Following Hamid Sardar, Harvard scholar of Inner Asian Studies and professional photographer we embark on a memorable journey into the culture of Kazakh eagle hunters in Mongolia’s Altai foothills. Exploration photography is not just about capturing beautiful portraits and breath-taking landscapes; it’s about uncovering the DNA of a land and its people and letting it become the guiding principle in our art.
In Kazakh culture, art – indeed memory itself – is inconceivable without this totem-like connection to the fabulous eagle that seem to tap into early layers of human consciousness and the religious experiences of the archaic hunter. For nomads who still live in the wild, survival is based on imitation of wild beasts such as the eagle. Man hunts, heals and moves through nature by emulating the intelligence of animals. This spiritual connection between man and animal will be the guiding theme
of our workshop.
Renowned photographer, documentarist and scholar, Hamid Sardar, has a Ph.d. in Inner Asian Studies from Harvard University. Hamid is therefore uniquely qualified to introduce the often reclusive and enigmatic cultures of Mongolia. His work has been featured in National Geographic, Le Figaro and Paris Match, and he has produced several internationally acclaimed documentaries about the nomads of Mongolia.
For logistic reasons, we suggest to fly into Ulaanbaatar one day early as we will leave for Hovd on the first day of the workshop. It will also allow you to get accustomed to the local time zone and climate.
We will organize a hotel for you in Ulaanbaatar at the raw price.
Settle into the hotel and spend the day exploring the Mongolian capital. In the evening, there will be an orientation dinner at the hotel to meet your workshop guide and the other guests, followed by a slide show and discussion.
Please note that this is the last chance to stock up on supplies you may have forgotten back home.
Today we will fly to Hovd city, where we will be picked up by a 4×4 mini van that will take us to the camp. Here, you will have time to wander around and take the first photographs of the rolling steppe which is home to one of the most cheerful and hospitable cultures of Central Asia.
In the evening, we will have dinner together and sleep in a traditional yurt, or ger as it is called in Mongolia, which literally means home.
We will start the day early and drive to the camp of a Nomad family. You will get introduced to the traditional way of life, which hasn’t changed for centuries. Have your camera ready because we will immerse ourselves in the family’s life and document their daily chores which include milking, herding, cooking traditional meals and preparing local dairy products. You will also have the opportunity to capture the nomads riding their horses and motorcycles.
We will have dinner at the camp followed by a peer review and discussion of the shots taken during the day.
Make sure your camera’s batteries are charged as the best of what Mongolia has to offer will come to our camp: a mini Naadam celebration will take place at the camp grounds. Nadaam is Mongolia’s national festival and a sophisticated and eloquent expression of its Nomadic culture.
The Mongolian hinterland has much more photo subjects to offer than the Eagle Hunters. Today, we will meet wrestlers and archers, and horse racers, throat singers, and contortionists. In fact, in Mongolia, contortion is a cultural practice, which expresses itself through dance, and it is as common as ballet to the western world. Mongolia has produced some of the most magnificent contortion acts in the world thanks to their grace and poise that exhibit the beauty and capability of the human body. Each single movement between the various poses is fluid in finely tuned positions right to the fingers and tiptoes.
Wrestling, along with horseback riding and archery, is one of Mongolia’s three manly sports. The sport known as Bökh is a cultural tradition which dates back centuries. It is the main focus in the life of many young Mongolian men as it defines manliness within the community.
In the evening, we will have dinner at the camp and recap this exciting day with a photo review and discussion. For the night, we will stay in a yurt/ger at the camp.
We will start the day early, and drive to Jargalant Mountain, which crowns a teardrop-shaped massif encircled by lakes. Snow leopards, gazelles and ibex roam this extraordinary ecosphere. The elusive snow leopard is a rare sight so cross your fingers that we are part of the lucky few who get to see it.
Bring your long lens and be ready to hike the mountain to take some memorable landscape and wildlife pictures. Our guide, a local herder, will take us through his backyard – the majestic Jargalant Mountain – and to the places where we are most likely to see wildlife.
In the evening, we will return to Hovd, where we will have dinner at the hotel and review the images taken during the day.
Today we have a long drive ahead of us as the Bayan-Ulgii province in the north is our next destination. Bayan-Ulgii is a far-off land of high mountains (the Mongol Altai) torrents and glaciers. It is inhabited by Kazakh, a minority who has a different culture from the Mongols, herding yaks and goats and hunting with trained eagles.
Along there way, there will be a stop for lunch as well as several stops for landscape and travel photography.
Dinner at base camp followed by evening peer review and discussion.
One more, we will spend the night in a yurt/ger. The Kazaks decorate their tents and houses with bright weavings and abstract patterns that imitate ram’s horns, birds and flowers. The inner life of the Kazak, it seems, flourishes in inverse proportion to the scarcity of their geographic environment.
We will leave the camp early and drive to Altantsogts to experience the Kazakh eagle hunting culture.
During our visits to the nomad camps we will observe many methods of catching an eagle. Most commonly the Kazakhs will lure the eagle into a net trap using as decoy a bait-crow tied near a dead animal. After a heavy rain eagles would sometimes become so wet that they could not fly very easily, the same thing happened after an eagle gorged itself on carrion making it possible for a man on a fast horse to capture the bird before it took to the air. Kazakh’s insist, however, that the bravest eagles, those that are trained for catching wolves, must be directly taken from the nest right before their maiden flight.
Our goal is to capture how local herders train and hunt with their eagles in the vast mountain area of Altai mountains. We will observe hunters training and feeding their eagles. Short training flights will allow us to set up the camera in various creative positions in order to capture the eagle in flight.
However, the Kazakhs understand that eagles are still wild animals that cannot be kept forever, and so they must be returned to the wild before they lose their dreams of freedom. We will follow a hunter to the highest point on the mountain and photograph the elaborate ritual of releasing the eagle back into the wild. Participants will be encouraged to capture the complicity and emotion between eagle and hunter.
Dinner at the base camp followed by evening peer review and discussion. Sleep in a yurt/ger at the camp.
Today we will travel to the hidden gem of Khatuu Mountain and visit the eagle hunters and their families. This area of Western Mongolia which will leave you speechless with amazement by its rough hills and deep cut gorges of the majestic valley of Khatuu.
The day will be spend photographing the egale hunters, while you will also have the opportunity for landscape photography.
Dinner at base camp followed by evening peer review and discussion. Overnight in a yurt/ger.
On our last day at the camp, we will witness and capture Kazakh traditional games and culture: experience the famous ancient nomadic game known as kokpar, which can roughly be transplated to “goat-grabbing”, which is an accurate description as riders try to take away the goat from each other. The game is said to have originated with Genghis Khan’s early-13th-century mounted raiders, although it may be even older.
We will also listen to Kazakh songs and dombor music. The dombor (with two strings, a long neck and round belly) is an instrument traditionally played by Khazakh musicians.
Dinner at the camp followed by a review and critic of the images taken during the day. Night at a yurt/ger.
Today, we will return to the Mongolian capital. In the evening, we will have dinner at our hotel followed by individual presentations and discussions.
Return flights home.
Thanks for choosing Better Moments for your workshop.
2 – 11 June 2020
Number of guests: 8-12
Local transport: 4×4 bus is included
Exertion level: Moderate
Accommodation: hotel, authentic cozy
yurt tent is included
Meals: All meals are included
Domestic flights are included
Travel to and from the workshop destination: Not included
Visa and taxes: Not included
Alcoholic beverages: Not included
Travel insurance: Not included
€ 6,395 in single authentic cozy yurt tent.
€ 5,995 in double authentic cozy yurt tent.
Groups sign-up a group of 4+ participants and receive a group discount.
All prices are per person.
Better Moments is a member of the Travel Guarantee Fund, your guarantee that traveling with Better Moments is a safe experience.
Chinggis Khaan International Airport is the international airport serving Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia, situated 18 km southwest of the capital.
The airport is due for replacement in 2019 by the new Khöshigt Valley Airport which is located at the Khoshigt Valley, 52 km south of Ulaanbaatar city centre.
There are international flights arriving from Seoul, Hongkong, Berlin, Istanbul, Tokyo and Moscow.
A 30-day tourist visa is required for most countries and can be easily obtained at any Mongolian embassy, consulate, consulate-general or honorary consul. However, a number of countries can visit visa free, including citizens of the USA, Canada and Germany.
If you are traveling to Mongolia from a country that has no Mongolian consulate, you can pick up a 30-day tourist visa on arrival at the airport in Ulaanbaatar. You will need T108,000 (or dollar equivalent) and two passport photos – you should also have a pre-approval letter from an organization or company in Mongolia.
Expect warm and mostly dry weather in June and July, with some thunderstorms.
The average temperature in June is 15°C, ranging from 9°C to 22°C.
The official language of Mongolia is Mongolian, and is spoken by 95% of the population.
Russian is the most frequently spoken foreign language in Mongolia, followed by English, although English has been gradually replacing Russian as the second language. Korean has gained popularity as tens of thousands of Mongolians work in South Korea.
The Mongolian monetary unit is the Tögrög (MNT)
Basis of rates:
All prices are quoted in Euro (€). The prices are based on current tariffs and are subject to change due to unforeseen circumstances. While we will do everything possible to maintain the listed prices, if it is necessary to levy a surcharge, we reserve the right to do so, and notification will be given at the time of final invoicing.
A deposit of €1,000 is required at the time of booking. The invoice for the balance of payment will be issued 180 days prior to departure, where after final payment is due. For reservations made within 180 days of the departure date, full payment is required when the reservation is accepted. In order to participate on a Better Moments workshop the participant must have made full payment prior to the start of the workshop. The payment terms can be stricter when the workshop includes chartered ships or planes, and any variation will be communicated clearly on the invoice.
Cancellations and refunds:
All cancellation notices must be received in writing and will become effective on the date, which the letter or email is received by Better Moments. There is no cancellation charge until 180 days before departure, however until 24 hours after making the deposit payment it will be refunded in cash, after which a voucher will be issued. The voucher is valid for a booking with Better Moments for up to 1 year from the issue date., and cannot be exchanged for cash. Cancellation charges less than 180 days before departure are expressed as a percentage of the total price, and are as follows: 179 – 150 days before departure 50%, and 149 days or less before departure 100%. This policy also applies to pre- and post-trip extensions. Any airline tickets issued are subject to the carrier’s refund policy. Leaving a workshop in progress, for any reason whatsoever, will not result in a refund, and no refunds will be made for any unused portions of a workshop.
We reserve the right to cancel a workshop because of inadequate enrollment that makes the trip economically infeasible to operate, or because of good-faith concerns with respect to the safety, health, or welfare of the participants. If a workshop is cancelled prior to departure, you will have a choice between a full refund or a credit towards a future Better Moments workshop equivalent to amount paid. If we cancel the trip in progress, you will receive a pro-rata refund based on the number of days. We are not responsible for any refund for airline tickets, hotel accommodation, etc. purchased by the participant. In the event of the specified photo expert being unable to attend due to illness or other circumstances beyond our control, a photo expert of the same standard will be provided. If this is not possible, then the workshop will be cancelled and the provisions above will come into effect.
In order to participate in a workshop you are required to have comprehensive insurance coverage for personal accident and injury, medical and repatriation costs during the workshop. In addition we strongly recommend that you arrange cancellation and travel insurance covering the loss, expenses and damages arising from, including but not limited to, cancellation of the workshop (whether in whole or in part), loss of baggage and personal money and belongings, as well as flight cancellations and delays.
The itineraries and staff presented in this catalogue are subject to modification and change by the Better Moments workshop or its designated tour operator. Every reasonable effort will be made to operate programs as planned, but alterations may still occur after final itineraries are sent.
You must be in good physical and mental health. Any physical condition or treatment requiring special attention must be reported in writing at the time of booking. By registering for a Better Moments workshop, the participant certifies that he/she does not have any mental, physical, or other condition or disability that would create a hazard for him/herself or other participants. Better Moments and its designated tour operator reserve the right in their sole discretion to accept, decline to accept, or remove any participant on a Better Moments workshop and the tour operator reserve the right, without penalty, to make changes in the published itinerary whenever, in their judgment, conditions warrant or if they deem it necessary for the comfort, convenience, or safety of the participants.
If you have special requests, e.g. dietary, cabin number, bedding type, airline seat or other requests, you should inform us of these at the time of booking. We will advise the relevant supplier of your requirements, but we cannot guarantee that such requests will be met, and will have no liability to you if such requests are not met.
We reserve the right to take photographs or videos during the operation of any workshop or part thereof and to use the resulting photography, videos, or recordings for promotional or commercial use. If the participant prefers that his/her likeness not to be used, he/she must notify us in writing prior to departure.
Better Moments and its designated tour operator and tour administrator shall not be held liable for (a) any damage to, or loss of, property or injury to, or death of, persons occasioned directly or indirectly by an act or omission of any other provider, including but not limited to any defect in any aircraft, watercraft, or vehicle operated or provided by such other provider; and (b) any loss or damage due to delay, cancellation or disruption in any manner caused by the laws, regulations, acts or failures to act, demands, orders, or interpositions of any government or any subdivision or agent thereof, or by acts of God, strikes, fire, flood, war, rebellion, terrorism, insurrection, sickness, quarantine, epidemics, theft, or any other cause(s) beyond their control. The participant waives any claim against Better Moments and/or its designated tour operator and tour administrator for any such loss, damage, injury, or death.
Better Moments and its designated tour operator and tour administrator shall not be liable for any air carrier’s cancellation penalty incurred by the purchase of a non-refundable ticket to or from the participant’s Better Moments workshop departure city. It is the sole responsibility of the participants to organize their own transportation to and from the meeting point as described in the workshop itinerary, e.g. airport, hotel, and to ensure timely arrival. The participant should not book flights and/or hotel accommodation until Better Moments have issued final confirmation for the workshop. In the event of late arrival it is the responsibility of the participant to join the workshop, and to carry all associated expenses. Better Moments is not liable if the participant misses any portion of, or the entire workshop as a result of the delay. Baggage and personal effects are at all times the responsibility of the participant.
Other terms and conditions may apply to some workshops, and details will always be provided with pre-trip mailings. By making the deposit payment, the participant agrees to the terms and conditions and the responsibility statements herein on behalf of all the individuals included in the booking.