July 19-20, 2017
I couldn’t believe that we actually visited an eagle hunter and his family! Tamara and I had given up hope, since this was not eagle hunting season. We were aware of this before coming to Mongolia, but were heading into the Kazakh region and Bogie was determined to find a hunter somewhere near Olgii.
We left our ger family early to get a head start. They had been discussing their next move 2,000 feet down the steppe, on August 10th, just before the weather starts to get cold. They wouldn’t be able to return to their summer pastures until the cold wind and snow had abated. Can you imagine packing up your entire home twice a year to accommodate the weather? What energetic, resilient people!
The morning was spent barreling over dirt roads until lunchtime, when we stopped at beautiful Lake Tolbo (means stain) for a quick swim. Well, Bogie did. I’m not big on rocky beaches, so I just enjoyed the waves and the view. We were still in Bayan-Olgii province.
Click on the photos to enlarge and start slideshow.
What a marvelous expansion of sky and earth all the way to the town of Olgii. There was no way I could get the feel of the spaciousness of Mongolia in a photo, so I just sat back and surveyed the rocky cliffs, valleys, streams, grazing animals (not too many because of the sparse, dry pasture lands), and multi-colored, interwoven ups and downs of the landscape.
We rolled into Olgii mid-afternoon and enjoyed our only museum of the trip. It was full of kazakh art, fabrics, sculptures, and myriad cultural treasures. I recognized the town—sprawling, wide streets, low buildings, and little traffic—from the movie, The Eagle Huntress.
By the time we’d finished shopping, it was too late to check at the border patrol, something we had to do before leaving town, so we stopped at a small enclave of gers (the Mongolian equivalent of a motel, one of several in the town), supervised by a gracious young woman, Khuan, who spoke three languages…rather necessary if you live at such a crossroads. Olgii is situated near borders with the Xinjiang province of China and the Altai province of Russia. It is fascinating to read the history of this area over the past hundred years and its relation to Kazakhstan, Russia, and China. Olgii has been a predominately Kazakh settlement since before the creation of an independent Mongolia in 1911.
The next day we headed for Altai-Bogd National Park, and the town of Sagsai, where, unbeknownst to us, Bogie had contacted a well-known eagle hunter, whose father had been one of the most famous hunters in the area. He picked up a fellow in town, who said he could take us to him. What a great surprise! This is not eagle hunting season, so we had despaired of such a meeting. They were so eager to please us that they took off the intricately-woven dust ruffle (fringe) decorating the old man’s bed and gave it to us. I tried to stop them, but to no avail. What a jolly time it was!
We spent an hour with the family and ended up buying some of the hangings that the women were weaving and sewing while we were there.
After socializing, we all went outside to see the birds and a demonstration of the eagle hunter’s expertise. He is the son of the old hunter and has quite a reputation, himself.
Check out this video. It will give you a idea of the surroundings and the various birds.
After leaving our new friends, we drove overland, enjoying striking scenery…mountains of black rock, small lakes and streams, herds of animals, and a plethora of camels.
We reached a more wooded region not far from two lakes, and camped for a couple of days. The whole area is called the Khoton-Khurgan for the lakes.The large lake is Khar Lake. Directly below our site was a peaceful stream. The ambiance was that of a pristine paradise.
As soon as we started to set up camp, members of the two gers close by started coming over, bringing small gifts. It was obvious that they were curious about us. Evidently that Mongolian hospitality was the same in Kazakh areas. The two languages are different, however, so we used smiles and gestures as we served tea (after someone handed us a container of hot milk). We also gave hard-wrapped candy to the children. This was not my doing. It was Tuul’s. We all enjoyed the sociability. Tamara grooved on showing the women photos of her recent trip to southern India (on her computer) and the colorfully-dressed ladies. They developed quite a jolly camaraderie.
Finally, a friend of one of the Kazakh men arrived on horseback and acted as an interpreter. He knew both Kazakh and Mongolian. Bless him!
After dinner, Bogie and Tuul went to visit a family, and we settled in to watch the sunset. It had been a long and varied day. But satisfying. I was surprised when Algaa said, “The roads were very bad today.” No kidding! I didn’t see how either he or Bogie could find their way anywhere. It just seemed to me to be a spiderweb of dirt roads leading over streams and through valleys and mountains. Algaa would take off over a hard, sparsely vegetated meadow and find another road and then another and another…I told him his brain was a combination of GPS and compass.
We sat, three friends at the close of the day, wrapped in silence. My heart was full of gratitude as I searched the sky, infinite and all-encompassing. Everywhere I looked, limitless space. I seldom experience this feeling of utter solitude, yet one with the universe. I had never felt so serene, so at peace, so untroubled.