Yet the rewards of his two-week visit proved rich, as evinced by this stunning series of black-and-white images (to see more, visit palanimohan.com). Rather than focusing on the hunting, Mohan chose to document the culture of these people, and the unique bond between hunter and bird, all set against the sweeping backdrop of the Altai Mountains.
Golden eagles are among the world’s largest predatory birds, with a wingspan that can exceed two meters. They can dive at speeds of 280 kilometers per hour. Training the birds is the toughest part of the process, Mohan learned, with hunters commonly picking a dozen eagles before finding one suitable for the task. The bond between man and bird is tight—tighter than that between man and wife, according to an old Kazakh proverb.
While falconry is practiced in various parts of the world, and celebrated with renewed vigor by desert dwellers in the Middle East, the tradition is dying out among Mongolia’s Kazakhs, who were pushed out of their native Kazakhstan 200 years ago by the advance of the Russian empire. “There are probably only about 70 of these eagle hunters left who hunt in the old way,” notes Mohan. “None of the young people in Mongolia are interested, so it’s a tradition that could soon disappear.”
Mohan hopes to make several return trips to collect enough images for a book on the eagle hunters. “I’d like to spend time with at least 50 of them, so this will take time,” he says. “Unfortunately, time is something that these people might not have.” – Ron Gluckman.
Originally appeared in the August/September 2012 print issue of DestinAsian magazine (“Eagle Ere”)