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Kazakh Eagle Festival

I went to the Eagle Festival yesterday.  TWice a year the Kazakhs hold their Eagle festival, showing off the huntings skills of their magnificent birds.  The first event is in October, in the west and is difficult to get to both geographically and, for a working teacher, practically.  Fortunately, they hold their second festival in Ulaanbaatar in ‘spring’–that balmy time of year when temperatures soar into the -10s.

Enveloped in multiple layers,  a few of the other teachers and I trekked to the Grand Khan Irish Pub (how’s that for a set of words you never thought you’d see together?) to catch the bus to Bogd Mountain, about 20 km outside the city.  It’s a sign of Mongolia’s lack of habitation that a mere 20 minutes outside the city, you’d never know it was there,  as the hills and steppes stretched around us.  It wasn’t actually snowing, but crystals floated through the air, sparkling like glitter, lending a surreal atmosphere to the surroundings.

There were probably only a couple hundred people there, including a crew from National Geographic Kids, and we had to do a lot of milling around waiting for the exhibition to start.  After a somewhat ridiculous fashion show inside the central ger–with marble floors no less (and who knew the inside of a ger could actually be colder than the outside?), we all trooped out into the sun again to the start of the opening parade.

Golden Eagles are about the most majestic bird I have ever seen, and far larger than you would think. Watching the hunters on their  ponies, in traditional dress with the birds perched on their arms, one had a sense of Mongolia’s past marching by.  After the ceremonies, there was about a km hike to the area where the hunting skills would be displayed.  Around this time, I realized that, while the rest of me was pretty warm, my feet, despite two pairs of thermal socks and my woolly Uggs, were absolutely freezing, and I started worrying about frostbite.  I was also a bit worried about hunting carnage, as part of the display was having the eagles kill a live wolf.  This, I did not want to see.

Fortunately, I ran into another of the teachers, who had driven, so we sat in her car and had an excellent, long-distance view of the hunting, as each of the riders, launched their bird, rode off, then called it back.    Apparently, the riders did not bring their actual ponies, but used Ulaanbaatar horses, so the horses were afraid of the birds and only a few of the eagles actually landed back on the arm of their hunter.   One bird got distracted by a bystanders fur hat and launched itself at the wearer.  Fortunately, neither bird nor bystander were hurt!  While galloping across the steppes, one rider’s horse stumbled and completely somersaulted, landing on rider and bird.  That was  heart-stopping to watch, but, again, no-one was hurt, which was pretty amazing.

Pictures are below–and I have a short video I’ll post later.

In other news, I’m booking a 5 day trip to the Gobi right after school is out, prior to coming home to the summer.  Very excited about that.  Then, a mere 3 months from now, it’s home for the summer!

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Mongolian Fire-Drill

Different from the Chinese fire drill!   The science lab set off the fire alarm today (it’s 0 degrees outside), so everyone trooped outside.

Here’s a pic of the kids wrapped up in their blankets.  Sorry it’s a bit hazy. I had my phone in my pocket; it must have steamed up when I took it out.

On a different note, Gerald arrives in about six weeks. I’m going to try to set up a couple day trips to places other than Terelj (out to see the Mongolian horses in Hustai, for example).  So with luck I can actually post something different for a change, and give you (and me!) a broader sense of the Mongolian countryside.

Just found out there were no flights out the day after the conference in Borneo, so we have to stay an extra day.  Wow, an extra day at a 5 star resort in tropical paradise–at the school’s expense.  How will I ever manage….  : )

Here’s the hotel, if you want to drool a bit.

BTW:  Check out this amazing photo essay of life in Ulaanbaatar

Tsagaan Sar

Tsagaan Sar (Mongolian New Year) starts on Wednesday (can you say four day weekend!?).  It is a HUGE deal here–the Mongolians have been preparing and cleaning for weeks now.  Everyone with cleaners or drivers gives them an extra half-month’s pay in appreciation and to help out with expenses.

There is a lot of visiting, and exchanging of gifts and FOOD.  In fact, they believe that if you are are hungry at all during the first night, you will be hungry for the year so, as you can imagine, they eat a lot!  Buuz (mongolian dumplings), boiled mutton, cookies and these bread platter thingies are the main fare (see the video), along with a salty milk tea.

They make a centerpiece of the bread platters–they have to be stacked in an odd number of rows–then pile yogurt-curd cookies (a very unique taste) on top of those.  Everything served is white (tsagaan sar means “white month”), and the centerpiece can’t be eaten until the last day of Tsagaan Sar.  Here’s a video to give you a sense.  The song he’s singing is a famous Mongolian song–something about the earth and nature. (I’m being horribly vague on all of this, aren’t I?)

Let it Snow….

Actually, it doesn’t snow much here, unlike back in CT!   Watch how cold it is, however. This is a video of a little experiment that would never work back home!  It needs sub-zero temperatures.  Who knew what happened when you throw boiling water into the air at -20??

 

Nanook of the North

Me and.....well, you know!

All bundled up for the 15 minute walk home from school.  No glasses because when I wear the face thingy, my breathing steams them up, and then it freezes and it’s like looking through a cloud!

There’s a pair of silk long johns under the pants, btw.  I need to have Gerald bring some ski-type pants when he comes to break the wind.

Before/After

It’s a bad pollution day.  Here’s the pic I promised.  Compare it with the picture I took from same place last September.

Baigalmaa says it’s not even bad yet.  It will be much worse next month.  Oh, joy.