Flying golden eagles in Kyrgyzstan

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October 10th 2015
Published: October 10th 2015
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Eighty percent of Kyrgyzstan is mountainous. The Tien Shan mountains are truely spectacular, rising to 7,500 metres high and forming the border with China. There are no roads into these mountains, only tracks that are too rough even for our Merc truck. So we all decamp into an ancient ex-Soviet truck which grinds and rumbles it's way up a narrow gorge.

At 2,500 metres, the hostel is very basic with a few dormitories and a communal kitchen/dining/living room. There is a wood burning stove and ice cold water comes continuously from a spring outside. But the setting is spectacular. Snow covered mountains rise on all sides, dotted with tall, dark firs.

A day's hiking takes us above the tree line to a glacier at the end of a high plateau. Horses, sheep and cattle are grazed here in summer but now there is just us. Even the nomads yurts have been dismantled and moved out. High on the mountain sides we see avalanches and deer running away to safety.

On the grasslands, grazing livestock are all free range, there are no fences. Horses are as common as sheep, goats and cattle. Wolves prey on the livestock and there is a bounty paid by the government for killing a wolf.

We are introduced to a wolf hunter who does it the traditional way, using a trained golden eagle. Tamara is huge, an 11 year old golden eagle. She is magnificent. Holding her, we are able to appreciate her weight and strength. To demonstrate her hunting, she is allowed to catch a rabbit for her lunch. Sweeping down from a nearby hill, it is all over very quickly. The eagle can sense pulses so knows when its prey is dead, or whether it is being held by tourist or its master.

We made a few more bush camps as we traveled across the country, all in spectacular settings - beside mountain lakes or in gorges. We also stayed in homestays. These are similar to British B&Bs and give us the chance to join in with local life, meet the children and eat their food. Apples, pears and plums; homemade jams and honey; local breads and apple cake; plov (a local rice and meat dish); pancakes; drinking yogurt, yogurt balls and mare's milk (yuk). This is all washed down with tea - black and green and flavoured with herbs from the garden - and unbelievably cheap vodka!

And so we roll out of Kyrgyzstan, such a beautiful country. We have been so impressed by the stunning mountain scenery and friendly people. Why did we know so little about it before?

More soon from Uzbekistan.

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