Travel Diary Blog

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Bagual Ponchos

30 October 2016

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Autumn wearing her new poncho after a riding safari on Exmoor. Woven using traditional ancient warp and weft Indian techniques on the loom in Catamarca province, Argentina. Excellent hand spun wool from Patagonia. Having used ponchos for many years, there is nothing that has been missed in quality and design. Ensured to become a warm, faithful and very useful travel companion!

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Using on natural dyes and natural colour of the wools. Traditional artisans at work dyeing with walnut shells for sandy brown finish, onion skins for different burned yellows, maté yerba leaves for mossy greens … plants and minerals to.

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Robyn in same poncho design.

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A plain grey natural wool with old tradition design of ‘winka’ border on the collar (brown, dyed with walnut shell). Good length and long borders which is important for comfort and warmth, whether riding, walking or sitting outside.

For more product photos, contact us. You can buy a poncho for U$700 plus post and packaging.

Otherwise supplied this season at the appropriate location of  ‘basecamp’ on  The Patagonia Trail horse safari, Argentina.

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Expedition in the Mongolian Altai mountain range

11 August 2016

Tavanbogd massif seen in its fine splendour. These peaks divide the Russian and Kazakstan terrority from that of Mongolia. The 20km long Potanina glacier lit up in the afternoon sun.L1000391

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In the afternoon riding from the MalchinUul. Wonderful view of all the peaks and Potaina glacier.

Tavanbogd means “the Holy Five” referring to the five highest peaks, of which HuitenUul is the highest in Mongolia, 4374 meters above sea level.. The other peaks are named Nairamdal, Ulgii, Burged and Malchin.

This trip is best described in photos without text! It was an exploratory journey in the far far west of Mongolia where we rode along the remote Kazak and Russian borders in the highest area of the Altai region where the landscape changes dramatically day by day, as did the weather! Camels carrying our mobile camp.

This was not a tried and tested journey, it was a first, as was the meeting with the horses and Tuban horseman. I have never been on a trip with so many challenges in the beginning days – including things at camps, a fierce storm depositing a layer of snow mid summer etc etc – delaying moving forward by 2 days before a mountain crossing – great effort was made so they were met to the best of the teams abilities and for the most part overcome and we all learned a lot and had a unique and rewarding experience.

Quentin and Christine certainly had their experiences and I am sure have enjoyed sharing it with friends and family. I think it might be there last trip in tents though!

Starting as always at the temple in Ulaan Bataar, of which we are very fond.  Always providing a nice experience, wonderful sounds and colours of the monks and surroundings – and spinning the prayer wheels …

Spinning the prayer wheels at the Ghandan Buddhist Temple after our incredible journey

Ghandan Buddhist Temple

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After an internal flight … night outside the village of Bayan Ulgii, in a simple ger camp.

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Then the long journey (8 to 10 hours) cross country to first camp and the horses.

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First camp …  after a long journey to the head of TsagaanGol valley where the Tuban people spend their summer.

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The pack camels

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And off on the trail …

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Inside a ger of the regional Tuban nomads. A few ritual flicks of vodka drops and then some shots, yogurt and the local products to see us on our way.

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Riding up toward the glacier.

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Remote Russian Mongolian border posts

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A beautiful riding afternoon back to the head of the TsagaanGol Valley

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Riding to the KharaAirikh Valley via Shiver Hairhan Uul. A spectacular ride and soft grass under foot. We saw the Siberian Ibex on a cliff. We stopped and saw incredible petroglyphs from supposedly the bronze and iron ages

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Experiencing bad weather for a couple of days we had 2 rest days at this next camp below Shiveet Hairhan Mountain, revered by the local nomads.

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The show tent.

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The Kapinsky, with treasures and treats from Fortnums and fine french delicatessens.

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Indian Desert Safari – Bishnoi Tribal land

15 April 2015
Ramdi Shrine, Jodhpur

‘Asia is not going to be civilised after the methods of the West. There is too much Asia and she is too old.’ Rudyard Ripling.

Bonnie, a gentleman and wonderful host, both at home and on Safari, as ever.. The Mewari horses from the Dundlod Stud were beautiful, faithful, spirited desert companions on another wonderful voyage across Rajasthan.

There is so much to experience in India, the riding is just a part of the story and here are a mix of photos to help illustrate this:

MIXED  PHOTOS

Red Chiles, Delhi spice market, largest in Asia

Doorways

Jaipur scenes

Homes

Siva lingam shrine, Dundlod

Wooden block carving, Jaipur

Whizzing through the pink city on a cycle rickshaw

More doorways

Blue city street scene

School boy, Blue City

Children

Awaiting a spin

Mt Abu, Achaleshwar Siva Temple, 9th century

In the Puranas the Mt Abu region has been referred to as Arbuduranya (Forest of Arbuda). It is believed that the sage Vashnistha, retired to the southern spur of Mt Abu. It is also believed to be where a serpent, named Arbuda, saved the life of Nandi, Lord Siva’s bull. It is today a popular Indian hill station, with very little foreign tourism. It hosts Om Shanti Ashram, HQ of the Spiritual Movement of the Brahma Kumaris. There are a number of very interesting temple sites, namely the Dilwara Jain Temple complex, which is exquisite beyond belief. Rather lovely that the Jains ban cameras from their temples, which adds to the very tranquil experience of one’s visit. The temples are carved in marble and the structures hidden by surrounding granite rocks which give the site a humble approach but awe inspiring impact once inside.  Immersed in mesmorising sculpture of the cool white marble.  The photos above and below are from a very holy Siva Temple which was full of tremendous atmosphere and evidently very active with the many wandering ascetics living in the nearby forests. In hindsight we spotted a flow of these sages on the train enroute. There is a huge deep hole at the main shrine, believed to be Siva’s toe print. It is very deep and thought to lead to the underworld.

Mt Abu, shrine detail

Mt Abu, Siva linga detail

Mt Abu, Nandi at Siva Temple entrance

India is the most extraordinary country. The horse riding and the camping gives one a rather intimate experience of  the countryside. In the rural and tribal communities of the semi desert regions,  horses seem to always be a welcomed sight, such is the generous spirit and natural positive reaction of the people. These are communities that rely and care very much for their own livestock – Brahmin cattle, camels, and buffalos –  greet us warmly, travellers on horseback. So much so,  that their much valued source of life in the desert, water, is generously given out to the thirsty horses, at waterholes, not wanting, nor accepting, anything in return. Without the generosity of spirit from these communities one could simply not ride in the desert.

Precious water hole in the Bishnoi tribal area

The Bishnoi (’29’) represents the number of principles espoused by their Prophet, Lord Jambeshwar. Despite being born a kshtriya, the second highest, he disapproved of the class system and layed down that the community would be classless and adhere to 29 principles. This included, no cutting of trees and no killing of animals. It is said that he attained enlightenment meditating beneath a tree in what is no the village of Jhamba. He discovered a water source that saved the people from a 20 year drought. He established his ideal community that lived in harmony with their environment and with each other. Many of these ideals are upheld today. Women are dressed in wonderful bright saris, predominantly red and pink, adorned with nose rings, anklets and bracelets. The men are white. Ridng acroos the region is a wonderful experience.

BELOW, NAGAUR LIVESTOCK FAIR:

Happy camper, chapati making at dusk

Chai chat

Dusk, heading back to camp

Camel scenes

My good friend, travelling companion and fine horseman, the camel smuggler

Nagaur livestock fair

Annabel with camel trader

Annabel having a browse at some fabulous flambuoyant horse tack

Cattle for sale

BELOW, THE HORSE SAFARI:

David and James, discussing the Vedas

Boy at camp

Camp

Moring scene at camp, folk yet to rise.

Early morning, horses feeding

Tacked up and ready to go

Evening ceremonies

PHOTOS OF THE GANG:

Brigitte

John, Debs and Bonnie

Dave and Bonnie

Annabel and Bonnie

The horse return to Dundlod

Nagaur Fort, setting up camp to host the 2015 Sufi Festival

Yes, it is a delight and one is lucky to be on such fantastic indigenous mounts, but an Indian experience is much more than just the riding. It is the hospitality of the people, their kindness and keeness to share which is so memorable. Upbeat and amusing. Bright. Brimming with character. Colourful, eccentric and extreme.  A glimpse of a temple puja. Bustling markets overflowing with fruits, vegetables, pulses and herbs. The breaking of a warm chapati! A mouthful of  mixed vegetable thali plate bursting with flavours. Spices gallore, a culinary sensation.  Yoga asanas and study. Ayurveda. Courses and retreats. Scenes that shock, architecture that astounds, sights that make you gasp and smile. A culture that overwhelms, welcomes and delights.

Ganesha and Lingam Shrine at Siva Temple, Dundlod

An unforgettable magic which stays with you long after your journey home.

India would take many lifetimes to explore in real depth. The beauty of Her is that you can visit a different part of the diverse sub continent on any number of return journeys, as many do.

On the train

”If there is one place on this earth where all the dreams of living men have found a home from the very earliest days when man began the dreams of existence, it is India.” Romain Rolland

Authentic and personal, a little bit different from the norm in the detail, worth giving it a thought. Mix of riding, architecture, cuisine, festivals and Yoga! Try it, give us a call!

‘Something hidden. Go and find it.

Go and look behind the ranges –

Something lost behind the Ranges.

Lost and waiting for you. Go!’

Sir John Ure

”Ram, Ram!”

 

 

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Altai Mountains, Mongolia

6 November 2014

The Altai, she was a fine host, once again to our two safaris that crossed her rivers and mountains. Both intimidating and awe inspiring the landscape is vast, open and belittling. Horsemen with Golden Eagles, Horses that have survived thousands of years through freezing winters, for whom no terrain is impassable: hospitable nomads for whom to give is to live. A proper trip in this region is a real journey, one that fills you with a warmth that is pretty special.

Botei, drawing a cover, mounted with his Golden Eagle.

A good day

Botei

All of us together riding between camps

The Spanish contingent

One of the faithful steads

Loose horse heading home

Winter house

The Ger

 

Warm inside

Silvano

Adrian

Quentin, he'll be back

Agii, our local guide and translater, ensuring a well organised trip

Botei and Tiku's wives

Vanessa

Spinning the prayer wheels at the Ghandan Buddhist Temple after our incredible journey

Below the standing buddha

Feels good to go to the Temple after a big journey. Tibetan Buddhist scriptures chanted by Mongolian monks, worn reds and yellows painted on wood, comforting sounds, flickering candles, clouds of juniper incense, silk Tangka paintings hanging from the walls, prayer flags tied on posts. Mongolians elegantly dressed in their del gowns. Counting the rosary beads in one’s hand, passing them over the clouds of incense. A moment of peace, a little prayer and Northern Buddhist prostration below the standing golden Buddha. A  little thanks for keeping everyone safe.

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Out Exploring, Altai Region

6 November 2014

Shepards came galloping up as Tiku and I gave them a bit of a surprise passing through a high summerland of 3600 metres in the Autumn with winter closing in. What fantastic ponies the were mounted on. Tiku’s father is a legendary character in the area, one of the toughest men, locals say, that has lived here.  You feel you are ok, riding with one of his sons!

Tiku and the 2 shepards we met

The 2 shepards, very well mounted

Tiku

 

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Zavkhan Province, Mongolia

6 November 2014

It was quite a journey to reach the starting point! It is not an area many people visit. We were justly rewarded for our efforts. The friendly team couldn’t have been more accommodating in taking care of us. We were in good riding country, moving over nice ground for the horses. It was a really authentic Mongolian environment and experience. We ate very well, picked fruits from the forest,loved the yogurt from the nomad families, enjoyed the buddist stupas, hill top monuments to horses, ancient rock art and had a tremendous laugh with everyone. It was a good trip.

Buddhist Stupa out in the hills

Horses trotting by our camp

Mongol saddle

Our mounts waiting whilst their riders drink milk tea in the ger

Riding through wonderful forested hills, good going, in this rarely visited region

Very open forest

John and Dongo, our local guide and horseman

Staking the horses out to graze over night

John

Supper

Making dumplings at camp

Camp

Yak bulls

Old Buddhist carving

 

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Gavelan

4 July 2014

Out training

Good for a 50km canter!

An incredible apple tree in a unexpected location.

The going doesn´t really get much better than this. Flamingos and geese on the small lake.

Goes on and on, not many humans in this area. Often a pair of eagles down in the forest.

There are one or two gates. Not many though!

A threshold - gateway to Cleopatras needles from the Baguales Mountains

 

Lovely hidden spots, plenty of bird life, full of guanaco and ostrich, Dixie for sure camped near here in 1879 on the way to Cleopatras needles

Gavelan looking ahead for Guanaco, Ostrich and wild horses as pacemakers!

Both back to wilderness home and pasture. Boots and saddles off.

At home.

In brief the story here is that it is end of the riding safari season but time for the fast approaching Torres del Paine 80 km endurance race. So these weeks were spent on a training program to get Gavelan in shape and fit. He is quite a character! He is a good boy, a little eccentric at times, but not a bad bone in his body. He can be nervous and unpredictable – there is no knowing when he will react to something he sees and move like lightening in one direction or the other! So as long as you as the rider are ready for that and prepared for the odd strong moment when he is excited – he is fine ride. Super fast over long and short distances.

The training began very calmly. I had a bad back and Gavelan was over weight and under used and quite difficult to handle. So the first week was nothing more than a forward walk and some controlled trotting. I have learned that forward walking is an integral part of long distance training. I didn´t want to sore him either, so I was being very careful of that. I progressively moved into steadily cantering him. He would typically have 2 or three days on a day soft day and a day off when necessary. On the soft days I would lead him and search for flamingo feathers by the lake, find a nice place to lie down and generally have a nice bonding tranquil time together. In the end I came back with a full set of rare plummage, including a huge condor feather. Gavelan had his eye out to! He knew straight away when it was feather gathering days. Just as he knew well when he had to work hard.

We talked alot together, him neighing and trumpeting his nostrils, me copying and building up a little language thing.

We had our set circuits with hill work, high flat plateaux, a full mix really. We put up duck, flamingo geese, ostrich and guanaco every day. Spectacular. Some days semi wild horses (ariscos), red fox, armadillo and puma tracks.

It was quite a challenge to get Gavelan shod well. He lost 2 shoes in the training but eventually we got him sorted, he is not tame with his hind, so that was quite a thing…

Explorer hotel group had reclaimed the land where I was living and I had to take Gavelan to a new home. Not an easy feat. He was born in this remote valley. We rode out one day when the training was complete. It was quite a moment. Poncho tied to the saddle, Gavelan never to return. I rode a few hours to meet a small lorry at a trail head.

It was with great relief we arrived at Sofia. I loved looking after him in this week rest period before the race. He was looking magnificent, everyone there noted that, you     couldn´t but not. I saddled him up each day for a short walk up into the forest and by the lake. He would spook, ears pricked and turn in circles at the chickens and the Cock sounding off – it was classic. Proper wilderness horse!

Well done Gavelan.

 

 

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An Indian Safari – with the Shekawati Clan

14 December 2013

 

A colourful journey of many sorts. India, she has a great many things to share, and share she does, in limitless bounds. As soon as one sets foot in her domain, the experience is like a rush on all the principal senses and it carries on & on, full of suprises. We came, once again, to enjoy the extreme diversity of this wonderful sub continent. Bonnie was our wonderful host and what fun it was to ride out his Mewari horses. We knew him to be a real gentleman and, indeed, in great character, clad in splendid attire, with affectionate manner and warm spirit, he hosted and guided us through the maze of forts, villages and agricultural lands of this Shekawati region. What fun, travelling with the Rajput Clan, carrying the coat of arms ‘Victory follows Virtue´, staying in their homes, listening,  in situ, to great  historical tales of the invading Moghals from centuries past; and we were mounted on the bloodline of the same horses. We had a splendid team moving us from fort to camp to havelli, as our safari crossed this region, winding its way toward Pushkar, famed for her Brahmin Temple and annual Camel Fair.

Rajasthan folk singers, camel trains of nomads, women working the land in their bright saris; men harvesting produce on the ground and high up in the trees. Sudden encounters, mid canter, with camel carts taking over the small sandy tracks. Picking our way through the old streets of villages, reining the horses down narrow pathways. Children running out waving. Men sporting colourful turbens. Bicycles at every turn. Rickshaw horns blowing enthusiastically, increasingly as they pass the horses! Fine bollywood tunes sounding from buses full to the brim with people and produce. Chance meetings with snake charmers in the countryside, the horses un phased as the flute brought the cobra into sight. Meandering cows at every turn. The call of prayer in the morning . time for yoga! Another Indian wedding! Diwali, it is the marriage season . Big smiles. Nodding enthusiastically, never a hint of negativity, always a yes! Chai flowing like spring water, hot and steaming in a fine thermos from dawn to dusk. Colourful tents. Cheery camp fires. Chapatis warmed on the coals. How delicious. The joy of curry, blessesd is the one who invented spice, ghee and the lentil. You know you are really living when your are in India!

night time at the holy ghats

Kolam, temple painting using rice powder

pushkar girls at dusk

a fine balance

gracefully on their way

into the arena - pushkar

showing off

prayer beads

Nomad clans

Holy Cow

Red Hot! Delhi spice market

Haveli entrance, Jaipur

bicycle - delhi still life in Jain quarter

cycle rickshaw to the Delhi spice market

street life

colour, only in India

smoking a beedi

Fatehpur Sikri

pagri

ground nut - genious - feed for horse and rider

gone riding

horses at easegone to do yoga

grooms with horses

camp scene

camp

moghal battleground - our camp

hot water - on safari

mixing feed bucket on safari

dhuni fire

Another great character passes by

Fresco

Brahmin Bull Cart

Ganesh

Dundlod Mewari

Bonnie

Block printing

svastika - the sanskrit symbol of good ebing, well, soul

Agra Fort

Mubarak Mahal

Agra

Warm up

pushkar scenes

Mewari camp at Pushkar

Pushkar

bit of a stroll at puskar

vikram, more chai please!

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‘I make thee to fly without wings’ Quran

17 May 2013

When Etta (Tomahawk productions) ask me me where I would like to start filming the´Galloping the Globe´ documentary /film project I thought of the above piece from the Quran and without hesitation I said –  if you want fast horses, warm hospitality, spectacular scenary, facinating Indian history, fabulous pioneer characters – and a unique spirit of horsemanship and adventure – it has to be Magallanes, Chile. Now showing a few stills taken during filming this first episode.

Pepe Alarcón´s Poncho Castilla

… And the wind said ‘Create’! God condensed the wind and made from it a horse. Then he said to his creation, ‘I name thee horse and I make thee Arabian. I have bound blessings to thy forelock and bounty reposes on thy back and glory will be with thee, wherever thee may be. I have priveledged thee over beasts, and I make thee master of them. Thy companions will feel compassion for thee. I make thee to fly without wings’.

Criollo

When you spend time with Milena and Gabi Alcarón in their beautiful remote home, surrounded by fantastic horses – then you know it is one of those moments you have to pinch yourself that you are really living. Milena, our wonderful host for the project, how very lucky we were. Quite frankly, you wouldn´t want to be anywhere else in the world. You certainly don´t want to leave!

Milena and James, having a laugh during filming!

A good place for a gallop

Seen in a sketch from Lady Florence Dixie´s book

The camera crew had quite a challenge setting up and filming the scenes. Well done Santi!

Setting up for wild horse shots

Florence Dixie describes the moment she finds this wonderful pool and waterfall where she bathes and makes camp. It was and still is a spectacular spot from which to explore.

A fine spot Florence chose for a bath!

Sunset Laguna Hara

Florence Dixie´s book ‘ Across Patagonia’ was our compass!

Cleopatra´s Needles. Victor and James on Florence´s hoof prints.

They say that the Telhuelche Indians  didn´t like to go here. They believed these mountains were inhabited by ghosts. Certainly in recent history it has been the hide out for bandits and a bunch of interesting charaters. It is a grey area of extreme geography separating Argentina and Chile. Home to hidden valleys and varied terrain. We were here to search for wild horses we had heard roamed in the region. We found tracks thanks to our companion Cristobal …

Los Baguales - an extraordinary mountain range, kind of exciting and spooky!

And the team on the last day.

The Documentary Team: Alassio, Santiago, James, Etta and Olivia

First episode coming soon!

 

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Mongolia: ‘Strength in Milk!’

1 November 2012

Landing Strip Bayan Ulgii, out west

This was a reconnaissance horse safari to Mongolia. The objective of the trip was to  get an insight into the Kazakh hunter´s way of life who live in a remote and challenging mountainous region ‘out west’. The mother tongue here is Kazakh, Mongolian their second language. The religious bias is that of Islam, rather than the Tibetan Buddhism experience elsewhere in the country.

I think for most people Mongolia is of extraordinary interest. The history books we have all been brought up with have lead us to hold the Mongols and the Great Khans in complete awe. An empire that stretched from Peking to Warsaw. Nomads whose horsemanship skills and intimate knowledge of all things equine was and is incomparable. 30 percent of the 2,7 million mongolian population are still nomadic.  They were able to travel and communicate at such speed and reputedly the study of the wolf influenced their key battle strategies. Herds and herds of horses everywhere, in all terrains and still to do the horse population far out numbers the human or automobile. ‘Stength in Milk’ (mare´s milk) that is what the Great Khan’s proclaimed.

Anne

 

Anne

Besh

Dave

James

The group had a fun start all meeting up in the quirky capital of Ulan Batur. Dave and I had been on a pack horse week the previous week. We hadn´t had time on arrival to visit the living buddhist temple in town, so the 4 of us, Anne, Besh, Dave and I made an afternoon of it before embarking on our horse safari. It was a particularly lovely experience. We all had our moments in thought whilst gently moving around the temple complex, spinning the prayer wheels, having a few little internal words, lighting our candles. Entranced by the humming tones of the lama´s chanting their scriptures, we stood individually in silence but were together in spirit all four of us. Colourful tangka paintings hanging at every angle, temple floor and walls of warped wood, wafts of incense and colourful robes and headresses all capturing of attention as we stood still. We all departed feeling we had experienced something wonderful.

Riding out west with Silow

The next day we took our flight out west. We were off to to stay in the cosy gers, drinking lashings of hot milk tea, eating full bodied mutton stews, airag (now that takes some getting used to, thank you Dave for covering me on many an occasion!) and the joy of some good rounds of vodka shots.

Hunting fox armed with golden eagles. We had to pinch ourselves! The landscapes were so huge, not one fence or gate was spotted during the entire journey. We were hosted by the family that the BBC Human planet filmed hunting – the filming of which was aired 2 autumns ago. Rather wonderfully Besh brought out 2 knives (Ray Mear’s chosen favourite) as gifts from the camera man, Peter, which was a super thought. We listened and learned about the hunting, the people the region and were intrigue and fascinated by what we we learned – and at times shocked by some tales of brutal oppression that people have endured in this area of central asia.

Kazakh ger

We slept on cosy felt rugs, surrounded by colourful Kazakh embroided textiles – strong designs of cashmere goat horns flowing from piece to peace. Warmed by the cosy wood burning stove. The rustle of coal in the early morning, all of us deep down our sleeping bags as the family topped up the fire, ensuring we weren´t cold on awakening. Actually the fire lightening efficiency was so profound we had to request less attention as we were in sauna like conditions at times!

Agi, our english speaking mongolian guide, was a super companion and whose company was obviuosly enjoyed and respected by the families we shared homes with. He was able to enlighten us with his translation, he did so in a fun and enjoyable manner. Very considerate towards us and with anyone we shared company. He was a real gentleman. The classic russian 4×4 support vehicle was driven discreetly and was always ready with refreshments for those who needed. Camps were set up using his own felted rugs and stylish shelter tents all making a profound difference to the experience – in what is essentially very challenging, remote mountain terrain. Jenka, our cook, work tirelessly throughout,  super considerate, a complete joy and endeared herself to everyone. Even at the very last appearing with coffee during our return wait at the domestic airport, which is a simple venue with none too many facilities, bar a landing strip!

Milking the much prized cashmere goats

We enjoyed the Kazakh ger, somewhat bigger than the mongolian one and poless in the centre. In truth we loved both! In europe we more commonly refer to the ger as a yurt. Yurt is a russian word. They are gers in mongolia! Insulated by felt (which we inspected in it´s huge volumes in the market in Ulan Batur), walls and ceilings alike. Dripping in textiles roof and floor, cosy stove for cooking – it is a lovely atmosphere inside and we were lucky to have one to ourselves most of the trip.

Riding to the festival, wonderful characters, bird and hunter

The hunters who use the ‘noble of the sky’ to catch their carrion have lived in equilibrium with the golden eagle population for as long as falconry can be traced back in history. A thriving wild eagle population is still maintained and indeed a fox one, it seems is very populous, as well. The reality is falconry is age old in these mountains and human population very low. As we know it is the human populous areas which pressure wildlife most. The irony that hunting protects runs true here.

This enviroment is full on hunting. The eagles eat the meat of the carrion, which is either hare, fox or wolf. The pelts and furs then are tanned for clothing of different sorts, embroided with ornate designs – a then wonderful array of ‘threads’ look amazing and insulation the wearer during the extremely harsh seasonal temperatures of the region. Very practicle kit, and looks incredible. Fox leg autumn furs make up the hats traditionally, winter furs the coats – wolf, fox and marmot to. The eagle is taken as a chick from known nesting locations. It lives in close contact with his hunter for many years, always released at 19 years. Life span of the eagles is some 25 to 27 years. Some of course die out hunting with there master, as they might in the wild. The call of the eagle and the relatonship between man and eagle was incredible to observe, such a complete understanding and partnership. Only the bigger ones and the most experienced will hunt a wolf, but some do.

Fine horseman and tack

One of the many highlights was riding with the hunters with Besh to the festival some 50 kms. The hunters carrying their eagles all this way, straying well of course to draw covers en route. One exciting hunt took place where we did make a kill, quite an experience.

pretty full on

surreal moment

Onward on our strong trusty steads to an eagle festival! A gathering of some 70 nomadic hunters. The main event over a two day period  is the eagle hunting competition. These horseman have arrived armed with their noble partner and put to test, under careful and strict observation of a full judging panel. The judges are sat on a big trailer and the horseman enter the wild arena to perform. There is an initial parade, the judges take note of the quality of hunter’s horse, saddelry, clothing and hunting kit.

The hunters gather

Then one by one hoods are lifte and their bird is released up the mountain behind – pretty wild setting really – by a partner (son or otherwise) on the sounding of the hunting horn. Up soars the eagle and so the load cries begin. We had become familiar with these sounds, having been hunting with our host families the week previous, however now time was of the essence. The hunter is mounted, the eagle is in full flight. The two are communicating and the judges are timing them! Meat is held in the hunter’s glove. The cries are extraordinary and the best partnerships see eagle swooping at full pace, bang, talons at full stretch out in front of them swooping onto the arm at an alarming pace! Incredible. Some birds of course fly off and the hunter has an arduous process to get re united. There are 2 events, the one fore mentioned and one where the hunter drags meat from a rope behind the horse.

Talon´s out at full stretch!

Their are other hunting games in the afternoons that include the more recreational coin picking up, and then the girl kissing game. The kissing game is really just a parade,riding in partnership – the man receives the lashes from the girl’s whip whilst in a gallop.There is an embrace at full pace and a peck on the cheek in celebration! Besh and I took part, although she was in great demand from all the eagle hunters for this game! I was lucky to stay on my horse from all the jostling at one point! We did win a prize which was fun.

Practising the coining picking up outside the arena!

Running up before the big lean to attempt pick up !

Girl kissing parade

Really it was the tug of war (Buzkashi) which captured the energy of the last afternoon – a heated confrontation between two individuals. Our participation in the games was warmly received. We loved it. What a geat bunch of characters. Again many thanks to Agi, who co-ordinated our participation, put up a fabulous tent as focus to meet, be fed and  be informed as to timing of events. Jenka, of course, producing meal after meal and drinks throughout.

Buzkashi

It made such a difference having been hunting and living with our family the days before, because we had such lovely support, all of us, we felt really fully part of the festival – and we enjoyed tremendously following our our guys were doing in the eagle competitions. It was a great experience and a fun rush on the vodka the evening of the last day.

The gang we travelled with on horseback to the festival

pouch with meat inside for the eagle

wonderful looking old man

Sunset, end of the fun and games

To be on board horses whom have been grazing this challenging enviroment for some 5000 years. To share time with the nomads whose hunting and outdoor skills are so accomplished – and hospitality warm and giving. Very lucky. We were honoured to be there really. We all felt deep down that this was going to be powerful trip. A Kazakh had sent a message via someone that they were going to select their most powerful horses for bagual. The Altai is a powerful place. I heard that a shaman said to one of our us before we left europe that you are invited to mongolia when you are spiritually ready . It was a nice comment.

The hunting nomad on board their spirited steads

Must be said the group was a very special one indeed. A special thank you to Anne, her big smile, super relax manner, a really wonderful girl. A professional photographer to whom the best of our photo collection is completely accredited.

Beshlie, kind of a nomad herself, little bit more rebellious, usually travelling alone, but as always with her flamboyant style, added lots of colour, fun and laughter to everyone´s experience. David, well what do you say – he adds a bit of comedy, bit of spirituality, he is a legend, a good man, friend of old and a joy to travel with, clad in our old indian neru jacket´s  from old … not a man made thread in sight with our gang!

Wolf man!

It was super to be working with Panoramic Journeys, they were excellent. Agii and Jenka, our guides and Karina Moreton the owner popping in a surprise appearance here and there. A great success and bodes well for plenty more exploratory journeys in the region.

Jenka

 

On the runway: 'well that was quite something, so when are we coming back ?!'

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