I started reading, Apples are from Kyrgyzstan, before departing on my world adventure. Since it was a library book, I only got a few chapters in. It was all I needed to be excited about travelling to Central Asia. A bucket list was made in my head and I was not going to leave Kyrgyzstan/Kazakhstan without meeting with an eagle master. There has been a long tradition that people use eagles to hunt prey! Before winter arrived, I wanted to go around the magnificent Lake Issyk-Kul. My last stop before Bishkek was Bokonbayevo. According to many locals, this was where I could meet an eagle master. After a missed opportunity at the World Nomad Games, this was my last chance to organize this excursion.
That morning I left the homestay in Tamga and hitchhiked to Bokonbayevo. Once in town, the CBT (Community Based Tourism) was closed for lunch. Therefore I had lunch and met two travelers from California. They did not know much about the area but I convinced them to join me to see the eagle master. (The more the people the less the cost too!) After lunch we organized to see the eagle master the next day and stay in a yurt. **
By far this was the fanciest yurt stay I had been in. This one has flush toilets and electricity. It felt like a yurt camp resort. They even had a traditional Kyrgyz swing and play area. Granted, most yurt stays are in the wilderness which is part of the experience. *** That evening I took a swim in Lake Issyk-Kul. This was probably be my last since winter looked to be on the way. Evening involved a great meal and enjoyed great conversation.
The next day was THE BIG DAY! The day I was hoping for and probably annoying travelers talking about this day! Meeting the eagle master! We drove about 20 minutes out of town to a valley. There there was a few more tourists from Germany to see the demonstration.
Urslan, the eagle master, was 31 years old and was said to be one of the eagle men around. In the Bokonbayevo region there are 20 eagle men and he is 3rd generation eagle man. He brought two of his three eagles for the demonstration. One was 5 years old and the other 8 years old. Both were golden eagles. The eagles that are trained to hunt must be females. This is because the male eagles are smaller and can only catch small prey. In general, males are not as good. Normally Urslan catches the eagles when they are 2 years old. He said that if they are caught when they are in the nest, they are apt to attack humans when they are older. The first year, the eagle is kept close where they learn the owners voice. Much of the training is building each other’s trust.
Hunting season runs from September to January. They don’t hunt in the summer because the prey is young and too small. during the summers they take out each eagle three to four times a week to train. Our first demonstration was where they had a fox skin. Urslan went to the top of the hill with the eagle and the man below moving the fox skin on the ground. While hunting, the eagle has a cool hat that also covers its eyes. . This keeps the eagle calm. An eagle can spot its prey from 3 km away! Once the cap was off, the eagle searched and found the fox skin and attacked it within 30 seconds! I knew that hunting with eagles was going to be impressive but they were way more talented than I expected. These eagles are able to fly 35 meters per second. Not only can they attack quickly, they can take down animals much bigger than they are. Other animals include; jackals, foxes and marmots. They are able to do this because their back talon is extremely powerful. When the eagles attack, one talon goes in the throat and they other in the face.
Our second demonstration was with a rabbit. Urslan told us that eagles can eat up to 3-4 kg of meat and then not need to eat for about a week. We asked if any rabbit had outrun or tricked the eagle. He said, ‘No’ As we hoped the rabbit might survive, we knew it was not going to be as lucky. The older of the two eagles is able to hunt alongside a dog as well. Plus, when the eagle attacks, it comes from above and attacks on a quick turn to the side. Its a surprise attack that works every time. As expected, there was no Cinderella story and the rabbit became lunch. It was like watch a nature documentary in real life. The eagle quickly ate the rabbit even eating the rabbit’s foot whole!
The third demonstration was having the eagle fly to Urslan who was holding a piece of meat. That offered for a great video! It was just amazing to see the amazing animals up close flying and doing what they do best! After it all, we were able to hold and take pictures with the eagle.
This day exceeded my already high expectations! Everyone in the world needs to eat. Just like with many things in life, we just get to the final answer in different ways. I get in my car and go to Pick’N’Save and pick up some meat.**** Urslan and a few otherw use skills passed down for centuries to train an eagle to put food on the table. It was a pleasure to be in the presence of these amazing animals. A day with an eagle master is an experience to be had in Central Asia.
Here’s a clip of the Eagle flying (Hopefully it works!):
** I had done a couple things organizing with CBT. The office in Bokonbayevo had the most honest prices. Be aware when organizing with tour guides. Shop around and make sure you get the best price and know what you are getting. Word from other travelers say that like to over charge.
*** Remember in Kyrgyzstan or Tajikistan, if you have to use a squat toilet, you will also be having the best view while going to the bathroom.
**** Which now is Metro Market in Shorewood. There I can also try a craft beer while I purchase my groceries for the week.
Also a great thanks to the Sheboygan and Manitowoc Libraries for having such amazing collections of books and magazines! It kept the spark of travelling going and helped me learn so much!