The Eaglemen of the Salburun Federation invited me on a hunting trip – the coolest Christmas I’ve ever had – literally and figuratively. I stayed with the family of one of the hunters in the mountains. His house is about 30 kilometers from the village Bakonbayeva, on the Southern shore of Lake Issyk -Kul .
Although the Kyrgyz are Muslims, there is a Christmas tree – a remainder from Soviet times, and still in fashion. What I like much better than the X-mas decoration: the silent atmosphere in the mountains. In the morning, I help milking the cows and later we ride on horseback to the hunt. Finally, a Kirghiz guy gives me a fast horse. Usually, I only get the old and slow ones. Thus, it is no problem to find the way back home alone: Just let go – a storm gallop through the snow.
The next day we head out to hunt with the Golden Eagles. I am impressed by my host Aitubek. Without problems he gets on his horse, the big eagle sitting on his arm. Then we ride through the mountains for several hours. The temperatures drop below minus ten degrees. Aitubek’s eaglearm is sitting on an armrest. With the whip he drives his horse forward and talks on the phone at the same time. He is an eagleman of the fourth generation and everything looks so easy when he does it.
Almazbek Akunov, chairman of the Federation Salburun, himself came to take me out hunting. He not only brought his eagle, but also his precious hunting dogs. The Kyrgyz Taigan is a type of Greyhound, perfectly adapted to the cold and the mountains. The animals were bred to hunt wolves, but they are very friendly towards people – at least that was my experience.
Usually, people use the eagles for fox hunting. The dogs shoo the foxes from their den. When the hunter sees a fox running, he sends the eagle.
All hunting eagles are female, so is Tumara, Tulgarbeks eagle lady. You can tell how much he loves the animal even if you don’t know the two: he strokes her affectionately.
I have met the Salburun men many times and learned how important the sport is to them. For them it’s all about spending time with their eagles and with each other. They often organize festivals, sit together and talk about the birds and the hunting. In contrast to many other Kyrgyz men, they don’t drink any alcohol.
During those two days of hunting, we were out of luck, but there are no long faces (at least not among the eaglemen). They find it a pity that there is so little game in the area. “Four years ago it was different”, Almazbek tells me, “now people go with guns on jeep safari all the time.”
Anyway, it was an experience: Outdoor-Christmas with new friends, horses, dogs and eagles – What more could you want?
Here is a video about a Kyrgyz Salburun festival by Associated Press: