Every October in Mongolia, among the high-altitude crags of the Altai Mountains, the ancient nomadic tradition of falconry comes to life. The area is home to the native burkitshi, who have trained eagles to aid in their hunting expeditions. Now you can join in.
Jalsa Urubshurow, founder of Nomadic Expeditions and the Golden Eagle Festival, which runs from Sept. 27 to Oct. 5, offers seven-day guided immersions with a local family. Stay in yurts that come with hand-carved wooden beds warmed by wood-burning stoves. (George Soros and Russian billionaire Anatoly Skurov are former clients.) At night, pair a dinner of goat ribs or beshbarmak stew with Chinggis Khan vodka and wine.
In the morning, steaming cups of spiced milk tea arrive with breakfast before you ride out on horseback with the hooded birds to look for the tracks of lynx, rabbits, or foxes. When you find them, your hunter releases his eagle, which flies 100 to 200 feet up before it circles, locates, then dives on the animal. What these big birds lack in speed—70 mph, vs. a peregrine falcon’s 200 mph—they make up for in mass. They weigh 14 pounds and have a 7-foot wingspan. The force of their attack can take out an animal as large as a wolf.
“It’s like a major league pitcher throwing a bowling ball,” Urubshurow says. “Knocks them out cold.”
Getting there is an adventure in itself. From Ulaanbaatar (at least a 17-hour flight from New York), it’s a 3-hour flight west to Ulgii, then 2 to 5 more hours via Land Cruiser into the wilds. From $15,995 per person, double occupancy; 800 998-6634
Falconry Closer to Home?
United States: In bucolic Manchester, Vermont, Green Mountain Falconry School is one of the few places in America you can try your hand at falconry without extensive training and licensing (another, being Hersey, Pennsylvania). Walks and introductory flying lessons each last 45 minutes ($130–$400). Afterwards, retire to your room at the Equinox, a 200-year-old wooded compound turned luxury golf resort and spa.
Ireland: Falconry's rich history throughout the British Isles is well-documented in paintings, tapestries, and the public imagination (King Arthur, knights and all that). The 1486 Book of Saint Albans even provided a treatise of the proper hierarchy of birds of prey and their affiliate social rank (a gyrfalcon for the king, a peregrine for an earl). No word on where Harris hawks would rank, but flying them on the grounds of Ashford Castle is a surefire way to feel like royalty.
Abu Dhabi: Used for millennia by bedouins to hunt for game in the harsh desert environment, falconry in the Arab Gulf region is a source of cultural pride and regional identity. (To whit, the new Shangri-La Doha is designed to resemble a falcon's head and the Qasr Al Hosn Festival has a dedicated falconry heritage component). When in the Emirates, prebook a tour at the Abu Dhabi Falcon Hospital, where over 11,000 birds go annually for check-ups; the grounds include a museum, luxurious wards, and gardens where you can try your hand at the sport of sheikhs.