The Altai Odyssey
Kazakh Eagle Hunters of Mongolia
September 6-19, 2017
Explore Mongolia at the crossroads of Russia, China, and Kazakhstan, to experience the timeless beauty of the Mongolian Kazakh people and their way of life. We journey into magnificent and dramatic landscapes where for thousands of years these valleys have been home to a nomadic people whose livelihoods rely on hunting and herding. The trip is carefully designed to provide cultural immersion into all aspects of Kazakh nomadic experience, especially its 2,000-year-old tradition of hunting with Golden Eagles. In one of the planet’s remotest corners, the warmhearted Kazakhs will embrace you with authentic life-changing experiences.
- Immerse yourself into the rugged charm of Kazakh nomads of the Altai Mountains.
- Gain an intimate insight into one of the most primal relationships between man and nature, and learn about their age-old tradition of hunting with the Golden Eagles.
- Explore the largest and the most intact Petroglyphs in Central Asia dating back starting from the Neolithic period (11,000 BC) to the Bronze Age (6,000 BC).
- Discover ancient burial mounds (khirigsuur) of the early Nomadic period and stone man (balbal) from the Turkic period.
- Meet animistic Tuvan nomads, the smallest ethnic minority within Mongolia. Ethnically Turkic, Tuvans in Altai continues to hold on to their nomadic heritage as they have for centuries.
- Travel with one of the last of the Tuvan shamans of Altai. Experience an intimate Shaman ritual under the vast Altai sky and connect with the spirits of southern Siberian ancestors.
- Experience an epic two-day Horse Riding Expedition with Kazakh horseman and pack-camels carrying all our supplies.
- Photograph up close, Eagle Hunters on a daylong hunting expedition, followed by two days being a spectator at a local Golden Eagle Festival. The trip provides endless opportunity to capture award-winning images.
- Soak up the magic of sleeping in your private Kazakh Ger (traditional Yurt) in the vastness of Altai wilderness.
Guests are advised to arrive Ulaanbaatar by September 5th evening.
Upon arrival at the Chinggis Khaan International Airport, our staff will meet you for the transfer to our hotel, located within walking distance of Sukhbaatar Square, museums and shops.
Best Western Tuushin Hotel.
Costing on Request
Included in price
Double or twin occupancy at Premier Tuushin, Best Western Hotel, Ullanbattar for Sept 6th & 18th, reserved by Wild Earth Journeys. You’re advised to arrive by 5th of September. Please inform us of your arrival time and we can assist you with making extra night reservations prior and post trip. All the meals, activities and accommodations as indicated in the itinerary are included in the trip cost.
Your international flights, travel, health and trip cancellation insurances, any additional hotel/ ger camp nights that may be necessary due to domestic airline schedule changes or other factors, pre-trip expenses, over weight charges on domestic flights, limited to 15 kgs, medical immunizations, emergency evacuations, visa fees, tips and other expenses of a personal nature (alcoholic beverages, laundry, etc).
Please note: We require that you purchase travel insurance. This is just a smart thing to do for overseas travel, and if there is a medical emergency, particularly an evacuation needed, you will need to have this coverage.
Day 1 – 6 September – Wednesday – Ulaanbaatar
Enjoy your morning breakfast. Meet at the lobby at 9.30 am to meet your fellow travelers and your guide. After a brief orientation, we walk a few blocks to Zanabazar Museum of Fine Arts. The fine arts museum has a superb collection of paintings, carvings and sculptures, including many by the revered sculptor, artist and historic figure Zanabazar (1635–1723). The museum also contains rare religious exhibits such as scroll Thangka (paintings), ritual masks and Buddhist statues, representing the best display of its kind in the country. The building itself carries some historical value. It was built in 1905, making it one of the oldest Manchu-era buildings in the city. During the Socialist period it served as Ulaanbaatar’s first State Department Store, the first ever department store in the country. In 1966 the building was converted to a museum.
After visiting the museum we will walk a couple of blocks to a popular restaurant for lunch. Post lunch, take it easy and rest for the afternoon. You have a long busy day tomorrow with an early morning flight and a long drive to our first campsite at Tavan Bogd National Park.
Meet at the lobby at 6 pm for a welcome dinner.
Best Western Tuushin Hotel (B,L,D)
Day 2 – 7 September – Thursday – Ulaanbaatar / Ulgii, Bayan Ulgii Province
Our destination today is the sacred Shiveet Khairkhan Mountain, home to Tuvan nomads and mountain ibex. We fly early in the morning to Ulgii, the provincial capital. Our Kazakh guide and local staff will meet us at Ulgii airport. After breakfast, we ride 4WD Land Cruisers and we head west to Shiveet Khairkhan Mountain in Altai Tavan Bogd National Park. Most of the drive will be along the Tsagaan Gol, or the White River valley. It is going to be long but beautiful drive to our campsite. We stop along the way to take in the dramatic landscape and have an opportunity to photograph. Packed picnic lunch on the way.
Drive: 100 miles (170 Km), approx 7 hours drive time including stops. Today is going to be a long day and a long drive | Overnight in Ger (B,L,D)
Day 3 – 8 September – Friday – Shiveet Khairkhan Mt, Tavan Bogd National Park
After breakfast we have a short drive to the largest Petroglyphs site in Central Asia. The Petroglyphs here dates back starting from the Neolithic period (11,000 BC) to the Bronze Age (6,000 BC). Located in a mountain valley carved out by Pleistocene (Ice Age) glaciers, the site is protected by the relative inaccessibility due to both terrain and weather. Exploring the rock carving provides exceptional documentation of the pre-historic and early historic communities, and reflects the development of human culture over the period of thousands of years in the Altai Mountains.
After the Petroglyphs, we drive a little further to a stunning spot where we can view the great Altai Tavan Bogd Mountain peaks. We do a short hike to Shiveet Khairkhan Mountain and if we are lucky, we will have ibex sightings up close. Shiveet Khairkhan is home to a little over 300 mountain ibex.
We have another short drive to visit the animist Tuvan nomad families, the smallest ethnic minority within Mongolia. We will have the opportunity to share tea and get to hear about their culture and way of life. Shiveet Khairkhan Mountain is considered sacred by Tuvans.
We head to our campsite to relax and refresh. In the early evening we gather around the bonfire with one of the last of the Tuvan Shamans and join in an intimate shamanic ritual at the campsite.
Drive: Today is mostly short drives | some short hikes; little longer hikes may depend on ibex sightings | Overnight in Ger (B,L,D)
Day 4 – 9 September – Saturday – Mogoit Valley
We drive following the Tsagaan Gol (White River), through sandy terrain and on to rocky high passes. Today the terrain changes. We will see more trees on our drive. On the way to Mogoit campsite, we will stop by an old cemetery that marks the first Kazakh migration from northern Xinjiang in Western China.
We reach our campsite for lunch. In the afternoon we do a short hike to Turkic Balbal (human) rock.
Drive: 50 miles (80 Km) 4 hours drive including stops along the way | Overnight in Ger (B,L,D)
Day 5 – 10 September – Sunday – Dayan
Today is going to be a short drive. By lunchtime we reach our campsite. We drive southeast to Khovd River, then to Black Lake and Dayan Lake. The Khovd River is the longest river in western Mongolia. At Black Lake, we will have the view of Khoton and Khurgan Lakes, located in far west following the Altai Mountain range, bordering China. We reach our campsite for lunch.
In the afternoon we will visit some local nomad families close to our camp.
DRIVE: 30 miles (50 Km) 4 hours drive including stops along the way | Overnight in Ger (B,L,D)
Day 6 & 7– 11 & 12 September – Monday & Tuesday – Two-Day Horse Trek Expedition to Khara Kul
Experience an epic two-day horse riding expedition with Kazakh horseman and pack-camels. Brush up on your horse riding skills, saddle up your horses and ride through pristine valleys and passes. Our 4WD Land Cruisers and Russian Van will disappear for two days. Half a dozen Bactrian pack-camels will ride beside us, transporting all of our gear, food and supplies to the campsites.
Horse Riding: We will ride horses at a Walk, for most parts of the trail. It will be very gentle relaxed riding. The approximate distance each day will be a 10 mile ride; approximately six to seven hours ride including lunch break and stops in-between | Overnight in Ger (B,L,D)
Day 8 – 13 September – Wednesday – Altay Village
Today we have a short drive through a scenic valley to our campsite close to an eagle hunter family in Altay village. After lunch we take a short rest. In the early afternoon we visit an eagle hunter family to spend time with the hunter. Over piping hot Kazakh tea, we have the opportunity to get insights into their daily lives and their age-old traditions of hunting with the golden eagles. After some more tea, we will have a hands on demonstration by the hunter on how they train the eagles.
If time permits, we will visit a few more eagle hunters to hear their stories. By late afternoon we come back to our camp to enjoy traditional Kazakh dinner with an eagle hunter family.
Drive: 21 miles (35 Km) 2 hours drive including stops along the way | Overnight in Ger (B,L,D)
Day 9 – 14 September – Wednesday – Altay, Eagle Hunting Expedition
After a leisurely breakfast, at around 10 am we meet legendary eagle hunters of this area and we ride with the hunters to a nearby mountain on a hunting expedition. The expedition lasts for approximately five hours. Today is your chance to photograph up close the eagle hunters.
We are back at the camp by mid-afternoon. Enjoy time to relax and refresh. In the late afternoon we gather around a bonfire at the camp to enjoy folk songs by local herders.
Overnight in Ger (B,L,D)
Day 10 – 15 September – Thursday – Sagsai Village
After the breakfast we say goodbye to the eagle hunter and his family and leave Altay village and go to Sagsai village, home to more legendary eagle hunters. Sagsai is where the local Eagle Festival will take place. We reach Sagsai in the early afternoon. We find a pristine camping site to put our Gers. This is home for the next three nights.
Drive: 70 miles (115 Km) 4 hours drive including stops along the way | Overnight in Ger (B,L,D)
Day 11 & 12 – 16 & 17 September – Thursday& Friday – Sagsai, Eagle Festival
Opening Ceremonies | Competition | Awards Ceremony
Witness a local eagle festival featuring about 40 eagle hunters. The competition begins with a parade by the hunters wearing hunting outfits and accessories. The most elaborate and beautiful adornments receive the highest marks. It is followed by thrilling competitions. The golden eagles are evaluated for their speed and agility. Interesting Kazak traditional games such as Kokbar (buzkashi) and Kazak archery will also take place at the eagle festival. Winners are selected in each event. The festival provides a great opportunity to photograph.
Post festival, time permitting we spend time with eagle hunters in their homes in the valley.
On the last night of the trip we invite some local musicians and some hunters to our camp to share a special evening together.
Day 13 – 18 September – Saturday – Back to Ulgii Airport and fly back to Ulaanbaatar
After an early morning breakfast, we begin our journey back to Ulgii airport to catch our morning flight back to Ulaanbaatar. We arrive in Ulaanbaatar in early afternoon and return to our hotel. After checking back into our hotel, spending the afternoon for rest and relaxation.
Meet at hotel lobby at 7 pm for a farewell dinner at a restaurant in town.
Tuushin Hotel (B,L,D)
Day 14 – 19 September – Saturday –Departure
Depart Ulaanbaatar today after breakfast.
Road & Transportation: There are few paved roads in Ulgii city, the provincial capital. On day 2, we fly from Ulaanbaatar to Ulgii city in the morning. We leave the same morning to the countryside. Once we leave Ulgii, we are on off-road adventures for the next twelve days. Throughout the trip we will use 4WD Land Cruiser jeeps. Each jeep will be dedicated to three clients. Depending on number of sign ups, one jeep may have to accommodate our local Kazakh guide
Accommodation: There are no Ger or Tourist Camps along this trail. In each destination we will set up our own camp with simple Gers in open wilderness. The Gers, each sleeping two clients with simple beds will be set up by the local nomads at the appointed destination prior to our arrival. We will have a stove in each Ger and a dedicated staff to stoke the fire every three hours during the night. Kazakh Gers are bigger and taller than the Mongolian Ger.
Shower: We will have one dedicated shower Ger set up in each destination during the entire trip.
Toilet: We will have a mobile toilet with toilet seat at each of our campsite that our crew will set up.
Electricity/Charging: We bring a portable generator so that we have electricity at our camps and most importantly have access to charge your camera batteries and other gadgets.
Food: We will have a dedicated dining Ger in each destination. We serve a big western style breakfast every morning. We prepare pack lunches during our travels and daytime expedition. Dinner is a three course: soup, main course and dessert.
Trip Leader- Tenzing Paljor
“I am passionate about making journeys to isolated wild frontiers where cultures and ways of life are celebrated in a rich mosaic of timeless traditions. These far-flung corners, least touched by our globalized world, are some of the last repositories of ancient wisdom.”
Tenzing Paljor grew up in the foothills of the Himalayas in Darjeeling, India. Since the early 1990s, he has sojourned in the Himalayas through some of the most isolated hidden lands and sacred geography trodden by pilgrims and yogis since time immemorial. He has traveled from the Bamiyan valley, in the shadow of the Hindu Kush in central Afghanistan across the Himalayan mountain range bridging in an arch across India, Nepal, Bhutan, and to the outlying subrange in northernmost Burma.
Paljor is a photographer. His work has been shown in museums, galleries and cultural institutes across Asia, Europe and North America. He is the recipient of three successive Galen Rowell grants for his project, The Vanishing Himalayas. Paljor currently lives in Ulan Bator with his family, and is working on a long-term project photo documenting Mongolia, The Last Frontier of Nomadic Culture. As part of this project he has also been documenting the Kazakh Eagle Hunters in the Altai Mountain in Mongolia for the past several years.
A modern day nomad, he has lived over the last twenty-five years in New Delhi, Kathmandu, Washington D.C, Manila, Colombo and Kabul.