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©Wolfgang Kaehler

2015 MONGOLIA: Nomads and Eagles

September 25 – October 8, 2015

Every year, over 70 hunter Kazakhs, who train Golden Eagles for hunting, gather around in a valley of Altai Mountains and celebrate the Golden Eagle Festival. There’s no age and gender restriction and in fact, the winner of the 2014 festival was a 13 year old girl who was taught to hunt with her eagles by her grandfather. Passed down to generations, the skill of hunting with eagles was only preserved among the Mongolian Kazakh community in Mongolia.  Thanks to the festival in the past 15 years, this unique tradition is coming back. This trip is one of the best examples of sustainable tourism supporting the local community.

Our journey begins in the Gobi Desert, a diverse ecosystem of Mongolia where high mountains, dry basins and grasslands all co-exist together. Spend 2 full days at Gobi’s tallest sand dunes, the magnificent Hongoryn Els for various photo opportunities. Next, fly over the high mountains to the western most part of Mongolia, to participate in the annual Golden Eagle Festival. For two days, experienced hunters will compete with their eagles to test the eagles’ agility and hunting skills. Enjoy spending a private time with hunters for a close up interaction with the hunters and their raptor birds. This trip is co-led by a Mongolia Quest expedition leader and one of the most experienced international photographers, WOLFGANG KAEHLER.

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TOUR CLOSED. Please email us at photos@wkaehlerphoto.com for information about future editions of this tour.

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Trip Details

Fri, Sep 25 Leave Home

Saturday, Sep 26 Ulaanbaatar

Upon arrival, meet your guide and transfer to your hotel.  Built as a ger capital over 350 years ago, the modern day Ulaanbaatar is surrounded by white ger districts around it. After resting in your hotel room, we will enjoy a brief city tour including of Zaisan Hill where you can get a magnificent bird’s eye view of the city. In the evening, we will enjoy a traditional Mongolian performance featuring the “throat” or khoomii singing which also features dancer girls with colorful traditional Mongolian costumes. We will then enjoy a welcome dinner at a fine local restaurant. Later, we will go and Overnight at hotel. (Hotel Ulaanbaatar or similar; B, L, D)

Sun, Sep 27 Gorkhi Terelj National Park / A Photo Session with traditional costumes

Drive a short distance to the Gorkhi Terelj National park, located in the Khentii Mountains range. Consisted of granite outcrops and larch forest, Terelj is one of the most beautiful parks located within the vicinity of Ulaanbaatar.  Here, we will visit the Ariyabal Meditation temple where we will have an opportunity to have a private photography session with dancer models wearing colorful traditional Mongolian costumes.

In the afternoon, drive back to Ulaanbaatar and enjoy a hearty dinner at a fine local restaurant.  (Hotel Ulaanbaatar or similar; B, L, D)

Mon, Sep 28 Gobi  / Hongoryn Els  sand dunes

After breakfast, transfer to the airport for your departure south to the Gobi desert. Upon arrival, we will begin driving to the Hongoryn Els sand dunes; Gobi’s largest of the dunes. Here, we will enjoy climbing the tallest dune and visit a camel herder family to sample ride Bactrian camels. Overnight at a tourist class ger camp. (Ged Camp; B, L, D)

Tue, Sep 29 Hongoryn Els sand dunes

Spend one full day for various photography sessions including for the endemic Saxual tree forest, the incredible landscape and Mongolia’s two humped camels and friendly Mongolian herders. Overnight in gers. (Ger Camp; B, L, D)

Wed, Sep 30 Havtsgait Petroglyphs / Flaming Cliffs

In the morning, we will drive to the Gobi Gurvan Saikhan National Park and visit Havtsgait Petroglyphs site, where hundreds of pre-historic rock drawings are found on a mountain top. Next, drive to the ger camp and enjoy lunch.

In the late afternoon, drive to the Flaming Cliffs, a red cliff stretching about 3 km in wide, where hundreds of dinosaur fossils have been found. Paleontological expeditions from many countries, including from U.S, Poland, Japan and Russia have worked here in the last 80 years.  Each year rain and wind reveals yet more fossils and every summer new discoveries are made.  We will equip ourselves with brushes and small cleaning materials and look for rare fossils hidden in the cliffs.

Enjoy a sunset dinner at this majestic place before returning back to our ger camp. (Ger Camp; B, L, D)

Thu, Oct 1 Gobi Desert / Ulaanbaatar

In the morning, we will transfer to the airport for our return flight back to Ulaanbaatar. Upon arrival, transfer to your hotel. Remainder of the day is independent. Overnight in gers. (Hotel Ulaanbaatar or similar; B, L, D)

Fri, Oct 2 Ulaanbaatar / Ulgii   / Tolbo Lake

Today, we will fly to Ulgii, the capital of Bayan-Ulgii aimag, home to Kazakhs and many other minority groups. Though Kazakhs’ pastoral-nomadic lifestyle is similar to that of the Mongolians, these nomads are predominantly Moslem. Explore the city and visit its’ market with a chance to purchase renowned Kazakh handmade art crafts including a rug. Then, if time permits, visit a local museum, which displays excellent cultural and natural showcases.     

In the afternoon, make a short drive towards crystal-clear Tolbo Lake to the south, mirrored by the dramatic Khunguin Mountain peaks. This saline lake attracts water birds such as swans and gulls and is home to over 8 types of fish.  Spend the day trekking along the eastern shore of the lake and exploring the area.

In the evening retreat to Hovd River on the eastern part of the city.There is an excellent chance to do evening fishing for trout. Overnight in gers.

(Rustic Ger Camp; B, L, D).

Sat, Oct 3    Photo Session with Eagle Hunters

We will begin the day with a private photo session with few eagle hunters at our camp site. 

Then, drive south west to visit traditional Kazakh families to observe how eagles are trained.  While we are in Bayan-Ulgii, we will visit families, representatives of minority groups present in the area. Kazakh women are renowned for their handcraft and tapestry and Kazakh men train Golden Eagles for hunting, an age-old tradition kept essentially in Mongolia. Eagles are caught

from the wild and used for hunting for over 10 years before they are released back into the wilderness. Kazakhs are happy to show you how eagles are trained and they offer you food and shelter, like any other nomadic families in the country. We will also visit Uriankhai family renowned for their archery skill which was an important part of Chinggis Khan’s army.

Visiting a Kazakh family is one of the highlights of our trip. Each ger is decorated with tapestries woven by Kazakh women and each tapestry is decorated with unique patterns designed by the family.  Overnight in gers. (Rustic Camp; B, L, D)

Sun, Oct 4- Mon, Oct 5    The Golden Eagle Festival

For two days, attend the magnificent Golden Eagle Festival. The festival begins with a march of eagle hunters coming into the central field and showcasing their hunter eagles to the public. Eagle skills are then tested by releasing them from a cliff top to time how fast she can land on their owners’ arms when called.

Attend also a traditional tug of war game called kukbar, which is competed on a horse back. One of the highlights of the festival will be the archery contest by ethnic Uriankhai people, who will compete by their skills by traditional Mongolian arrow and bow which have retained the same design and force since the 13th century. In the evenings, enjoy a traditional Kazakh meals followed by a beautiful Kazakh singers performing for us on the last evening.

Overnight in gers.        (Rustic ger camp; B, L, D)

Tue, Oct 6 Ulgii / Ulaanbaatar 

After breakfast, drive back to Ulgii for your return flight to Ulaanbaatar. Upon arrival, spend the rest of the afternoon for shopping and individual sightseeing. Enjoy dinner at a local restaurant.  (Hotel Ulaanbaatar or similar; B, L, D)

Wed, Oct 7 Sightseeing in Ulaanbaatar

Today, explore some of the city’s best known museums and historical sites. Begin with the visit to Gandan, Mongolia’s largest Buddhist Monastery. Visit the temple of Megjid Janraisag, where a 60 feet tall Buddha stands. Reconstructed in early

90s, the statue stands as the symbol of Mongolia’s revival of religious freedom after the communist regime that fell over. The temple itself used to be the largest building in Ulaanbaatar early 1900s. Also, visit the main temples where monks chant Buddha’s sutra’s on daily basis.

Then, visit the National History museum which showcases Mongolia’s best collection of traditional tools, art crafts and other exhibits presenting different periods of Mongolia’s history. Among the museum highlights is the collection of traditional costumes of different tribes, hall of the 13th century Mongolia and section which showcases a typical Mongolian ger and various nomadic tools. Also, visit the Zanabazar’s Fine Arts museum with excellent collection of Mongolia’s arts including golden Buddha statues of 17th century and some of the best preserved tankas in the world. In the evening, enjoy a farewell dinner at one of the finest restaurants in town. Overnight at hotel.

(Hotel Ulaanbaatar or similar; B, L, D)  

Thu, Oct 8 Departure

After breakfast, transfer to the airport for departure. (B)

B = Breakfast L = Lunch D = Dinner