Eagle Hunting in Kyrgyzstan, August 2018

Like a marmot coming up for sunshine I’ve reappeared – this time in the mountainous country of Kyrgyzstan. I’ve begun a 2 month journey retracing the Silk Road across Central Asia, a trip which will pick up previous threads from my travels in Mongolia and Afghanistan. Like the Mongolians the Kyrgyz have always been a semi-nomadic people moving their grazing animals seasonally between lower lands and the high mountain pastures while living in yurts. Their ‘empty land’ was claimed by Russia during a border treaty with China in the late 1800s and they only declared independence (similar to the other Stans) in the 1990s after the collapse of the Soviet Union. It’s complex but travelling around these parts requires a grasp of Russian!

Horses are central to the national spirit of the Kyrgyz and they will tell you they were born on horseback. A few days in the saddle has been one of the best ways to see the steep folding slopes of the Tian Shan mountains (that divide Kyrgyzstan from China). The hills are covered in a short grass stubble that varies from deep green to golden hues in the summer sun. Perfectly manicured spruce trees cling to the higher slopes but the sense of openness creates panoramic views under a big, big sky.

In the foothills of the Tian Shan mountains I have had the fortune to cross paths with the famed Kyrgyz eagle hunters. The ‘berkutchi’ (eagle trainer) hunts on horseback with the giant golden eagle perched on his hand. The eagles can have wingspans of 8 feet and swoop on their prey of marmots and foxes with lethal speed. Pride in the ancient nomadic traditions of Central Asia is slowly returning as the nations exert their independence once more.

Lake Issykul, Kyrgyzstan

links: https://www.celestial.com.kg

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