local projects, people and communities as much as it benefits our guests and us as a business. We’re a little different in we believe everyone is equal. That means our guests are equal to our team who are equal to the Mongolians we work with on a more general scale. Respect is at the core of what we believe in.
We focus on creating local community partnerships that offer long-term support to local people, families and Mongolian projects – encouraging their own sense of enterprise. We also look at ways we can continue to work with each family even when their personal circumstances change. We want to continue strengthening these partnerships whilst making sure that they have a positive impact. As part of our philosophy, we don’t stop working with families just because their circumstances change … instead, we look at alternative ways in which we can work with them.
All of our team are Mongolian (apart from Jess) but we don’t source the ‘best’ guides that work the tourism circuit and that already have guaranteed work with other companies. Instead, we provide free long-term training, development and employment opportunities to Mongolian women that want the opportunity to work in tourism (whether that be for a professional reason, for development of personal skills or for economic empowerment) but that other companies won't take as they don't fit the stereotype. Our female Mongolian trip assistants are dynamic women who are searching for an opportunity to train and develop and we provide that long-term opportunity.
Volunteering & Charity
The local projects that we actively support are typically grassroots level projects that provide greater opportunities and benefits for local communities within Mongolia. One example is that as part of our free city walking tour of Ulaanbaatar - Mongolia's capital city - we take our guests to visit a local project called Nogoon Nuur. We make a donation per person we take to the project which is used by the project for maintenance on their community centre. Another example is our work with the Mongolian Quilting Centre which we pay to make fabric tote bags for our guests which we hand out for free as a welcome pack at the start of each trip. This is a souvenir for our guests but it also helps to support the project working with disadvantaged Mongolian women.
Travelling With Respect
Our trips focus on 21st Century Mongolia - yes, you’ll get to experience the traditional way of life but at the same time gain an overview as what it means to be Mongolian in 21st Century Mongolia. The people we work with are ‘real’ people that we form long-term local community partnerships with. They are not tourism professionals. You’ll meet people from Ulaanbaatar, you’ll meet herders, you’ll meet Mongolians that live in the provincial centres as well as the smaller town and rural communities. However, these are real people with real lives to lead and at no point do we ask the families to change their way of life for our/your own benefit or comfort. If they don’t have a shower, neither will you! (Don’t panic! … see Water in the Environment section!) We ask our guests to try and embrace and enjoy any differences that they come across in Mongolia. Experiencing the differences is all part of any trip and makes it a more authentic and positive holiday for you and a more respectful and enjoyable experience for the locals as well.
An example of our philosophy is that for our Hunting With Eagles experience we used accommodation provided by Kazakh families. For this trip, that’s families we work with in western Mongolia - including family members of our Kazakh team such as Jako and Baurjan in Ulgii. Families offer accommodation to help supplement their income. Most are small rural businesses providing extra accommodation. Some accommodation is offered by herders, some are offered by ‘retired’ herders who no longer migrate and some by families that live in small-town communities. By using this form of accommodation it provides you with a more genuine insight into the real way of life in Mongolia and it benefits the local communities through which we are travelling.
In addition, although we sometimes visit areas where tourism has become more concentrated we also offer itineraries that stretch to areas that are not necessarily considered ‘highlights’ by other tour companies or the guidebooks. By not focusing on one area, it also means that we help to support communities that might not otherwise benefit from the tourism industry.
As an example, during this Hunting With Eagles experience, we include a day in Ulgii - the provincial capital of western Mongolia. Although not a highlight of Mongolia it is part of the way of life … the families that host you use it for shopping, for meeting friends, for attending school or visiting the doctor. It’s as much part of their life as hunting with eagles is.
Low Season Travel
This is part of our series of low season experiences. We are based in Mongolia and unlike most companies, we live there as well. This means we have an in-depth knowledge of the country and can offer immersive experiences using our own local knowledge and that of the local people and communities we work in partnership with. Promoting low season in Mongolia helps to create economic stability within the Mongolian tourism sector. Along with mining and agriculture, tourism is one of the main sources of income for the country, and with a peak tourist season of barely three months, many Mongolians struggle to make ends meet. While some guides are teachers or university students working through the summer holidays, many others involved in tourism – particularly the drivers – have little other work. Huge numbers of drivers are required in July and August, and there is simply not enough work for the rest of the year to keep them all employed. In addition, winter is a costly time in Mongolia. Families will need to buy serious clothing, as well as food and coal, which is expensive. Hosting visitors for a few weeks can really ease the stresses of winter, and takes the pressure off earning a year’s worth of money in the short summer season. For our low season experiences, we have had made by hand traditional goatskin blankets. We also provide you with your own hand made full-length goatskin del (traditional Mongolian coat) and a pair of Mongolian felt boots. Not only does this help to keep you warm but it allows knowledge and traditional skills to be kept alive as well.
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