This expedition, led by National Geographic Image Collection photographer Sean Gallagher, takes you to witness one of the world’s most unique cultural traditions, the Eagle Hunters of Mongolia. You will journey with Sean to some of the most remote corners of this little-visited country and photograph the legendary Golden Eagle Festival, travelling side-by-side with Eagle Hunters as they prepare for this important competition. You will journey across the famed Mongolian grasslands, photograph the world’s last wild horses, experience the wild Gobi desert and be immersed in one of the world’s most remarkable cultures. Throughout your journey, Sean shall be at your side to help improve and develop your photography.
Please read through our ESSENTIAL INFORMATION page for answers to our most frequently asked questions about our expeditions and take a moment to read through some our previous tour and workshop participant’s TESTIMONIALS.
BOOKING DEADLINE – 24TH JUNE, 2019 – Email [email protected] to book your place, or ask questions about this expedition.
Day 1 / Sep 24 – Arrival
Upon arrival at the airport, you will be met by a member of our team and transferred to the Shangri-la in downtown Ulaanbaatar. After some rest, we will meet as a group for the first time and will go on a brief city tour, including a visit to the Zaisan Hill where you can get bird’s eye view of the city. In the evening, we shall have a welcome dinner with the group at one of the city’s local restaurants. (Shangri-la Hotel; D).
Day 2 / Sep 25 – Yol valley, Hongoryn Els
In the morning we will fly to the South Gobi (1.5 hour flight), transferring to Yol valley for wildlife viewing opportunity (70 km or 1.5 hour driving). Gobi Gurvansaikhan National Park is the largest within Mongolian park service. Gurvansaikan means “Three Beauties” describing the park’s most prominent peaks, and Yol – refers to the Bearded Vulture or Lammergeier. In the desert’s hierarchy of raptors and scavengers, the Lammergeier arrives last to the carcass to feast on the bones; to get at the marrow, these enormous yet surprisingly graceful birds carry the bones high in the air and drop them on the rocks below. The Yol is one of most beautiful valleys in the park, and exploring the gorge allows a rare chance of watching wild Argali sheep grazing in the grassy saddles and Siberian Ibex clambering with uncanny skill along steep rocky ledges. Many interesting birds such as the butterfly-winged Wallcreeper and the exceedingly rare Koslov’s Accentor also inhabit this magical spot. We will also visit a local Natural History Museum located at the entrance to the park. Picnic lunch.
After lunch we’ll set out on a drive to Hongoryn Els (150 km or 3-4 hours of driving), the Gobi’s largest sand dunes and among the most spectacular in the world. En route we’ll explore the small mountain ranges of Bayan Dalai and Zoulen, stopping along the way. At nearby Tukhim an ancient dry lake-bed, we will look for a local population of Goitered Gazelle and Mongolian Wild Ass or Hulan. There are three species of wild ass in the world – the African Wild Ass, the Tibetan Kiang and the Asiatic Wild Ass or Onager, of which the Hulan is a subspecies. All of them are desert animals and all threatened with extinction. Today Mongolia holds one of the last remnants – about 20,000 animals – of this once abundant species. A river that runs along the base of the dunes often attracts flocks of Pallas’s Sandgrouse and other birds drawn to the scarce desert water source. In the beautiful light of late afternoon, we will enjoy “sundowners” in the dunes as their colors change. Overnight in a local ger camp. (Approx. 5 hours of driving total; Ger Camp; B, L, D)
In the evening, Sean will give a presentation of his work from the region and discuss with guests his approach to photography that will help you with your own photography during your journey through Mongolia.
Day 3 / Sep 26 – Hongoryn Els, Flaming Cliffs
Spend the morning on the dunes and with local camel herder family. Transfer to a ger camp at the Flaming Cliffs (165 km or 3 hours of driving), a red sandstone escarpment stretching above the desert for 3 kilometers, where the first dinosaur eggs known to science were found by the Roy Chapman Andrews expedition in early 20th century. Since then, paleontological expeditions from many countries, including the U.S, Poland, Japan and Russia, have uncovered thousands of fossils of many species. Each year rain and wind reveals yet more fossils and every summer new discoveries are made. (Ger camp; B, L, D)
Day 4 / Sep 27 – Ongiin Monastery ruins
Today, we will begin our overland journey north via the Ongiin Hiid Monastery. In the afternoon, we will reach the ruins of Ongiin Hiid Monastery, located on the northern tip of the Gobi desert. Ongiin Hiid Monastery, once called the “Pearl of the Gobi,” was on the crossroads of Central Asian Silk Road camel caravans. We will explore the monastery ruins and surrounding hills on foot and stay at a ger camp located on the Ongi river banks. (Approx. 3-4 hours driving; Ger Camp; B, L, D)
Day 5 / Sep 28 – Harhorin
After early breakfast, drive to Harahorim, built by Chinggis Khan’s son, Ogodei, to serve as the capital of the Mongol Empire. Forty years after its construction, Harhorin was abandoned and the capital was moved to Khanbalik, in what is now Beijing. Few traces remain of this once- magnificent city, but nearby Erdene Zuu Monastery was reputedly built from Harhorin’s ruins in the 16th century. Mongolia’s largest monastery and a place of Buddhist activity for centuries, Erdene Zuu’s temples are richly decorated with spectacular Buddhist art. Visit Erdenezuu Monastery, surrounded by 400 meters wall with 108 stupas. At its’ height, the monastery housed over 60 temples and 5000 monks. Discover the surrounding area including historical monuments located outside of its walls and visit the monastery. (Approx. 6 hours driving; Ger Camp; B, L, D)
Day 6 / Sep 29 – Ulaanbaatar
After breakfast drive towards Ulaanbaatar, stopping at the Hustai national park, one of three sites where the wild horses, known as the Takhi or Przewalski’s horse have been reintroduced during last two decades (380 km or 6-7 hours of driving). After the last individuals disappeared from the wild in Mongolia in late 1960s, genetically pure animals were bred in captivity in European zoos and have been reintroduced into three distinctive habitats in Mongolia. We will be able to observe these handsome, completely wild horses in their natural steppe habitat.
In the evening transfer to Ulaanbaatar for farewell dinner and overnight. (Shangri-la; B, L, D)
Day 7 / Sep 30 – Bayan-Olgii
In the early morning we fly (3 hours) to Bayan Olgii on Aeromongolia flight, westernmost province where majority of the population is ethnic Kazakh. Kazakhs are a group of Central Asian nomads with Turkik origins and nowadays live in Kazakhstan, North Western China and Mongolia. Upon arrival meet your local drivers, transfer to Altai Sum, located in 125 km west of the capital (3-3.5 hours on a rough road). Bayan Olgii province consists of 14 sub-districts called sum. Kazakh women are renowned for their skilled embroidery, and their homes are beautifully decorated with ornate tapestries on the walls, ceiling and floor, with each design unique to a particular family. We will have couple gers set up just for our group to use for communal dining and get-together meetings, and will have tents for sleeping. (Homestay with tent option; B, L, D)
Day 8 / Oct 1 – Altai sum
We ride with eagle hunters into the mountains! Eagles are caught from wild and used for hunting for over 10 years before they are released back into the wilderness. Normally a female eagle is used. Because of her maternity instincts she is more aggressive and determined in hunt and usually outweighs the males. Learn all about different techniques and gadgets used in eagle hunting. Kazakhs hunters will show you how eagles are trained and they offer you food and shelter, like any other nomadic families in the country. (Homestay with tent option; B, L, D)
Day 9 / Oct 2 – Riding with eagles
Ride with hunters going to attend the festival towards Olgii, stay in tents – hunters from this sum ride for 3 full days to get to Olgii and usually they get together and hunt along the way. We will have a chance to ride along the hunters over mountain passes and rendezvous at certain spots with support vehicles. Packed lunches. Accompany hunters on a horseback or in vehicles to reconvene for dinner and overnight. (Homestay with tent option; B, L, D)
Day 10 / Oct 3 – Kazakh herder family
Today we split off from the hunters of Altai sum and go visit a Kazakh herder family (65 km or 2 hour drive). It is one of the highlights of our trip. Each ger is decorated with tapestries woven by Kazakh women and each tapestry is decorated with unique patterns designed by the family. Kazakh women are renowned for their handcraft and tapestry skills and Kazakh men train Golden Eagles for hunting, an age-old tradition that has survived amongst the Mongolian Kazakh population during the 20th century. Learn about daily chores of Kazakh herders looking after their yaks and sheep. Today we will camp in tents next to a herder family. (Homestay with tent option; B, L, D)
Day 11 / Oct 4 – Olgii
Transfer to Olgii (65 km or 2 hour drive), registration with the festival, visit the city museum, small but impressive it offers an excellent introduction to the history and culture of the people who have dwelled in the Altai Mountain region for more than a century. Opportunity to visit a local mosque. Overnight at a specially set up temporary camp on the banks of Hovd river near festival site. (Rustic ger camp; B, L, D)
Day 12-13 / Oct 5-6 – Eagle festival
For two days, attend the magnificent Golden Eagle Festival. The festival begins witha march of eagle hunters coming into the central field and showcasing their hunter eagles to the public. Eagle skills are then tested by releasing them from a cliff top to time how fast it can land on their owners’ arms when called. Attend also a traditional tug of war game called kukbar, which is competed on a horse back. One of the highlights of the festival will be the archery contest by ethnic Uriankhai people, who will compete by their skills by traditional Mongolian arrow and bow which have retained the same design and force since the 13th century. In the evenings, enjoy a traditional Kazakh meals followed by a beautiful Kazakh singers performing for us on the last evening. We will arrange for special private photographic sessions with hunters and archers. Overnight in gers. (Rustic ger camp; B, L, D)
Day 14 / Oct 7 – Ulaanbaatar
Morning is at leisure. We will pack and drive to the town. Explore the city and visit its colourful market, enjoying lunch at a local restaurant. In the afternoon, we transfer to the airport for our return flight to Ulaanbaatar. This evening will be our final one as a group and as such we shall have a celebratory dinner, followed by a slideshow of all the participants best photographs from the journey. (Shangri-la Hotel; B, L, D)
Day 15 / Oct 8 – Departure
After a farewell breakfast, guests shall transfer to either the train station or the airport for their next destination. (B)
Please note, the organisers reserve the right to change the itinerary from what appears above.
MEALS – B = Breakfast, L = Lunch, D = Dinner
ACCOMMODATION: In Ulaanbaatar, we shall stay at the 5* Shangri-La. Please note that when we travel to rural regions, we shall often be staying in ‘Gers’. These are traditional Mongolian tents. Warm, comfortable and clean they are unique to the region, proving guests with a truly traditional experience.
– Land transportation as indicated in the itinerary based on using a Land Cruiser;
– Domestic flights as mentioned;
– Accommodation at hotel and standard ger camps throughout based on a single occupancy;
– Airport arrival & departure transfers;
– All meals indicated as B, L or D;
– All entrance fees as indicated in the itinerary;
– English speaking guide throughout your stay;
– Drinking water.
Prices do not include:
International airfare; personal laundry and drinks not mentioned in the itinerary; travel insurance; medical evacuation costs; excess baggage charges; visa fees; gratuities; and any other item not mentioned as included.
Single supplement (if you wish to have your own room in the hotel): $775.00
Don’t forget to read through our ESSENTIAL INFORMATION page for answers to our most frequently asked questions about our expeditions and read through some our previous tour and workshop participant’s TESTIMONIALS.
To book your place, or if you have any further questions, please send us a message via the ABOUT/CONTACT page. We’re always happy to answer your questions!