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William of Rubruck

The Journey of William of Rubruck to the Eastern Parts of the World, 1253-55



William of Rubruck may not be as widely well-known as Marco Polo, but in the literature on Western travel in Asia, his medieval travels are just as revered. He was a Flemish friar, fresh off a Crusade to Egypt, travelling now to the “Tartars” in the East, where he hoped to similarly spread his faith. He made it to the Mongolian court and back, and upon his return he submitted a report in Latin to the French King Louis IX. Within the first month of his travel, he had encountered the Tartars in modern-day Crimea, and he gives an ethnographic summary of their “barbaric” way of life. Among those notes is perhaps the first Western reference to Central Asian falconry.

Whether you’re tracing ancestry (did some of these “Tartars”, through the centuries, beget Kazakhs?) or tracing tradition (how confident can we be that this is an unbroken chain?), making connections between that long ago time and today’s practices can sometimes feel like grasping. Yet, reading William of Rubruck’s travelogue, one can see that falconry was part of a nomadic way of life that’s surprisingly recognizable, as it continued on the steppes of Eurasia for hundreds of years. Horse and cattle husbandry, koumiss and dried cheese, yurts and the wide open sky; these markers of culture remain alive even today. So while we can’t say that William of Rubruck’s falconers were Kazakhs or Kyrgyz, or even Central Asian (he met them in Crimea after all), they were part of a geographically and ethnically shifting culture that our modern falconer friends have now inherited.

The text we can consult about William of Rubruck’s travels is a translation from the Latin by William Woodville Rockhill (a character himself – he was the first American to learn Tibetan and an Assistant Secretary of State). Rockhill was an astute scholar and left a ton of footnotes, several of which comment on the falconry bits.

William of Rubruck met the Tartars in early June of 1253. In his introduction to their foreign lifestyle, he had the following to say about their birds and their hunting:

Rats with long tails they eat not, but give them to their birds. They eat mice and all kinds of rats which have short tails. There are also many marmots, which are called sogur and which congregate in one hole in winter, XX or XXX together, and sleep for six months; these they catch in great numbers. There are also conies, with a long tail like a cat’s, and on the end of the tail they have black and white hairs. They have also many other kinds of small animals good to eat, which they know very well how to distinguish. I saw no deer there. I saw few hares, many gazelles. Wild asses I saw in great numbers, and these are like mules. I saw also another kind of animal which is called arcaliy, which has quite the body of a sheep, and horns bent like a ram’s, but of such size that I could hardly lift the two horns with one hand, and they make of these horns big cups. They have hawks and peregrine falcons in great numbers, which they all carry on their right hand. And they always put a little thong around the hawk’s neck, which hangs down to the middle of its breast, by which, when they cast it at its prey, they pull down with the left hand the head and breast of the hawk, so that it be not struck by the wind and carried upward. So it is that they procure a large part of their food by the chase. p. 69-70

One interesting piece of historical continuity is the detail about where they carry their birds – on their right hands, just as the Kyrgyz and Kazakhs do today. Most other falconry cultures use the left hand. The observation about the “thong” around the hawk’s neck is, for me, confusing – I can’t quite visualize what it was for. In any case, no such accoutrement is described in centuries hence.

The text can be read in full at the Internet Archive.

Marco Polo and Rustichello da Pisa

Book of the Marvels of the World



There are also a great number of eagles, all broken to catch wolves,foxes, deer, and wild goats, and they do catch them in great numbers. But those especially that are trained to wolf-catching are very large and powerful birds, and no wolf is able to get away from them.[NOTE 4]

NOTE 4.–This is perfectly correct. In Eastern Turkestan, and among the Kirghiz to this day, eagles termed _Burgut_ (now well known to be the Golden Eagle) are tamed and trained to fly at wolves, foxes, deer, wild goats, etc. A Kirghiz will give a good horse for an eagle in which he recognises capacity for training. Mr. Atkinson gives vivid descriptions and illustrations of this eagle (which he calls “Bear coote”), attacking both deer and wolves. He represents the bird as striking one claw into the neck, and the other into the back of its large prey, and then tearing out the liver with its beak. In justice both to Marco Polo and to Mr. Atkinson, I have pleasure in adding a vivid account of the exploits of this bird, as witnessed by one of my kind correspondents, the Governor-General’s late envoy to Kashgar. And I trust Sir Douglas Forsyth will pardon my quoting his own letter just as it stands[1]:–”Now for a story of the _Burgoot_–Atkinson’s ‘Bearcoote.’ I think I told you it was the Golden Eagle and supposed to attack wolves and even bears. One day we came across a wild hog of enormous size, far bigger than any that gave sport to the Tent Club in Bengal. The Burgoot was immediately let loose, and went straight at the hog, which it kicked, and flapped with its wings, and utterly _flabbergasted_, whilst our Kashgaree companions attacked him with sticks and brought him to the ground. As Friar Odoric would say, I, T. D. F., have seen this with mine own eyes.”–Shaw describes the rough treatment with which the Burgut is tamed. Baber, when in the Bajaur Hills, notices in his memoirs: “This day Burgut took a deer.” (_Timkowski_, I. 414; _Levchine_, p. 77; _Pallas_, _Voyages_, I. 421; _J. R. A. S._ VII. 305; _Atkinson’s Siberia_, 493; and _Amoor_, 146-147; _Shaw_, p. 157; _Baber_, p. 249.) [The Golden Eagle (_Aquila chrysaetus_) is called at Peking _Hoy tiao_ (black eagle). (_David et Oustalet_, _Oiseaux de la Chine_, p. 8.)–H. C.]

Round this Palace a wall is built, inclosing a compass of 16 miles, andinside the Park there are fountains and rivers and brooks, and beautiful meadows, with all kinds of wild animals (excluding such as are of ferocious nature), which the Emperor has procured and placed there to supply food for his gerfalcons and hawks, which he keeps there in mew. Of these there are more than 200 gerfalcons alone, without reckoning the other hawks. The Kaan himself goes every week to see his birds sitting in mew, and sometimes he rides through the park with a leopard behind him on his horse’s croup; and then if he sees any animal that takes his fancy, he slips his leopard at it,[NOTE 3] and the game when taken is made over to feed the hawks in mew. This he does for diversion.

The mountains of this country also supply Saker falcons of excellentflight, and plenty of Lanners likewise. Beasts and birds for the chasethere are in great abundance.

After he has stopped at his capital city those three months that I mentioned, to wit, December, January, February, he starts off on the 1st day of March, and travels southward towards the Ocean Sea, a journey of two days.[NOTE 1] He takes with him full 10,000 falconers, and some 500 gerfalcons besides peregrines, sakers, and other hawks in great numbers; and goshawks also to fly at the water-fowl.[NOTE 2] But do not suppose that he keeps all these together by him; they are distributed about, hither and thither, one hundred together, or two hundred at the utmost, as he thinks proper. But they are always fowling as they advance, and the most part of the quarry taken is carried to the Emperor. And let me tell you when he goes thus a-fowling with his gerfalcons and other hawks, he is attended by full 10,000 men who are disposed in couples; and these are called _Toscaol_, which is as much as to say, “Watchers.” And the name describes their business.[NOTE 3] They are posted from spot to spot, always in couples, and thus they cover a great deal of ground! Every man of them is provided with a whistle and hood, so as to be able to call in a hawk and hold it in hand. And when the Emperor makes a cast, there is no need that he follow it up, for those men I speak of keep so good a look out that they never lose sight of the birds, and if these have need of help they are ready to render it.¶ All the Emperor’s hawks, and those of the Barons as well, have a little label attached to the leg to mark them, on which is written the names of the owner and the keeper of the bird. And in this way the hawk, when caught, is at once identified and handed over to its owner. But if not, the bird is carried to a certain Baron, who is styled the _Bularguchi_, which is as much as to say “The Keeper of Lost Property.” And I tell you that whatever may be found without a known owner, whether it be a horse, or a sword, or a hawk, or what not, it is carried to that Baron straightway, and he takes charge of it. And if the finder neglects to carry his trover to the Baron, the latter punishes him. Likewise the loser of any article goes to the Baron, and if the thing be in his hands it is immediately given up to the owner. Moreover, the said Baron always pitches on the highest spot of the camp, with his banner displayed, in order that those who have lost or found anything may have no difficulty in finding their way to him. Thus nothing can be lost but it shall be incontinently found and restored.[NOTE 4] ¶And so the Emperor follows this road that I have mentioned, leading along in the vicinity of the Ocean Sea (which is within two days’ journey of his capital city, Cambaluc), and as he goes there is many a fine sight to be seen, and plenty of the very best entertainment in hawking; in fact, there is no sport in the world to equal it! ¶ The Emperor himself is carried upon four elephants in a fine chamber made of timber, lined inside with plates of beaten gold, and outside with lions’ skins [for he always travels in this way on his fowling expeditions, because he is troubled with gout]. He always keeps beside him a dozen of his choicest gerfalcons, and is attended by several of his Barons, who ride on horseback alongside. And sometimes, as they may be going along, and the Emperor from his chamber is holding discourse with the Barons, one of the latter shall exclaim: “Sire! Look out for Cranes!” Then the Emperor instantly has the top of his chamber thrown open, and having marked the cranes he casts one of his gerfalcons, whichever he pleases; and often the quarry is struck within his view, so that he has the most exquisite sport and diversion, there as he sits in his chamber or lies on his bed; and all the Barons with him get the enjoyment of it likewise! So it is not without reason I tell you that I do not believe there ever existed in the world or ever will exist, a man with such sport and enjoyment as he has, or with such rare opportunities.[NOTE 5] ¶ And when he has travelled till he reaches a place called CACHAR MODUN,[NOTE 6] there he finds his tents pitched, with the tents of his Sons, and his Barons, and those of his Ladies and theirs, so that there shall be full 10,000 tents in all, and all fine and rich ones. And I will tell you how his own quarters are disposed. The tent in which he holds his courts is large enough to give cover easily to a thousand souls. It is pitched with its door to the south, and the Barons and Knights remain in waiting in it, whilst the Lord abides in another close to it on the west side. When he wishes to speak with any one he causes the person to be summoned to that other tent. Immediately behind the great tent there is a fine large chamber where the Lord sleeps; and there are also many other tents and chambers, but they are not in contact with the Great Tent as these are. The two audience-tents and the sleeping-chamber are constructed in this way. Each of the audience-tents has three poles, which are of spice-wood, and are most artfully covered with lions’ skins, striped with black and white and red, so that they do not suffer from any weather. All three apartments are also covered outside with similar skins of striped lions, a substance that lasts for ever.[NOTE 7] And inside they are all lined with ermine and sable, these two being the finest and most costly furs in existence. For a robe of sable, large enough to line a mantle, is worth 2000 bezants of gold, or 1000 at least, and this kind of skin is called by the Tartars “The King of Furs.” The beast itself is about thesize of a marten.[NOTE 8] These two furs of which I speak are applied and inlaid so exquisitely, that it is really something worth seeing. All the tent-ropes are of silk. And in short I may say that those tents, to wit the two audience-halls and the sleeping-chamber, are so costly that it is not every king could pay for them.¶ Round about these tents are others, also fine ones and beautifully pitched, in which are the Emperor’s ladies, and the ladies of the other princes and officers. And then there are the tents for the hawks and their keepers, so that altogether the number of tents there on the plain is something wonderful. To see the many people that are thronging to and fro on every side and every day there, you would take the camp for a good big city. For you must reckon the Leeches, and the Astrologers, and the Falconers, and all the other attendants on so great a company; and add that everybody there has his whole family with him, for such is their custom.¶ The Lord remains encamped there until the spring, and all that time he does nothing but go hawking round about among the canebrakes along the lakes and rivers that abound in that region, and across fine plains on which are plenty of cranes and swans, and all sorts of other fowl. The other gentry of the camp also are never done with hunting and hawking, and every day they bring home great store of venison and feathered game of all sorts. Indeed, without having witnessed it, you would never believe what quantities of game are taken, and what marvellous sport and diversion they all have whilst they are in camp there.¶ There is another thing I should mention; to wit, that for 20 days’ journey round the spot nobody is allowed, be he who he may, to keep hawks or hounds, though anywhere else whosoever list may keep them. And furthermore throughout all the Emperor’s territories, nobody however audacious dares to hunt any of these four animals, to wit, hare, stag, buck, and roe, from the month of March to the month of October. Anybody who should do so would rue it bitterly. But those people are so obedient to their Lord’s command, that even if a man were to find one of those animals asleep by the roadside he would not touch it for the world! And thus the game multiplies at such a rate that the whole country swarms with it, and the Emperor gets as much as he could desire. Beyond the term I have mentioned, however, to wit that from March to October, everybody may take these animals as he list.[NOTE 9] ¶ After the Emperor has tarried in that place, enjoying his sport as I have related, from March to the middle of May, he moves with all his people, and returns straight to his capital city of Cambaluc (which is also the capital of Cathay, as you have been told), but all the while continuing to take his diversion in hunting and hawking as he goes along.

The full text can be read at the Internet Archive.

Odoric of Pordenone

The Travels of Friar Odoric of Pordenone



Like his predecessor William of Rubruck, Odoric was a one-named Franciscan who inexplicably ended up in Kublai Khan’s China. These friars were not the brave, determined travellers that we usually imagine pioneers to be, but zealous men sent by their superiors into faraway lands – God help them. Odoric, from a small town in Northern Italy, returned from the lion’s den intact, only to fall ill and die shortly thereafter. While sick, he dictated an account of his travels to a Brother William of Solagna, who wrote them down for future falconry researchers to read.

A half-century after Odoric’s journey, a book called The Travels of Sir John Mandeville became spectacularly successful, translated into several languages and circulated throughout Europe. An English knight’s fantastic descriptions of Asia, the book was even an inspiration to Christopher Columbus, but it turns out Mandeville had never even been abroad; in fact, he’d probably never existed at all. An unknown scribe had pillaged Odoric’s writings, adding dubious details, and stuck another name on them. Thanks to the fictional Mandeville, Odoric became even more well known.

In the 19th century, with proper attribution, Odoric was popularized by Henry Yule in a compilation of travelogues called Cathay and the Way Thither. It is this work that is available for our perusing today.

Odoric stayed with that famous Khan, Kublai, for three years, and while summering with him in Xanadu he witnessed a spectacle of falconry that has now become quite famous:

The king travelleth in a two-wheeled carriage, in which is formed a very goodly chamber, all of lign-aloes and gold, and covered over with great and fine skins, and set with many precious stones. And the carriage is drawn by four elephants, well broken in and harnessed, and also by four splendid horses, richly caparisoned. And alongside go four barons, who are called Cuthe, keeping watch and ward over the chariot that no hurt come to the king. Moreover, he carrieth with him in his chariot twelve gerfalcons; so that even as he sits therein upon his chair of state or other seat, if he sees any birds pass he lets fly his hawks at them. And none may dare to approach within a stone’s throw of the carriage, unless those whose duty brings them there. And thus it is that the king travelleth.

The rest of the text can be read at the Internet Archive.

Anthony Jenkinson

Anthony Jenkinson’s Explorations on the Land Route to China



Working with the historian Dan Waugh at the University of Washington, Lance Jenott prepared a fine online presentation on Anthony Jenkinson’s 16th century travels to Central Asia. Included on the site are passages from Jenkinson’s text that describe Central Asian falconry. Jenott wrote a nice primer on the British traveller, and I believe it’s better to quote it than try to improve it:

[The Muscovy Company] dispatched its factor Anthony Jenkinson to Moscow with instructions to seek passage through the tsar’s domain in order to explore routes to Central Asia, Persia, and ultimately China. The political situation in Russia was particularly accommodating to this mission, because the tsar had recently extended the boundaries of Russia to the east (at the expense of the Tartar khanates) as far as the north shore of the Caspian Sea.

After being granted a license to travel, as well as receiving letters from the tsar addressed to foreign kings asking for his safe-conduct, Jenkinson, a Tartar interpreter, and two other company employees, Richard and Robert Johnson, departed Moscow eastward in April 1558. In Astrakhan they joined a group of local merchants, sailed across the Caspian and from thence traveled east overland with the ultimate goal of reaching China. By December they had reached the famous Central Asian city of Bukhara, but were forced to turn back after learning that the routes beyond had been ravished by war. The explorers returned to Moscow in September 1559.

Upon his return, Jenkinson sent a report of his travels to his employers in England, and in this report he mentions the spectacular Tartar tradition of hunting wild horses with eagles. Jenkinson’s claims were repeated often in later centuries, but were never to be corroborated. Travel through Central Asia remained difficult, and if any Western travellers again witnessed hawking on horses, they kept it out of print. The relevant passages appears in a section describing the nomadic life of the Tartars encountered by Jenkinson:

There are many wild horses which the Tartars do many times kill with their hawks, and that in this order.

The hawks are lured to seize upon the beasts’ necks or heads, which with chasing of themselves and sore beating of the hawks are tired: then the hunter following his game doeth slay the horse with his arrow or sword. In all this land there groweth no grass, but a certain brush or heath, whereon the cattle feeding become very fat. The Tartars never ride without their bow, arrows, and sword, although it be on hawking, or on any other pleasure, and they are good archers both on horse back, and on foot also.

Jan Janszoon Struys

The Voyages and Travels of John Struys through Italy, Greece, Muscovy, Tartary, Media, Persia, East-India, Japan, and other Countries in Europe, Africa and Asia



Chapter 12
Nagayan Tatars

Struys fights off Barbary corsairs, refuses a sexual bribe from the ruler of Madagascar, narrowly escapes arrest for piracy, witnesses the murder of a clergyman in Formosa, helps transport elephants in Siam, becomes chained to a Turkish galley, tours the Greek temple ruins in Delos, serves as father of the groom to a Muslim-Tartar orphan, travels in a flotilla down the Volga, flees a Cossack siege, faces capture by Kumyks (twice), is tied to a tree with arrows fired at him by Dargins, resists sexual attempts to convert to Islam, experiences enslavement to a Muslim prince, a Persian merchant, and a Polish envoy, treks 2,300 kms across Iran, dismembers a band of thieves outside of Shiraz, and son on, until he is finally ransomed at Isfahan and is able to make his way home to the Netherlands.;jsessionid=AA726C70DC6481749CD62A0BF9CA263A.journals?fromPage=online&aid=7857997

All kinds of Water-Fowl are very plentiful and cheap, especially a sort of Wild-geese and those we call Moscovy-Ducks which the Tartars take with Hawks, and bring them in such plenty to Market, that they may be had for a penny the dozen. The Tartars who live chiefly by fishing and fowling use also hunting, and in several woodly islands about Astrakhan take many wild swine, which are fed with acorns, that being known for the best mast that is, for hogs. p. 179

Philip John von Strahlenberg

A Historico-geographical Description of the North and Eastern Parts of Europe and Asia



Eagles. There are three sorts of eagles in Siberia; the first and largest sort, which almost exceeds a Turky-Cock in size, the Tartars call Burkut. They are coalblack, and so is the very beak of them; the skin about the nostrils, and the legs only are of a lemon-colour. These live chiefly on high mountains, and in thick woods. The second sort is called, in the Tartarian tongue, Kutschugan, and the third and least sort Karakulsch, in Latin Aquila Maevia. The Tartars make use of this sort of eagles, as they do of falcons, for hawking.

Falcon. In the province of Dauria, and near the River Amour, there are a great many Milkwhite Falcons, which are sent, in great numbers, to China. The antiquity of this kind of sport, among the Tartars, Kalmucks, and other people inhabiting Siberia, appears partly in this, that they were used to have a representation of this sport painted or etched on the urns which they put into their graves. See Table III. Letter E. which was dug out of a tomb, not far from the city of Crasnoyahr; the description of which the reader will find under the title “urn”; and partly by their custom of sending a fine falcon, whenever they had a mind to make an extraordinary present to some great person. See L’Hift. des Tart. Cap. VIII. p. 205 Whence Mezeray’s Opinion, (in his Hist. Part I. additament. Paris 1685) seems not to be ill-grounded, when he supposes that the ancient Germans had learned this sport of the Scyths. How common hawking is, even to this day, in Mingrelia and Dagestan, the above-cited author of the latest account of Casan and Astracan, etc. (p. 178 and 315) will satisfy the reader. The Tartars, in Siberia, make use of three sorts of falcons; the first is called, in their tongue, Hkartschega Abolphei or Tzungar, which is the best and most beautiful sort; these falcons are ash-coloured, and some speckled-white, and pretty large. The second sort they call Ugugindla. The third Toracktschin. Which ever sort they be, it is necessary to make them, whilst they are young, which is done by these people in manner following: After a falcon has been well fed, and is fat, they give him the bigness of a peppercorn of a root, which they call Ack-chirgak, put among some flesh chopped small; this root is of an emetick quality, and has its effect upon the birds; in the next place, they have a piece of woollen felt, of the bigness of a small nut; this they micne among some lesh, make a little ball of it, and make the falcon eat it; this done, they cause him to be carried upon a man’s hand, from nine to twelve days together, to prevent his sleeping; after which time, they mix some Calmus among his meat, and by that time he is used to the falconer; however, before they venture him at large, they first make him start, and return, within a small compass. It is to be observed, that the Tartars never stroke the falcons over the head and back, which they believe makes them shy; the same method they also take with eagles.

Peter Henry Bruce

Memoirs of Peter Henry Bruce, esq., a military officer, in the services of Prussia, Russia, and Great Britain



The Nagayans live for the most part in round huts made of bull-rushes, or canes, and seldom exceed twelve or thirteen yards in circumference, with a hole at the top to let out the smoke; yet the least of these huts has a falcon, or hawk, as those Tartars are great masters of this sport: they have hawks of all sorts and sizes, each bred to fly at different kinds of game.

John Bell

Travels from St. Petersburgh in Russia, to various parts of Asia



In this country are caught the Deft and largest faulcons in the world, much esteemed for their strength and beauty, particularly by the Turks and Persians, who purchase them very dear. The Russians take few young hawks from the nest, preferring the old ones, which they man very dextrously to fly at swan, goose, cran, or heron. The Tartars fly them at antelopes and hares. I have seen them take a wild duck out of the water, when nothing of her could be perceived but the bill, which she was obliged to put up for air. Some of them are as white as a dove. The manner of catching them is very simple : They erect a tall pole upon a hill, free from wood, on a bank of the river, near which, is placed a day-net, under the net some small birds are fattened by a cord, which the” hawk-catcher pulls to make them flatter, on the appearance of the hawk,who observing his prey, first perches on the pole, and, when he stoops to seize the birds, the person, who is concealed by the bushes, draws the net and covers him.

The Kalmucks, who are keen sportsmen, particularly at hawking, in which they have arrived to a great perfection, kill the bustards with bows and arrows : When they see them feeding, they ride in upon them at full speed ; and as the bustard is a heavy bird, and mounts slowly, they have an opportunity of shooting them with broad-headed arrows.

While we were at Astrachan, an ambassador arrived there, from the Chan of Chiva, going to St Petersburgh. On his arrival he sent, according to the eastern custom, some small present to our ambassador; they were brought by part of his retinue, and confided of a hawking glove, a small knife, an embroidered purse, and some fruits.

We sprung a number of pheasants, ten or fifteen whereof were killed by the chan’s hawks ; and several hares were run down by the greyhounds, which were all sent to the ambassador’s lodgings

They had several greyhounds, and a couple of large hawks, which were trained to fly at antelopes ; the hawks cannot hold indeed so strong a creature as an antelope, but they fly about its head, and thereby retard its velocity, till the greyhounds, or horsemen, overtake it ; for the antelope far out-runs any greyhound I ever saw. In this desert, I have seen flocks of them consisting of two or three hundred.

In manning hawks to fly at antelopes, they fluff the skins of these animals with straw, and feed the hawk between their horns, placing food there for that purpose; hence they are accustomed to hover round the head, which proves the destruction of these creatures. I was informed, that it is in this manner the Tartars manage hawks to fly at foxes and wolves. These particulars may possibly appear immaterial; however, as they may contribute to amuse the reader, it was thought not improper to insert them.

Peter Simon Pallas

Voyages de M P S Pallas En Differentes Provinces de l’empire de Russie et Dans l’Asie Septentrionale



The Kirguis lead a pastoral lifestyle that is rooted in frugality. Hunting, which is their principal occupation, is necessary to preserve their herds from wolves and foxes, which would otherwise cause much harm if they were not paying attention. I reported in an article of commerce from Orembourg that they use eagles for their hunting, protecting their herds from predators by pursuing the pests on horseback: there is simply no hunting scene more amusing. They told me about how to capture antelope or gazelle, which they call akik. These animals move about in groups, in Jiver, in a countryside covered in reeds; the Kirguis take great care to cut the tops off of these reeds, making them quite dangerous; as the antelope are hunted down they can prick or even tear their stomachs on the pointy end of the reeds trying to escape; they are then hunted into places in which they can find no respite, and are then captured with great ease.

At the entrance to the cave you can see a high and inaccessible ledge. If I had had as much skill as the Baschkirs, I could have gone to look at it; they climb the steepest rocks with ropes. Since I could not reach it, I was forced to observe the superb facade of the boulder from afar. A few Baschkirs, who had climbed to these heights to find falcon nests, told me that this cavern does not go deeply into the mountain, and that it has an exit on the other side of the boulder, where it is also impossible to reach.

We can find in the mountains falcons and hawks of a handsome species. Sometimes in the forests that bordered the Iset, we would meet a variety of pigeon falcons [falco polumbarius, or goshawk], that become all white as they age; they are much bigger and much more handsome than ordinary pigeons. I saw a bird of that species that was still speckled with some grey; but I had the misfortune of missing it before it moulted, and it had therefore not yet taken its new plumage. The Baschkirs and the Tatars, concerning themselves very much with the falcon hunt, call this species Touigoun.

We arrived that evening under a light rain at the fortress of Tozkaia; it owes its name to the little stream called Tok that, flowing to the right, meets up with the Samara more than 30 versts away. Beyond the Samara, we discovered the mountains that I had spoken about; they are parted there by the source of this small river, and they are covered in woods. The countryside here is full of eagles and other birds of prey. We saw a golden eagle, which lives in the heathland, but as soon as we approached it it flew off into the mountains. They make their nests in big trees; their chicks are taken from the nest, cared for, and then sold to the Kirguis at a very high price. p. 329

Here is another special kind of business: the Russians sell and trade golden eagles (falco chrysœios) at court; they’re called bjourkout by the Tartars. These birds are highly sought after by the Kirguis, who train them to hunt for wolves, foxes, and gazelles. According to particular markings on the birds, and certain movements they make, the Kirguis can determine which ones have the kindness and disposition to be trained for hunting. They are not all suited for training; For a promising bird, a Kirguis might trade a beautiful horse, but for a bird without the right qualities he won’t even give a sheep, or even a korsakenfel* [*a korsakenfel is the small copper coin used in Bukhara]. You can often see them sitting in front of an eagle for hours, observing its qualities and its weaknesses.

The wealthy Kalmouks find much entertainment in hunting with falcons. They prefer to hunt with Lanner falcons, which they call balaban, because these birds are very common in this region. They also have hunting dogs; they are of the same breed as regular guard dogs. They differ slightly from ours, as their fur is short and their body is slender. The ears, the thighs and the tail are plain. They are very well suited for the hunt.

Nikolay Muravʹyov

Journey to Khiva : through the Turkoman country



The most noteworthy of the birds of prey are the great eagle and some kinds of hawks. The Khivans prize the latter very highly, and train them to capture birds and wild goats.

Filipp Nazarov

Russian Missions into the Interior of Asia



Mr. Nazaroff and his party stopped at a place called Tur-Aigrah, in Turkistan, near which was a lake about thirty miles in circumference, called Kitchuhai-Tchurkar. On a sloping bank of this lake they observed an extensive burying ground, containing a multitude of square wooden tombs, some mark- ed with spears, as a memorial of the good horsemanship of the deceased, and others with the figures of hawks, as a sign of their skill in fowling. To this burying-ground the rich Tar- tars bring their deceased relations from every part of the territory of the Kirgis.

George (Yegor) Timkowski

Travels of the Russian Mission through Mongolia to China and Residence in Peking in the years 1820-1821



The burgout, in Russian berkout, and in Chinese khu tcha tiao, is a large black eagle from two to three feet in height, and endowed with great strength in its wings. It inhabits the remotest mountains of Turkestan. The eagle of the same kind, found to the west of Badakchan, where it is called syrym, is larger, and more terrible when it attacks its prey. When on the wing it resembles a cloud ; it lives in the mountains, and attains to the size of a camel ! ¶ When the inhabitants perceive the berkout traversing the air, they retire into their houses : he frequently attacks horses and oxen. The large quill feathers in his wings are from eight to ten feet in length.

The Turkestans are fond of bringing up eagles; the poor have one or two, the rest twenty or thirty of these birds. They are very useful in attacking wolves, foxes, and wild goats, so that one of these animals cannot by any means escape if the eagle has once got sight of it The Turkestans are indifferent archers, but they are very skillful in catching hares, by throwing large sticks at them.

Heinrich August Zwick

Calmuc Tartary; or A journey from Sarepta to several Calmuc hordes of the Astracan government



Not far hence, we fell in with Prince Batur Ubaschi, who was chasing ducks with falcons, and we saw one of the falcons escape, so that it could not be taken again. This sport is in high estimation among the Calmucs, and we saw many people, whose whole occupation it was to rear and train falcons for the Prince.

Xavier Hommaire de Hell

Travels in the steppes of the Caspian sea, the Crimea, the Caucasus, etc.



Prince Tumene has a very well appointed falconry, and his hawks are trained by the same methods as were adopted by our ancestors. The hawk we had that day was a small one, of astonishing spirit. The Kalmuck who held it hoodwinked on his fist had the utmost difficulty in restraining it when its head was uncovered. He let it fly at a magnificent grey heron, which it struck down in less than a minute. Several wild ducks were also killed by it with incredible rapidity.

On the evening of the day after our departure, we had an oppor- tunity of testing the prowess of our travelling companion, the hawk. The first theatre of his exploits was a little pond covered with wild ducks and geese, that promised a rich booty.

At a signal from my husband the Tatar officer unhooded the bird, and cast him off. Instantly the hawk darted off like an arrow, close along the surface of the ground, towards the pond, and was soon hidden from us among the reeds, where his presence was saluted with a deafening clamour, and a scared multitude of wild geese rose up out of the sedges. Their screams of rage and terror, and their bewildered flight backwards and forwards, and in all directions, were utterly indescribable, until the arrival of the officer put them to the route, and delivered their assailant from their obstreperous resent- ment. The moment the hawk flew off, the Tatar followed him at a gallop, all the while beating a small drum that was fastened to his saddle. When he reached the pond he found the bird planted stoutly on the back of a most insubmissive victim, and waiting with philosophic patience until his master shoiild come and release him irom his critical position.

The officer told us, that but for his presence, and the noise of the drum, the geese would in all probability have pummelled the hawk to death with their beaks, in order to rescue their companion. In such cases, however, the hawk braves the storm with imperturbable coolness, and adopts a curious expedient when the attacks are too violent, and his master is too slow in appearing. Without quitting hold of his victim, he slips himself under the broad wings of the goose, which then become his buckler. Once in that position he is invincible, and the blows aimed at him fall only on the poor prisoner, whose cruel fate it is to be forced to protect its mortal enemy. When the falconer comes up, the first thing he does is to cut off its head and give the brains to the hawk. Until that operation is com- pleted, the latter keeps fast hold on the quarry, and no efforts of its master can induce it to relax its gripe.

The hawk made two or three more successful flights before we reached Houidouk, and supplied us with a good stock of provisions, which were not a little needful to us in that miserable post station.

The leader of the troop, the Tatar prince, rode with his falcon on his fist, every now and then showing off his skill in horsemanship and venery.

All the men were occupied except the camel drivers and the officer, who amused himself with flying his falcon now and then at wild ducks and geese.

The governor chose from among his best officers, a Tatar prince to command our escort. This young man, Avho was an excellent sportsman, had a hawk, from which he was inseparable, and to this circumstance was owing the orders he received to accompany us. General Timirasif, always mindful of the privations that awaited us, thought he could not do better than furnish us with so clever a purveyor ; who, indeed, proved to be of immense assistance to us. When he presented the officer to us, with his hawk on his fist, his face beamed with satisfaction. ” Now,” he said, laughing, ” my conscience is at ease ; here I give you a brave soldier for your cham- pion, and a travelling companion, who will not let you be starved to death in the wilderness.”

Thomas Witlam Atkinson

Oriental and western Siberia : a narrative of seven years’ exploration and adventures in Siberia, Mongolia, the Kirghis Steppes, Chinese Tartary, and a part of central Asia



The yourt was a large one, with silk curtains hanging on one side, covering the sleeping-place — bed it was not. Near to this stood a “bearcoote” (a large black eagle) and a falcon chained to their perches ; and I perceived that every person entering the yourt kept at a respectful distance from the feathered monarch. On the opposite side were three kids and two lambs, secured in a small pen.

I saw two Kirghis occupied with the bearcoote and the falcon. Haying finished our morning meal, horses were brought for the sultan and myself I was to be moant-ed to-day on one of his best steeds — ^a fine dark gray, that stood champing my English bit, which he did not appear to relish. All my party were mounted on the sultanas horses ; ours had been sent on to the aoul with a party of his people and three of my Kal- mucks. When mounted, I had time to examine the party. The sultan and his two sons rode beautiful animals. The eldest boy carried the falcon, which was to fly at the feathered game. A well- mounted Kirghis held the bearcoote, chained to a perch, which was secured into a socket on his saddle. The eagle had shackles and a hood, and was perfectly quiet : he was under the charge of two men. Near to the sultan were his three hunters, or guards, with their rifles, and around us were a band of about twenty Kirgliis, in their bright-colored kalats : more than half the number were armed with battle-axes. Taking us altogether, we were a wild- looking group, whom most people would rather behold at a dis- tance tlian come in contact with.

We began our march, going nearly due east, the sultan’s three hunters leading the van, followed by his highness and myself; his two sons and the eagle-bearers immediately behind us, with two of my men in close attendance. A ride of about two hours brought us to the bank of a stagnant river, fringed with reeds and bushes, where the sultan expected that we should find game. We had not ridden far when we discovered traces of the wild boar, large plots having been recently plowed up. This gave us hopes of sport. Our rifles were unslung, and we spread out our party to beat the ground.

We had not gone far when several large deer rushed past a jut- ting point of the reeds, and bounded over the plain about three hundred yards from us. In an instant the bearcoote was unhood- ed and his shackles removed, when he sprung from his perch and soared up into the air. I watched him ascend as he wheeled round, and was under the impression that he had not seen the animals ; but in this I was mistaken. He had now risen to a considerable height, and seemed to poise himself for about a minute. After this he gave two or three flaps with his wings, and swooped off in a straight line toward his prey. I could not perceive that his wings moved, but he went at a fearful speed. There was a shout, and away went his keepers at full gallop, followed by many others. I gave my horse his liead and a touch of the whip ; in a few min- utes he carried me to the &ont, and I was riding neck-and-neck with one of the keepers. When we were about two hundred yards off the bearcoofe struck his prey. Tlie deer gave a bound forward and felL The bearcoote bad struck one talon into his neck, the other into his back, and with his beak was tearing out the animal’s liver. Tlie Kirghis ‘sprung from his horse, slipped the hood over the eagle s bead and the shackles upon his legs, and removed him from bia prey without difficulty. The keeper mounted his horse, hiB assistant placed the bearcoote on his perch, and he was ready for another flight No dogs are taken out when hunting with the eagle, they would be destroyed to a certainty; indeed, the Kir- ghis assert that he will attack and kill the wol£ Foxes are hunt- ed in this way, and many are killed ; the wild goat and the lesser kinds of deet are also taken in considerable numbers. We had not gone far before a considerable number of antelopes were seen feeding on the plain. Again the bird soared up in circles as before, this time I thought to a greater elevation, and again he made the fatal swoop at his intended victim, and the animal was dead before we reached him. The bearcoote is unerring in his flight ; unless the animal can escape into holes in the rocks, as the fox does sometimes, death is his certain doom.

Next morning before starting I sketched Sultan Beck and his fam- ily. He is feeding his bearcoote, hunting with the king of birds being his favorite sport.

Thomas Witlam Atkinson

Travels in the regions of the upper and lower Amoor, and the Russian acquisitions on the confines of India and China



A fine hawk was perched on one side of the yourt; on the opposite, a large “bearcoot” (black eagle) was chained to a stump, shackled but not hooded. Both these birds are used in hunting by the Kirghis; the hawk for peasants and othered feathered game, and the bearcoot for foxes, deer, and wolves.

When outside the yourt, I observed a fine bearcoot chained to his perch, and several splendid dogs ranging about; they were of a particularly fine race, somewhat like the Irish wolf-hound, were powerful animals, and exceedingly fleet. Urtigun held my horse, and gave me his hand to the saddle; he then mounted his own steed, and accompanied my party to a small stream about a mile from his aoul. Here we parted, when he expressed a wish that we might meet again in the mountains, and hunt deer with his bearcoot.

The maiden feels no degradation in milking her kine nor in saddling her horse, and when mounted, with hawk on wrist, manages her steed like an Amazon.

During the three days’ visit the young couple went out hawking twice, once accompanied by the Khan, and once attended by his people. The sedgy banks of a small lake a few miles distant from the aoul, had supplied abundance of game for their sport*…A’i-Khanym now appeared with her saddle and trappings; she handed them to a Kirghis, telling him to prepare her horse, while she brought out her favourite hawk. In a few minutes she returned fully equipped.

The herdsmen were already driving off their different charges; some were tending the camels and horses, others the oxen and sheep, and numbers of horsemen were galloping to and fro to force them into their right position. “While this was going on, the maiden had mounted her steed; a Kirghis then placed the hawk on her wrist, to whom she left a message for her father that she was going to the pastures by another route, intending to fly her hawk on some of the small lakes…Reining in their horses, they looked around, but no one could be seen. Ai-Khanym took the hood and shackles from her hawk, when he soared aloft and wheeled around in freedom, never to perch again on the hand that had so often caressed him. After watch- ing his flight for a few minutes she gave her steed his head, and in a gallop across the valley endeavoured to hide her painful feelings.

During this visit Souk became still more captivated by the beauty and courage of Ai-Khanym. She had taken a part in some of their sports, and proved herself a perfect horsewoman, easily managing the most fiery steed in her father’s stud. She could wield the lance, and her richly-de- corated battle-axe would have proved no toy in any en- counter. She carried the hawk on her wrist, and followed recklessly in the chase. Such are the accomplishments of some of these daughters of the steppe.

William H. Johnson

Report on His Journey to Ilchí, the Capital of Khotan, in Chinese Tartary



Among the wild birds are geese, ducks, chikoor (large and small), pigeons, quail, kites, crows, and hawks, of which last species the karal (bear coot) is very large, and of a black colour ; this bird is kept by the natives for the purpose of hunting wolves, jackals, etc, which it seizes with great energy.

Thomas Wallace Knox

Overland through Asia



The museum contains several dead specimens of the bearcoot, or eagle of the Altai. I saw a living bird of this species at the house of an acquaintance. The bearcoot is larger than the American eagle, and possesses strength enough to kill a deer or wolf with perfect ease. Dr. Duhmberg, superintendent of the hospitals, told me of an experiment with poison upon one of these birds. He began by giving half a grain of curavar, a poison from South America. It had no perceptible effect, the appetite and conduct of the bird being unchanged. A week later he gave four grains of strychnine, and saw the bird’s feathers tremble fifteen minutes after the poison was swallowed. Five hours later the patient was in convulsions, but his head was not affected, and he recovered strength and appetite on the next day. A week later the bearcoot swallowed seven grains of curavar, and showed no change for two days. On the second evening he went into convulsions, and died during the night.

The Kirghese tame these eagles and employ them in hunting. A gentleman who had traveled among the Kirghese told me he had seen a bearcoot swoop down upon a full grown deer and kill him in a few minutes. Sometimes when a pack of wolves has killed and begun eating a deer, the feast will be interrupted by a pair of bearcoots. Two birds will attack a dozen wolves, and either kill or drive them away.

Robert Shaw

Visits to High Tartary, Yarkand and Kashgar (formerly Chinese Tartary), and Return Journey Over …



At one of these places I was shown a newly- caught black eagle of the sort called ‘Birkoot,’ which are trained to catch antelope and deer, as falcons do birds. The unfortunate creature was hooded, and wrapped up, wings, talons and all, in a sheep-skin, and this bundle was suspended (head downward) from the man’s saddle during the march. They consider this treatment has a tendency to tame the bird!

In Andijan, the Panjabashee says, smooth dogs without stomachs and with long noses are employed to run down game ! (greyhounds evidently). Also hairy smaller dogs with whisking tails (spaniels) are employed to put up pheasants from the jungles, which are then killed by the trained falcons.

Thomas Douglas Forsyth

Report of a Mission to Yarkund in 1873, Under Command of Sir T. D. Forsyth



In the mountains are found the raven=cuzghun, and the chough, the black eagle-caracosh, and the golden eagle=burghut. This last is taken from the nest, and trained, for purposes of hunting, to strike the stag, deer, pig, and wolf, and even the bear. Several varieties of the hawk species are trapped and trained for sport; their native names are carchaghay=falcon (peregrine), lachin, shuncar, turumti, tulak, italgha, and others.

We therefore spent a very pleasant three weeks in visiting Yarkand and the vicinity. Just outside the city on the east are extensive marshes, where ducks, geese and snipe abound and afford ample occupation to the sportsman and the naturalist. Some of our party went out for a two days excursion to shoot pheasants, and returned with the veritable burgoot, golden eagle, or bear coot as called by Atkinson whose stories about the bird, nay its very existence, have been seemingly called in question. This bird is said by Atkinson to kill bears.

We were told it would kill deer, wolves, and even large game, and, being impatient to try its powers, we took several burgoots with us to the Yarkand jheels to fly them at the large geese and herons which abound there. To our surprise and disappointment the eagles would tamely alight from the falconer’s arm on to the ground and take no notice of the game. Subsequent experience taught us that the story of these birds attacking large four-footed game was perfectly true, and I shall hereafter recoil how I saw a large wild boar brought to bay entirely by the attack of a burgoot.

In this way we journeyed for several days, whiling away the time on the march with hawking hares (one hawk killed seven hares’ in one morning), till we came to Ayak Sughun, where we joined the direct road from Kashghar to Ush Turfan. Here Captain Trotter and Dr. Stoliczka left us to explore the country in the direction of Ush, and an account of their travels will be found elsewhere. We descended the valley leading to the plain of Artysh and came to the village of Kulti Yailak, and thence returned by Altun Artysh to Kashghar. At Kulti Yailak, while wandering through the dense grass jungle in search of pheasants, we suddenly came upon a splendid wild boar, in size far surpassing any that could be seen in India, and then it was that we had ocular proof of the powers of the burgoot. Flying at his prey he struck the boar on the hind quarters with his talons and so completely bothered and per- plexed the animal, that he was brought to bay, when our Kashghar companions with young Moosa Khan at their head eagerly belaboured him with sticks, till he received his coup de grace from a rifle. Hunting with the spear is not known to these people and those which some of our party brought with them in the hope of sport were broken on the road.

I had, however, good sport shooting gazelles and pheasants which abounded, and I also saw the burgoots* or trained eagles kill gazelles and foxes. I was not fortunate enough to see them kill a wolf, though they were twice flown, but the animals on both occasions being in thick bush jungle and at a great distance the birds did not sight them. Their owners, however, spoke of it as an ordinary occurrence. When the jungle is not too high, they sight their prey at a great distance, and sweep up to it without any apparent effort, however fast it may be going. Turning suddenly when over its head they strike it with unerring aim. If a fox, they grasp its throat with the powerful talon and seize it round the muzzle with the other, keeping the jaws closed with an iron grasp so that the animal is powerless. From the great ease with which an eagle disposes of a full grown fox, I could see that a wolf would have no bettor chance. Gazelles are seized in the same way, except those with horns, in which case the eagle first fastens on to the loins of the animal, and watching his opportunity transfers his grasp to the throat, avoiding the horns. The burgoot, however, is not very easy to manage and requires the whole of one man’s care. Its dash and courage are great, but if flown unsuccessfully once or twice, it will often sulk for the rest of the day. When it kills it is always allowed to tear at its game for a little time ; the men told me that if prevented doing so while its blood was up, it would very probably attack our horses.

Henry Walter Bellew

Kashmir and Kashghar: A narrative of the journey of the embassy to Kashghar in 1873-74



A few days later, we had a day’s boar-hunting near Kol Taylac, and killed a very fine tusker with the aid of the hunting eagle. We crossed the Fyzabad river on the ice at about eight miles from the settlement, and entered a thick jungle of reeds and tamarisks with about twenty of our host’s men, and two trained eagles. The men armed themselves for the sport with clubs bent at the end like hockey-sticks. As soon as the boar was started one of the eagles was flown at him, and all the field followed his flight with tremendous shouts and flourishing of sticks. The bird followed the dodgings of his prey, sailing close above the reeds, and pounced on him at the first bit of open he came to with a sharp claw behind which nearly upset him. The horsemen immediately closing in from all sides, mobbed the brute thus checked in his course, and stunned him with blows upon the head, and then deliberately shot him. Our Andijani attendants entered into the sport with great spirit and some recklessness. They gave us a very interesting account of the jirga, or hunting circle, which, in the time of the Mughal Emperors, was a national custom observed with state ceremony and minuteness of procedure. Whole regiments were employed as beaters to a central spot, and whole districts of hundreds of square miles were included within the circle of their operations. All people overtaken by the beaters were compelled to join their ranks, and infringements of the laws of the chase were visited with severe and exemplary punishment. The Atalik, on return from his campaign against Turfan, organised bjirga and beat up all the country between Turfan and Acsu. Immense quantities of game of all sorts were slain, and many of his men and officers lost their lives and limbs by accidents of the sport.

Whilst engaged in this sport we put up a number of pheasants in the cover of the brushwood, but a more important business occupied our attention and they were left to the enjoyment of their safety. The golden eagle which is in this country trained for sport is a magnificent bird of immense strength. It is called card cuch and burghtit by the natives, and is hooded and jessied in the same way as the falcon ; but, owing to its great weight, is carried on a cross-tree of wood which is held in the hand and supported upon the pommel of the saddle. At Yarkand we saw a large number of them, and the Dad- khwah informed us he had had one of them in his possession for nearly twenty-five years.

They are used equally for the pig, antelope, stag and wolf, and any large game such as geese, herons, etc., whilst the ordinary falcons of northern India (the baz, cliargh, ladiin, etc.), which are also trained for sport in this country, are used for hawking pheasants, bustards, wild duck, etc., etc. On our trip round to the Sughun valley we had some charghs with us, and they gave us some very good sport with the hare and partridge. During our stay at Yarkand we went out with the Dad-kh wall’s eagles on one occasion after wild geese and herons on the marsh to the east of the city. They were not, however, in good condition, and only one out of fifteen or sixteen showed us any sport with the herons, though another of them very cleverly overturned, with a cuff behind, some of the pariah dogs prowling about the city purlieus at which he was flown for our amusement.

Sir Thomas Edward Gordon

The roof of the world: being a narrative of a journey over the high plateau of Tibet to the Russian frontier and the Oxus sources on Pamir



We saw the “burgut*’ (mentioned by Marco Polo and Atkinson), hunting golden eagle, at Yarkand for the first time. A gazelle, killed by trained eagles, was sent to us, and on our expressing a desire to see some sport with these birds, seven were sent out to meet us at some likely ground beyond the city. We were not fortunate enough to find any large game, and two flights” at heron proved unsuccessful. Captain Biddulph, however, had some sport with them during a trip he made from Eashghar to Marulbashi, which I shall mention farther on in my narrative, and illustrate with drawings made from the life on the occasion now noted, and Captain Biddulph’s personal description of the manner in which the bird strikes and seizes its prey.

Of two burgut (golden eagles) sent with this collection it was fortunate that one reached alive to confirm our accounts of the bird being trained for sport like the hawk, as my sketches of the hunting scenes in which they figure were some- times regarded suspiciously, as Atkinson’s first description of the sport was.

Wild hog of an unusually large size are found in the reed thickets on the banks of the Kashghar river, and the sporting propensities of the people are admirably shown in the spirited way in which they hunt the wild boar there. During the Envoy’s tour in the Artush district, in the end of February, the villagers at one place assembled to show this sport. They were mounted on the strong active little horses of the country, and carried clubs bent at the end like hockey-sticks, with which they strike the animal on the head till he is stunned, when the death-blow is generally given with some other weapon. As we in India in hog-hunting ride for ” first spear,” so do these sportsmen ride for “first club.” The trained eagle is used in this sport : it is ” flown ” at the hog on the first favour- able opportunity, and generally succeeds, by its sharp and powerful attack, in bringing it to bay, when the men close in with their clubs. On the occasion alluded to a splendid “tusker” was killed in this manner. But from all I heard I should say that the wild boar of these parts is not equal in fighting spirit to his brother of Bengal

The next day on the march I was met by a Yuzbashi, who had been sent out to meet me. He had brought a pair of trained hawks with him, and as we marched we beat along, keeping a few yards off the road, and took several hares with them. The hawks seemed to have no trouble in holding a full- grown one, and the hare was often taken within 30 or 40 yards of where he was put up, even among the brambles and bushes. The trembling of the hares when taken from the hawk was very curious ; they seemed quite paralysed with terror, in a way I never saw before in animals of the kind ; otherwise they were quite uninjured. Just as we got to our halting-place for the nighty one hawk was flown at a cock pheasant, which, after a flight of 150 yards through the high trees, dropped in some thick brushwood ; the hawk at once took perch above him, and we put up the pheasant again. In this way we had three fliights, the pheasant escaping at last in a large extent of brambles, out of which we could not put him. This was in thick forest, but the men said if both hawks had been flown they would have killed. It was curious to see the hawk each time perching guard over the places where the pheasant had dropped, waiting for us, and watching every movement while we beat. The flight of the pheasant, when once fairly on the wing, though short, is so rapid that the hawk has no chance of striking him, but by perching high above him when down he is generally able to strike him as he rises a second time.

“I returned to Kashghar on the 23d January in five marches from Maralbashi. The day before I left I paid a visit to Ata Bai in the fort, and thanked him for all the civility I had experienced, presenting him at the same time with a pair of binoculars and a pound of English powder. He presented me in return with a pony, and the next morning a man overtook me on the march with a trained hawk, also sent me as a present.

Like all the Wakhis he is very fond of field sports, and spoke much of their summer hunting excursions on the Pamirs and the neighbouring hills in pursuit of large game, chiefly the Ovis poll and ibex. He was accompanied by a number of men with hawks and dogs. Among the dogs were a pair of ibex hounds, two spaniels from Kolab, and a terrier nondescript from Chitral, but looking uncommonly like an importation from the British infantry quarter of Peshawur. The ibex hounds appeared to me to be merely the Persian greyhound, with a longer and thicker coat from being bom and bred in the colder country of Wakhan. They are used in the chase merely as an aid to the hunter. When ibex are found near precipitous clijBFs, the passage from which can be so occupied by a few men as to pre- vent escape, the dogs are let loose and the ibex generally take to the rocks, where, ascending to the farthest points, they become almost paralysed with alarm, and fall an easy prey to the matchlockmen, who follow them up till within easy shot. Dogs are similarly used for ibex-shooting in Upper Chitral, as observed by Mr. Hay ward in 1869, and also in the Ward wan district of Kashmir. Ali Murdan Shah told me that his ibex hounds had no chance with Ovis poll, which always escape from them with ease if not wounded. The hawks are used against the ” chikor ” (hill partridge) which is found throughout the lower valleys. This bird is met with from the lower Hima- layahs adjoining the plains of Hindustan, to the southern slopes of the Tian Shan range.

Eugene Schuyler

Turkistan: Notes of a Journey in Russian Turkistan, Khokand, Bukhara, and Kuldja



The other Beks, among them Tokto Mohammed of Andijan, and Has Ping-li (Kuli ?) of Marghilan, followed his example, and, in 1760, sent embassies and tribute to Pekin, Tokto Mohammed going thither in person. Among the gifts sent to the Chinese Emperor, were * horses that sweat blood (argamaks ‘), great eagles and falcons for hunting, and plates of the fountain of the dragon,^ [‘ Thai thsing y thoung tchi^ or Great Geography of Chinese Empire, edition of 1790,»iect. 420, translated by Klaproth in *Magasin Asiatique,* vol. i. 82. ]

Then there were the horses to be groomed ; and one old man and two boys devoted themselves exclusively to the care of three falcons, which had to be fed, exercised, and played with, in expectation of another chase.

We were now within the limits of the Great Horde, and frequently met Kirghiz on the road, sometimes changing their camp and travelling across the steppe with long files of horses and camels laden with their kibitkas and household goods, and sometimes in small parties, apparently out hunting, for they carried on perches tixed to their eaddle-bows falcons and burkuta^ large golden eagles which will bring down deer, foxes, and wolves.

The Khan did not even answer it himself, but committed the care of his correspondence to his attendants, who in their turn hastened BO little that the answer was received only in February 1868* Knowing that Mohammed Rahim, who was only twenty years old, was more occupied in hunting with falcons than with business, which was carried on by his ministers, we did not expect from Khiva any special politeness.

One evening, towards sunset, I started out with Andrei to walk a little by the river side, and look at the crowd. We saw a calvacade pass us with two of the Khan’s sons, stupid- looking youths of sixteen and eighteen years, one of them carrying a falcon on his wrist.

Years passed, and once at a hunt his falcon outstripped that of the Khan, and in thoughtless exultation he cried out : ‘ My falcon is better than the falcon of ass-eared Jany Bek Khan.’ He thought too late of wLat he was saying, and to escape death fled to the moun- tains, sometimes returning at night to the city.

Herbert Wood

The Shores of Lake Aral



The Karakalpaks are a rough but cheery set of savages, and, though not churlish, are probably too poor to be hospitable. Their dealings with their new Russian masters seem to be carried on by the medium of a few more civilized Kirghiz employes, drawn from the Syr-darya districts ; and, though the Kara- kalpak is despised by other peoples of Turkestan, he wears an air of independence and manliness when addressing a European. This trait among them struck me, indeed, very forcibly one day, when a young Karakalpak boy, who had a hawk perched on his naked shoulder, came up to inspect my proceedings as I sat sketching the aoul where he lived. Wishing to see what he was made of, I offered him a bright new twenty-copek piece, which he refused with such a glance of defiance that I was puzzled to decide whether the bird or the boy had the wildest or more untameable eye.

Henry Lansdell

Russian Central Asia



At 11 o’clock we went on shore, near the hut of a solitary fisherman, who, to my surprise, had in his possession a Russian breach-loading rifle, the only one, so far as I remember, that we saw in the Bokhara Khanate. He had shot some wild animals and caught a young hawk, which he sold me. They snare hawks and young eagles by tying a sparrow on a fishing net, in the meshes of which the bird of prey, as he pounces on his quarry, entangles his claws.

“More novel than these last buildings, however, was a room on the right at our entrance, where our host kept some half-dozen hawks. Hunting by means of the falcon, goshawk, and common eagle, is the favourite sport of the natives.*

*The birds of prey themselves are caught simply by stretching a net on short stakes and tying small birds underneath. The hawk, on swooping down, entangles its talons in the net, whereupon the hunter brings him into his tent, feeds him with his own hands on meat for a twelvemonth, and then takes him out to catch other birds. Whilst engaged in the chase the trained bird rests on the left arm of the master, its eyes being covered with a leathern hood. The game is started with a drum, fastened to the master’s saddle-bow, the bird’s hood is snatched off, and the hawk darts after the quarry. When this is caught, the hunter comes up and releases it, but gives the captor only the head and brains. Should the bird fail in overtaking the game, it is enticed back to the arm of the falconer with meat, which he always carries with him for such an emergency. The hawk I saw in the house of the Divan-beggi, at Khiva, was being trained by means of pieces of cotton-wool thrown on the ground.

In the butler’s room were birds in cages, musical instruments, and a board for chess, at which they play skilfully. In the mirza s, or secretary’s, room was a Sart scraipka, or fiddle, a poor-looking goldfinch, and a hawk in training for hunting wild sheep.”

Sir Francis Edward Younghusband

A Journey across Central Asia, from Manchuria and Peking to Kashmir, over the Mustagh Pass



I frequently saw the Burkut or hunting eagle which is used by the Kirghiz for hawking deer and other game.

Henri Moser

Durch Central-Asien




Herbert Jones

From Tian Shan to the Pamirs: Experiences on the Russo-Chinese Frontier



The valleys round about have long been noted as headquarters of the royal eagle, known locally as the “Berkut.” These magnificent birds are caught and trained by the Kirghis to capture deer, foxes, and wolves, and are greatly valued by the natives; a good eagle is considered to be worth several horses, and they are in request all over the steppe, and even in Persia and the Caucasus.

The Rev. Dr. Lansdell said Mr. Jones had been over ground with which he was quite familiar, and he could confirm the accuracy of almost everything which had been said. He was not quite sure whether the eagle, locally called the berkut, and used for sporting purposes, was the Aquila Imperialis. He obtained in the Muzart Pass a very fine specimen, which was now in the Museum of Natural History, South Kensington, where they termed it Aquila Chrysaetos, or Golden Eagle. His impression was that it is the largest kind used for hunting, even such great animals as wolves and small deer.

Charles Adolphus Murray, Earl of Dunmore

The Pamirs; being a narrative of a year’s expedition on horseback and on foot through Kashmir, western Tibet, Chinese Tartary, and Russian Central Asia, vol. 2



We met several small caravans of camels, and in each instance, one of the horsemen riding with them, carried a hawk on his wrist. They are great falconers, in this part of Central Asia, and use these birds for hawking hares, partridges and chikore.

This morning I started for the Russian Frontier fortress of Irkeshtan, which was reputed to be quite a short march, so I did not hurry myself about getting the caravan off, but, finding that a party of Kirghiz were going off on a hawking expedition, I joined them to see the sport, telling the caravan to go on, and I would catch them up. We were a party of seven, and started off to catch hares and partridges on a large plain ; the hawker, a young Beg, riding on the left, on a piece of elevated ground, while we other six scattered ourselves over the plain, on his right, and acted as beaters. I rode next to the young Beg, who carried the bird, a fine specimen of the Peregrine falcon and, for some time, we saw nothing in the shape of game, until coming suddenly round a bend of the river, I put up four wild duck, and thought of course the Beg would fly his hawk at them, but no such thing; he waited until a covey of partridges rose between me and the next man on my right, and then let the bird go, but the small birds were too quick for the big one, of whom they had a good start, and he failed to catch them up. Then came rather an amusing scene, viz. the Beg trying to regain possession of his falcon, which, being only a borrowed bird, did not know the man who was hunting him. It took some time, but by dint of great persever- ance, and a little raw meat, he eventually got the bird on to his wrist again, and we started off in pursuit of more game. We rode on for some time without seeing any hares, and the Beg at last gave it up as a bad job, as he had to return to Yegin, so we parted, he having prattled away all the morning to me, in the Kirghiz tongue, and I nodding my head at intervals (probably at the wrong time), without understanding one single syllable of his interesting conversation.

Had a capital morning’s hawking, Hassan Beg, who is a most sporting little person himself, hearing from Eamzan that I was fond of all kinds of sport, enlisted the services of a professional hawker, to accompany us this morning; so off we went with our falcon, leaving the caravan to follow. We rode down the Terek, leaving the bright red hills of Sufi Kurghan behind us, but for the first three or four miles, saw no game. We then turned off to the right, into a large triangular basin, where three nullahs meet. Here we struck the Taldek river, a tributary of the Syr Daria (Jaxartes), whose waters flow north into the Sea of Aral.

Crossing it, we rode down its left bank until we came into a very broad, level valley, dotted here and there with large trees, over which plain we all spread and beat for chikore. At last we put up a covey, which flew to the left, towards some high sandstone cliffs, with a sprinkling of brushwood growing on their steep sides. The birds had too much of a start for the hawk to catch them at the first attempt, but it gave us a good gallop following them, and they settled in the brushwood. When we came up to the foot of the cliffs, the hawk was sitting perched on a stone, and the chikore, although not visible, were chirruping all round him in the most foolish manner. Here the hawker dis- mounted and began to beat the brushwood, his falcon perched on his wrist, when all of a sudden one old cock chikore rose and flew down wind over the plain. The hawker let fly his hawk with a peculiar shrill cry, a sort of Kirghiz tally ho, and then it was a really pretty sight to watch, and as it was excellent going, we had a good gallop after them, and were able to see the whole flight of the hawk, until he struck his prey. I noticed he kept above the chikore until he meant business, then gave a sort of dive underneath him, then again with a sudden twist struck him upwards, and down they both came together on the plain. By the time we came up to them, the hawk was pecking away at the chikore’s head, his claws being firmly embedded in the bird’s body.

We had several other hunts, but no real good flights except that one, but it served to relieve the monotony of the march, for when we arrived at the junction of the Buloh-leh river, with the Taldek, and parted from our hawker, who had to return home to Sufi Kurghan; I could scarcely believe that we had already covered fifteen miles of our road towards Kizil Kurghan.

The ‘Thai-Thsing-Thonugh-Tchi/ or Great Geography of the Chinese Empire, translated by Klaproth (in the Magasin Asiatique/ :vol. i. 82) records that ” Among the gifts sent from Khokand to the Chinese Emperor, were horses that sweat blood (argamaks), great eagles and falcons for hunting, and plates of the fountain of the dragon.”

Henry Lansdell

Chinese Central Asia; a ride to Little Tibet



“Final arrangements were now taken in hand. Wheel traffic on the Muzart route was out of the question, and my native cart was therefore sold, with the vicious horse — both at a loss, of course — to Abu Kadair, the Russian Aksakai, whose house, as that of a rich native, I visited outside the town. There we saw two birkids, or eagles, trained for hunting, one of which had cost him 10 pounds.”

“But my greatest ornithological ” find” in this neighbourhood was a Golden Eagle {Aquila chrysaetos), locally known as a burkut, the most powerful of birds trained for hawking, and one that will attack a wolf or kill a deer. The old huntsman told me that he possessed three of these, trained, or partly so, and at the next station brought them for my selection. One was just then without a tail, and therefore not so good for my purpose ; a second, trained, was three years old, and comparatively costly ; whilst the youngest, though the handsomest bird, was not yet trained, and therefore to the owner was less valuable. He had obtained it at Kailek-davan, near the station of that name, during the previous Ramazan (about the middle of May). Letting a boy down by a rope, the young eagle, not then fully Hedged, had been taken from the nest — the only occupant in this instance, though there are sometimes two, but never more, the old man said.

Hence the bird was approximately only six months old. It weighed, nevertheless, 7 lbs., measured a yard from beak to tail, whilst its outstretched pinions ex- tended to seven feet. Not a feather appeared to be wanting or out of place, and as I looked into its cold, drabbish-grey eyes, it seemed nothing short of a shame to think of killing so noble a creature.

But how else was it to be conveyed from the Tian Shan to South Kensington ? and how was the foul deed to be done ? To shoot it in cold blood was too dreadful, and, besides, would partly damage the skin and plumage.

So I bethought me of the injunction of my naturalist to beware of letting anything eatable come near his arsenical soap, because it was ” deadly poison.” Surely, then, thought I, a nice little morsel of meat seasoned with a pinch of arsenical soap will be just what is wanted.

A tender morsel accordingly was prepared, which Joseph flavoured under directions, after eating which I expected to see my beauty ready for post-morteui honours ; whereas, to our amazement, she stretched out her neck, and asked for another helping of the same sort ! A second was given her, and, I think, a third ; but, as with the Jackdaw of Rheims, ” That which gave rise to no little surprise, Nobody seemed one penny the worse ! ”

After this Mullah Khoja was requested to take his bird to the roof and there kill her, which he did by strangulation.

The preparation of the skin of this bird was Joseph’s masterpiece, and it reached the Museum in such good condition as to receive ” honourable mention ” from Mr Bowdler Sharpe, in the ornithological department, which to me was the more gratifying because, on looking at the skin a few days after preparation, it appeared to betray signs of decay under the pinions, whence it had been necessary in so large a bird to remove portions of flesh that in a smaller bird are usually left to shrivel up.

I brought away a souvenir of the Zindan in the form of a hand-drum such as is used by the master of a hawking party. There it was beaten by the Zindan watchman walking round the walls at night. It was given me by the jailer, into whose apartments we went when looking at the kitchen, near to which was the tomb of a mullah of repute.

Charles Sperling Cumberland

Sport on the Pamirs and Turkistan Steppes



My next goal was a village called Bashkiok, on the south side of the river, and on the edge of the great Gobi Steppe.

The only sport we had on the road was with two flights of the eagle, after a fox and a hare. The foxes are much like our own in shape and size, but the fur is longer and softer, and rather lighter in colour : they are much prized, and a large trade is done in them. Many are shot by the shikaris, who are very good at imitating the cry of a hare in distress : this never fails to bring up a fox to the gun if within hearing.

Frederick Gustavus Burnaby

A Ride to Khiva: Travels and Adventures in Central Asia



There were horses and men of all kinds and shapes, long-legged men on short-legged horses, and short- legged men on giant Turkoman steeds. All the officers were in uniform, and some Bokharan and Kirghiz sportsmen, attired in crimson dressing-gowns, rode in the rear of our cavalcade.

Seven or eight greyhounds were led in couples behind the master of the hunt, a stout colonel, who was said to understand the ways and haunts of timid puss better than any other officer in the garrison ; and a stoutly-built Khivan, who rode a fine-looking chestnut, bore upon his elbow a graceful falcon, which, now hooded, was destined later on to play its part in the day’s sport.

The Kirghiz made the welkin ring with their yells. Immense excitement prevailed. All the dogs in the fort, attracted by the noise and commotion, were collected round the cortege.

The hunting-ground was about eight miles distant, and away we rode at a rattling pace ; the gallop to cover being considered as part of the day’s entertainment. The country lay open and flat before. There was not an obstacle to check our course, save now and then a dyke, some eight feet wide, which the horses took in fair style ; the Kirghiz and Bokharans looking back to see how the animal I bestrode would jump with his heavy rider. Never a stumble, however, and the hardy little beast could have carried Daniel Lam- bert himself, if that worthy but obese gentleman had been resuscitated for the occasion. Now a Bokharan would race by me with a wild cry, and lash a flagging mongrel, which, mingling with our pack, and soon outstripped by his fleeter brethren, had crossed the rider s path.

All of a sudden the master pulled up his panting steed, and, dismounting, told us that we had reached the cover.

A narrow tract of bush and bramble- covered ground was extended right and left of our party, whilst over the low brushwood was seen a broad crystal streak, like a Venetian mirror set in a frame of frosted silver. The Oxus lay before us. The flakes of snow which covered the banks and surrounding country marked its breadth from shore to shore.

We now formed one long line, each horseman being twenty yards apart from his fellow, and in this order rode through the reeds and brambles.

Presently a wild shout from a red-gowned Kirghiz announced that a hare had broken cover, and Russians, Cossacks, Kii^hiz, and self galloped in pursuit of the startled quarry. Straight at the river went the frightened animal, and after it, in hot pursuit, our heterogeneous pack. Down the bank our horses slid rather than scrambled, and across the river we raced, each man vieing with his neighbour. .Half a mile from the farther shore lay another dense copse, and it seemed as if the greyhounds would be distanced in the chase.

But the rider who bore the falcon now launched his bird into the air. Another second and the hawk was perched on its victim’s back, whilst the well- trained gfreyhounds, surrounding their prey, stood open-mouthed, with lolling tongues, not daring to approach the quarry.

The master now galloped up, and, dismounting, took possession of the hare, when, in a few minutes more, we were again in full cry. Five hares eventually rewarded our exertions, and then, after a headlong burst homewards, I found myself again within the precincts of the fort.

Sir Francis Edward Younghusband

The heart of a continent : a narrative of travels in Manchuria, across the Gobi Desert, through the Himalayas, the Pamirs, and Chitral



We pushed on, however, in the general direction of Kashgar, and towards evening, after a very hard march, reached an encampment of six tents. The owner of the one we applied to was very surly, but eventually agreed to give us accommodation for the night. As we entered the tent, I was startled on seeing a huge, fierce-looking eagle tied by the leg just at the door. From all appearances, it would require very little provocation to cause it to fly at one, and I was relieved when I found myself safely past it It was one of the eagles which the people of the part keep for hawking purposes, and with these they secure even small deer. I never saw them at this sport, but I recollect some years afterwards, on the Pamirs, seeing a Kirghiz catch an eagle for this purpose by riding it down. When I first saw the man starting off to gallop down an eagle, I thought he must be mad. We had seen two eagles on the ground in the distance, and as soon as the Kirghiz caught sight of them he set off wildly after them. They, of course, rose on seeing him, but he went careering down the valley after one of them till gradually the bird sank down to the ground. It was, in fact, gorged with the flesh of the carcase it had been feeding on, and could no longer fly. The Kirghiz dismounted, seized hold of the bird, bound his waist- cloth round and round the body and wings till he had made it up into a neat parcel, and then tucked it under his arm, mounted, and rode back to me. He said that, if it turned out to be a good one for hawking, he might get two hundred rupees for it I questioned the owner of the eagle in the tent in which we were now staying about the training of these eagles, but he was too surly to give me any satisfactory answers, and it was with no very grateful feelings towards him that we left his camp on the following morning.

The Mehtar was on this occasion in the very best of spirits. No man could more thoroughly enjoy himself than Nizam-ul- Mulk. He had little courage or strength of character, but he at any rate knew how to enjoy life, and I picture him now riding along on a comfortable, easy-going pony, with his leg thrown lazily over the high peak of the saddle, as he grew tired of riding astride, his falconers all about him ready to fly a hawk at anything which might appear, while he now and then turned round to his brothers, saying, ” See how lucky I am ! I have all that my father had, and have no trouble in looking after it, for Government sees that I am not attacked. I can go out hawking and shooting just as much as ever I please, and enjoy myself as I like.”

Sven Anders Hedin

Through Asia



The hunting falcon too is credited with similar powers of exorcism, and is therefore called (^hush-bakslii (the falcon exorciser). The peris or evil spirits are supposed to fear her greatly. During the pangs of childbirth, the woman sees evil spirits flitting about the room, though they are invisible to other people. The falcon, however, sees them, and is let loose in the room to chase them out. It is very evident that the falcon, the drums, and the rope and stick all tend to the same end — namely to distract the woman’s attention to a certain extent, and so make her forget herself.

Ralph Patterson Cobbold

Innermost Asia : travel & sport in the Pamirs



An old Kirghiz at this place had an enormous eagle, which he told me he had paid 200 roubles for. The bird killed a great many foxes in the course of the year, thereby bringing the owner a good deal of money from the sale of the skins. He assured me that it would also kill Oms Poll and ibex, but I cannot vouch for the truth of this.

Percy William Palmer Church

Chinese Turkestan, with caravan and rifle



The people here had a tame eagle, with which they informed us they intended to hawk gazelle {Gazella subgutlurosa), locally called jeron, of which they said there were a few about — very few, I should think, though I believe there are some west of Kukiar, a small town at the foot of the hills to the west of Kilyan.

Henry Norman

All the Russias: travels and studies in contemporary European Russia, Finland, Siberia, the Caucasus, and Central Asia



He, however, does not greatly appreciate his position, for he spends all his time at a hunting lodge near Termene, the fifth station up the line beyond the capital, 44 miles away, his passion being for falconry — a sport the local importance of which may be judged from the fact that the principal Minister of State is called Khus Begi, ” Chief of the Falconers.”

One charming figure went by — a young man, lightly dressed to run, on his fist a yellow hawk, not hooded, but tied by a string to its leg, ready to be cast off.

Annette Mary Budgett Meakin

In Russian Turkestan; a garden of Asia and its people



In the courtyard of a rich Sart in Namangan I found a peacock strutting proudly about, as if the place belonged to him ; a female stag that one of the sons had caught in the neighbouring mountains, two falcons, a cat, a duck, and an owl. Our host, wishing to show us the character of his falcon, fetched a dead chicken, destined for the pilau and dangled it over the bird’s head. Half asleep till that moment, it suddenly roused itself and, darting at the tempting prey, would have pulled it in pieces in a twinkle, if its master had not extricated it with difficulty from its claws. Falcons are kept for the sport they give, rather than for the sake of the game they catch. In the old days every Khan had his falcon, and the first man in his Khanate was the Cushbeggi or chief falconer ; the title is still held by the Amir’s Prime Minister in Bokhara. Marco Polo relates that one of the Khans of Khiva had 10000 falconers who accompanied him in his hunt- ing expeditions, and the Sultan Baber tells in his book how another Khan, hearing of the death of a favourite falcon, exclaimed — “I would rather have heard that my son had broken his neck!”

Sven Anders Hedin

Central Asia and Tibet



A little bit further on, a third body of horsemen were awaiting us on a projecting headland, which they had almost covered with various fruits, eggs, bread, and a whole slaughtered sheep. This was no other than the beg or governor of Awat, who desired to offer us welcome in his own august person. He also came and joined the company on the after-deck, which was thus getting quite populous. What with this and the successive clusters of mounted men riding along the banks, I warrant the turbid waters of the Yarkand-daria had never in all their history witnessed a more magnificent or more imposing spectacle. Amongst the horsemen were eight falconers, two of whom carried eagles, the others falcons, all duly hooded. In this part of the world falconers form an indispensable adjunct in any formal parade or procession. Later in the day they gave us an exhibition (tamashah) of their birds’ powers, by letting them kill four hares and a deer, all of which were presented to me.

Sir Aurel Stein

Sand-buried ruins of Khotan : personal narrative of a journey of archaeological and geographical exploration in Chinese Turkestan



The decoration of the outside of the cella walls consisted mainly of fresco bands containing small representations of seated Buddhist saints in the attitude of meditation, only the colours of the robes and halos varpng. But amidst these conventional designs there was found a picture which, though much effaced, at once attracted my interest as representing some sacred legend, perhaps of a local character. It shows rows of youths riding on horses or camels each holding a cup in his outstretched right hand, while above one of the riders a bird, perhaps meant for a falcon, is swooping down on this offering. The popularity of the subject was subsequently attested by my discovery of a well-preserved painted tablet in another temple ruin on which a similar scene is figured.

Then beyond, where cultivated land gave way to scrub-covered low dunes by the river bank, the Beg of Tawakkel, who escorted me with two picturesque attendants carrying falcons as a sign of his dignity, took leave.

Ole Olufson

Through the Unknown Pamirs



In a few places, though this is rare, falcons, of which there are large numbers in the Upper Pandsh valley, are employed for the hunting of birds.

Lord Osborne Beauclerk

The Badminton Magazine of Sports and Pastimes



Many carry falcons, goshawks, or eagles on their wrists; with the latter they kill foxes and roe-deer, which abound on the edge of the pine-woods. Central Asia is the home of hawking, and every colony of ‘yourts’ has its falconer; one of the Russian officers had once seen an eagle flown at a wolf, when the eagle had come off badly.”

Raphael Pumpelly

Explorations in Turkestan



[Photograph caption]: “A Galcha Beg of Karategin with his Hunting Eagle”

Archibald John Little

The Far East



Here is the park described by Marco Polo, inside which were ‘ fountains and rivers and brooks and beautiful meadows, with all kinds of wild animals, which the emperor has procured and placed there to supply food for his gerfalcons and hawks which he keeps there in mew. The khan himself goes every week to see his birds sitting in mew, and sometimes he rides through the park with a leopard behind him on his horse’s croup; and then, if he sees any animal that takes his fancy, he slips his leopard at it. and the game when taken is made over to feed the hawks in mew.’

We ourselves once met a party of 100 men bound for this region, each carrying two huge tame unhooded eagles, sitting one at each end of a carrying-pole borne on a man’s shoulders, — to hunt for game, chiefly hares, to supply the Peking market. The hunting is pursued from September to January, when the frozen carcases of the quarry are taken to Peking for sale. “

Major Clarence Dalrymple Bruce, F.R.G.S.

In the Footsteps of Marco Polo: A Journey Overland from Simla to Pekin



No description of Polu would be complete which omitted to make mention of the hawks and the hawking, which appears to form the chief amusement of all classes. It is unusual to enter the courtyard of any but the poorest houses and not find one or more hawks fastened to a perch. Nowhere in the East have I seen such beautiful specimens nor birds of such a size.

From the little kestrel to eagles, which are so huge as to appear impossible for a man to carry, and which, if unhooded, one was afraid to approach, all sizes are represented. When it is added that the quarry hunted ranges from chickor to shapoo and bara-sing, some idea may be gained of the wide range of game pursued by these enthusiastic sportsmen.

Being unable to devote ourselves, much to our regret, to the study of buried cities, we decided instead to accept the offer made by the Beg to hawk and hunt boar with him on the following day. The name Niya covers the surrounding district as well as the village, and in the country adjacent to the river to the north the Beg has as fine a domain to pursue the sport he loves as any one could desire. On either side of the river the country is thick jungle, with open well -watered patches, which, besides affording excellent pasturage, are the haunt of hares, wild boar, and quantities of geese and duck. Beyond the strips of vegetation bordering the stream lie the sands of the desert, the change firom the one to the other being, as already re- marked, as abrupt as though a boundary fence was there. One advantage in this is that in beating for game it is only necessary to follow the river, for sooner or later the quarry will be unearthed. After the evening meal we discussed the question of the morrow’s hunt with the Beg, who, we soon dis- covered, was as fond of sport as ourselves.

His sentiments might have been summed up in the well-known lines attributed by Whyte-Melville to the owner of ” the good grey mare ” : —

” I have lived my life — I am nearly done, — I have played the game all round ; But I freely admit that the best of my fun I owe it to horse and hound.”

Could he but have enjoyed the privilege of reading his own thoughts so delightftdly put, he would have been the first to appreciate the truth expressed in these lines. Having listened for some time to the accounts the Beg gave of his hawks, we asked whether there was any other form of sport to be had. To our delight he replied that there were pig which we could shoot, but which he hunted with dogs and spears. We could hardly credit our hear- ing at the latter words, but a string of questions from both of us soon showed that we had made no mistake, and that there was every chanoe of our tasting once more the finest sport that the world holds. After another hour’s duKnission of details — of spears, dogs, beaters, ponies, &c., — all was satis- factorily arranged. The Beg possessed only two spears, but promised that another should be locally made and ready by the morning. The dogs he ordered there and then to be caught and shut up for the night ; and the necessary arrangements for beaters and ponies appeared to require no pre- liminary preparation. Bidding each other good- night the Beg departed, leaving us with the most pleasant anticipation for the morrow we had enjoyed since quitting India.

Waking at dawn, we found our host to be indeed a man of his word. In the half-light of morn- ing in the village street were collected the ponies, men, and dogs, and a more mixed or quainter group it is difficult to imagine. The animals which the Beg was kind enough to provide were useful beasts, though small. My own was a young four-year-old, 13.1 hands high, but good-looking, and as game as could be. The Beg and his men were also on useM animals, both tough and wiry, though good looks were not their strong point. Of the followers no description could hope to give a true idea. A local meet of the hounds in the west of Ireland would perhaps produce some few types representing what we found — that is, as nearly as anything European could. But that the Beg’s men knew their job and were eager to do it we very soon discovered. Of the hounds, too, it is useless to hope to give much idea. There were only four of them, but once seen they could never be forgotten. Had it been necessary to classify the whole pack in the quite impossible supposition that they were to figure at a local dog show, they could have found a comer upon only one set of benches, those usually devoted to the hetero- geneous mixture known as the Variety Clajss. No sooner did one discover some resemblance to a terrier’s head in one of them than it became equally evident that the rest of his body was that of a bob- tailed sheep-dog. Another old lady was a perfect Borzois, so far as her head and body could be named, but, unfortunately, Nature in a thoughtless moment had given her the legs of a spaniel. Of the other two no description need be attempted. Both were evidently reluctant to exchange the comforts of loafing in the village for the danger of routing out boar. And to reach the scene of our sport they had to be dragged out at the end of a long rope by one of the followers, who did his best to hang them whenever a stray bush happened to get between him and the dogs.

While I had been looking over the personnel^ my companion had busied himself in finding what were to us the most important things, the spears. Turn- ing to speak to him, I found him in doubtfiil admiration of the weightiest and largest specimen ‘we had ever seen. Some 2 inches in diameter, there was about 10 feet length of shaft. At the end, tacked on by two local – looking nails, was 18 inches of old iron shaped at the point. The shaft was both new and rough, — balance it had none; on a 13- hand pony it was no easy matter to keep any of it off the ground : but who could look a ^fb – horse in the mouth ? The Beg had promised to do his best, and had done it for our benefit ; so we gladly accepted the will for the deed, warning ourselves, however, to be careful when the time came to use the spear. ¶Quitting the village, an hour’s smart jog through the dusty outskirts, where one well-to-do farm after another was passed, brought our party into wilder country. We were now back on the banks of the river, which are here flat but covered with low scrub and jheels, — a paradise for the coimtless flocks of duck, geese, and teal which dwell there. As he took his favourite hawk from his own attendant, a hint from the Beg gave us to understand that business was about to commence. One of the curiosities of local sport is the manner in which these men appear able to keep their hawks on wrist while galloping over very rough ground. Spreading ourselves to look for the necessary duck, it was not long before we cameupon a flock in a low-lying bit of wet ground. The Beg at once cantered forward, and when still a few hundred yards distant from the now rising duck, threw his hawk, and away she sped. Going like the pro- verbial arrow, she made straight for the flock, but, wheeling abruptly just short of them, swung suddenly round to fly back and re-perch gracefully on the outstretched arm of the Beg. Here was a bad beginning, but the next effort was more successful. Crossing an open bit of ground, a few duck suddenly rose from a concealed pond some distance to our right. Without a moment’s hesi- tation the Beg again galloped forward, loosing his hawk with one throw, and on this occasion with great success. The duck were not three hundred yards distant, had hardly even risen, when like a flash the hawk was upon them. This time there was no hesitation, and, almost quicker than the eye could follow, she struck, and down went hawk and duck, locked together, into the scrub.

Cantering up, we offered our congratulations in dumb show to the now smiling Beg, and requested his permission to take a photograph. This he very readily accorded, and the result may be seen in the pictures on another page. For the next few hours we amused ourselves with various flights — both successful and unsuccessful. Some- times the hawks appeared unwilling to strike though able, and at other times, of course, luck was against them. Occasionally a hawk not only would not attempt to chase but declined to return. It then would perch on the nearest tree, and much blandishment was required on the part of its master to regain possession of the handsome creat- ure. By mid-day the duck were mostly gone, so it was decided to give up the hawking and try for a boar. To reach the best ground required a ride of another ten miles in the direction of the desert, but still through the scrub, which gradually thickened and grew higher as we drew near the favourite ground.

It was not long before the tracks of fresh pig were discovered, and though at first we attempted to initiate a methodical effort at beating, very soon each man was hunting on his own account. Through the scrub ran some clear brooks where the ground sometimes opened out, and alongside which the pig evidently wallowed* In vain we followed what appeared to be fresh tracks. These usually led either into impenetrable jungle or were lost among the other maxks which here ran in all directions. After an hour of this disappointing work we were all relieved to hear that a boar had been harboured by one of the native hunters in a large shallow jheel. The jheel was so thickly covered with tall reeds, fifteen to sixteen feet high, that only with the greatest difficulty could the trackers penetrate. Sitting on the edge of the scrub, we were watching their slow advance when suddenly a rustle, followed by a quick parting of the reeds just ahead of them, told us the boar was there. In another minute loud shouts and holloas — and the Turki can holloa — proclaimed that he had broke on the far side of the jheel. For the moment we were prepared to face the muddy water in the endeavour to follow in his track, but the Beg, with one yell, turned his pony, and digging both heels in, galloped wildly up the jheel-side. Breaking from the fairly open scrub into a narrow cattle-track, he quickened his pace, evidently riding to cut off the boar at the head of the jheel. Nothing loath, as soon as we understood the situation, we followed in his wake. The path was barely wide enough for a calf, and as fuU of holes and as poached as a jungle track usually is. On either side the scrub at times nearly met overhead, and the track occasionally wound almost at right angles to avoid some particularly dense piece of growth. Forgetful of such trifles, and only intent upon retaining pos- session of our unwieldy spears, we still followed our leader, whom we could see at intervals dis- appearing at full gallop round one comer after another- Ten minutes of this work brought us nearly to the top end of the jheel where the track forked. One branch ran on, the other turned short, crossing the shallow end through the now thinning reeds. Following the latter path, I succeeded in forcing a way through, just in time to see the Beg clear the scrub and swing away leffc-handed in the direction he evidently imagined the boar had taken. Hesitating for a moment, I was wondering whether the beast had yet emerged, when a crash on my right put all doubts at rest. ¶Not twenty yards away a great grey boar trotted slowly up the side of the sandy hillock, pursued by one dog, and at the same moment became aware of my presenca There was no time to think, not even to remember the caution we had vowed to observe when called upon to make use of the ill -balanced old spear. Down went mine, and shaking up my little pony I made for the boar. Whether the unusual sight of a white man or the shouts of the natives caused the brute to change his mind, I do not know; suffice it to say that he checked his charge in mid-career, and swung off up the sand-hill just as my pony jinked violently, ingloriously turning his tail upon the boar. “Well for him,” I can hear the experienced pig-sticker remark, ‘Hhat the boar had two minds/” and perhaps it was; but the sight of as fine a specimen of the old grey pig as the heart could desire had fairly set our blood boiling. Throwing caution to the winds, and forgetfiil alike of doubtfiil spears, infernal ground, even, I am sorry to say, of the old dog, whom we mercilessly over-rode, away went my companion and myself in full pursuit, followed at some little distance by the Beg, who had now come up, and two of the best mounted of his men^ For a quarter of an hour we enjoyed the feeling of bliss which only those can realise who have been hard at the heels of either boar or fox at their best pace for that time; but gradually we began to lose ground. The line our quarry took led us deeper and deeper into the jungle, and in spite of the efforts of our gallant little ponies, it was evident that utter grief must soon follow the attempt to continue. The scrub was up to the ponies’ necks, there was no possibility of seeing the boar, and we had long ago distanced the Beg and his men. Sadly we allowed our streaming animals to slow down, and though we pushed on into a thick patch where another of the dogs appeared to be busy, we had evidently lost our boar. Beturning somewhat discoDSolate at the disappointment, we made for a reed hut, or satma as they are called, to eat the sandwiches we had brought with us. Having soon disposed of these, the whole party moved off once more for a second draw. The jheel had provided such sport in the morning that the Beg suggested trying there again.

Stripping off their long boots, the men waded in, and in a short time another boar was reported roused. After beating the reeds, as &r as the men dared to wade in, with little result, the Beg ordered them to be fired. This was no easy matter, nor could the men get the fire to spread, although the reeds were set alight in three or four places. While this was going on we sat on the edge of the water thoroughly enjoying the picture before us.

The jheel was situated under rising sand-hills which ran along one side of it. Upon the hillocks the Beg had placed what might be called his ” whips,*’ in order to view the boar should he break that side. Not content with their elevated position, both these men were to be seen at intervals standing upright on their ponies’ backa A strange sight it was to see them balanced at fiiU height on their ungainly saddles. Each man held his bridle in one hand, while with the other each shaded his eyes as he peered on all sides over the surrounding country. In the immediate foreground heavy coils of grey smoke hung over the yellow reed-tops, while the roaring fire made blotches of flaming red against the muddy water below. In the immediate fore- ground, wading nearly up to their waists, wild figures pushed their way back and forwards among the reeds, directed by the Beg, who had now dis- mounted from his pony, and was shouting directions fix)m the bank.

The whole scene combined a wonderful mixture of life and colour to which no photograph could attempt to do justice. Nothing but the brush of an artist could have caught the spirit of such a picture, and unfortunately the occasions are rare when a combination of painter and such a scene are both ready to hand. In spite of all the efforts made to cause the boar to break, he declined to do so, unless, indeed, as we began to think, he had slipped away earlier in the afternoon, avoiding the keen eyes of both look-out men. As the day was drawing on, and we were some fifteen miles from home, a move was now made in the direction of Niya. Though we had all been in the saddle since dawn, our host seemed to consider there was yet time for more hawking, and on the way home he treated us to several flights. Whether it was that the hawks were weary or were disinclined to fly so late in the day, I cannot pretend to say, knowing little of the sport of hawking. What- ever the reason may have been, the only result of the Beg’s efforts was one failure aft;er another, until at last, angered at the apparent disinclina- tion of his favourite hawk, he began to throw it indiscriminately at crows, larks, or anything that flew by. After one final failure at some duck which had settled in an open pool on the river, the Beg desisted. The hawk had missed the duck and had settled on the far bank of the stream, from which it was with difficulty retrieved. We were then some five miles from Niya, and expected to be allowed to jog home in well -contented peace, but were soon undeceived.

Bejoining us where we had waited for him while he had made his last unsuccessfril flight, the Beg set his pony going towards home at a good pace, and we followed suit. Not content with this, he drove his animal ahead with one of his men, evi- dently wishing us to take part in an extempore race. Now the blood of few Englishmen can withstand such a challenge, even though they have been ten hours on the back of the same pony, and that a little beast such as those we roda Away flew the Beg and his man, and after him went we ventre d terre.

The track to Niya was a sandy strip of soft going, and down this, as we drew near the outskirts of the village, the weary natives were placidly making their way home; nor did they seem to consider there was anything unusual in the method we chose of returning. I was beginning to wonder how we could be expected to avoid upsetting half the respectable townsfolk in Niya, when our abrupt arrival at a bend of the river put a stop to our headlong course.

Slowly we forded the shallow stream, and as if touched by a spell the whole company became suddenly solemn Asiatics once more. We had left Niya, as has been said, at dawn; we returned at dusk. It was the last day of Bamazan, and not a morsel of food had the Beg or any of his followers touched for many hours. All honour to them that they could show themselves such whole-hearted children under such a strain.

eMindful of the feast, and anxious that our host should be able to reach his house as soon as possible, for the moon would shortly rise, we tried in vain to dissuade him from accompanying us home. True to the courteous instinct which seems to have its origin in the East, the Beg insisted upon seeing us to the gate of our serai. There, in receipt of our grateful thanks, he left us, but I can see his tall upright figure now. Built in a larger mould than is usual among his compatriots, he was a man of silent reserved character. Possessing in addition a tireless frame, a keen love of the open, and a very warm heart, our friend was as good a specimen of one of natiu*e’s gentlemen as could be found. p. 107-119

John Nicholas Price Wood

Travel & Sport in Turkestan



These Kazaks are very fond of hawking, and a man riding about carry- ing his favourite hawk on his wrist is a common sight.

Douglas Carruthers

On the Birds of the Zarafschan Basin in Russian Turkestan.



This is the commonest Sparrow-Hawk of the country, being found wherever the cultivation includes groves of trees and thickets. It breeds in May as low as 600 ft. The natives train Sparrow-Hawks, chiefly in order to fly at Quails. But I cannot decide whether it is this species or A. nisus that they use. Very probably it is this species, for it is an even mere courageous bird than the Common Sparrow-Hawk.

Ole Olufson

The Emir of Bokhara and His Country: Journeys and Studies in Bokhara



The most common weapon here besides the forked matchlock which is only in the possession of more well-to-do people is the long bow as in Vakhan; nearly all males from boys to old men were seen with such a one. Both the one- sfringed bow with arrow and the two-stringed one with a piece of leather on the middle of the strings to project stones are in use. I saw many people shoot well with them, and they are much used when hunting wild birds ; but the principal sport is hawking which is carried on with great zeal all over Darvas and Karategin. Every second male was seen walking about with a small hawk on his leather gloved hand. On his head the bird carries during the ride from one place to another a small leather hood which prevents him from seeing, and one foot is furnished with bells which enable the hunter to recognize where it is flying about. During the hun- ting parties at which I was present it often happened that the falcons remained for a long time in the trees until the hunter by means of a piece of flesh stretched aloft and luring calls made them come down on his hand again.

As usual we hoisted the Danish colours on my tent, and as only Russian generals on such journeys decorate their tent in this way, it was very soon rumoured in the town that a faranghi genderal (foreign general) had arrived, and the inhabi- tants drew together round the garden where we were encamped to take a view of us. Nearly all of them, also small boys and old men, went about with small jerfalcons on their hands. Several of them showed me their art in making their very small, but very agile and pretty falcons catch some of the small birds in the trees, and they did this with great precision.

The Emir is very cautious in regard to eating and drinking; several of his courtiers must always first taste all that is brought to him. One of the Emir’s outdoor pleasures is hawking, and for this purpose he has a special court-yard where hundreds of small and large hawks are bred. This sport is, by the way, very common in Bokhara, especially in the mountain provinces where riders often are seen riding with the hooded hawk on their gloved hand.

The departure of the Emir from one province to another always takes place with great ceremonies. A great baggage of provisions, costly silk tents, carriages with harem-women, batshas, falconers, escorts of Sarvas and soldiers (askar) accompany him.

Willy Rickmer Rickmers

The Duab of Turkestan



Only in summer it holds the contents of its alter ego of teeming life with the Kushbegi of Hissar at the head, the governor of all Eastern Bokhara. Kushbegi means ” Chief of the Eagle or Falcon,” i.e. the head falconer of olden times when the keeper of the birds of the chase was a prince’s highest servant. The Kushbegi at Bokhara is the Prime Minister or Grand Vizier of the Khanate.

George Leib Harrison Jr.

Hunting at high altitudes; the book of the Boone and Crockett club



Almost every chief among the Kirghiz had one or two golden eagles, which they used for killing game such as roe deer, foxes, and, I am told, even wolves; but many of these birds seem to be kept more for ornament than for sport, as we never could get the Kirghiz to fly them — although it is only fair to- say that the Fathers at Kuldja told us that they had often seen them used. On the plains the common little hawk, like a sparrow-hawk, was often carried on the wrist.

Charles Howardy-Bury

Mountains of Heaven



Sunday, October 5th. The Kazakhs had nearly all moved lower down to their winter quarters in the valleys and the uplands were deserted. Wild pig had been everywhere rooting in the grass, apparently digging up the field mice which abound. Hawks, falcons and eagles are very common now in this month and September. The hunters catch them in large numbers by means of snares set round a pigeon or partridge. The Kazakhs are very fond of hawking and big prices are given for a good bird. Tola Bai’s son produced a fine eagle which they have trained to catch foxes and roe-deer.

Henry George Charles Perry-Ayscough and Captain Robert Bruère Otter-Barry

With the Russians in Mongolia



Henry George Charles Perry-Ayscough (1875-1915) was an Irish military man who served as a postmaster in Kaifeng, China during a period of strong British presence after the Opium Wars of the century prior. While later working in Shanghai, Perry-Ayscough was invited by the Russian plenipotentiary to Urga, the capital of Mongolia; the Russians had been aggressively seeking influence in Mongolia after the country broke away from the collapsing Qing empire in 1911. On February 16, 1913 he left Shanghai for Urga, where he was occupied with diplomacy and sightseeing. He soon set out with the Russian Consul-General M. Louba on an administrative mission to the Mongolian town of Uliassutai with an interpreter, some Cossacks, and a Mongolian official. The next stop was Kosh Agatch, a city now in the Altai Republic of the Russian Federation, though mostly Kazakh in population now as it was then. Perry-Ayscough himself explains that Kosh Agatch “signifies Good-Bye Trees (Kosh=good-bye, Agatch=trees), as symbolic of the change of scenery, the Altai mountains beyond being thickly forested, whereas in the Chuya desert and Mongolia trees are rarely seen.”

In Kosh Agatch, it seems, the Irish soldier encountered a Kazakh eagle hunter. Unfortunately, the only evidence of Central Asian falconry Perry-Ayscough left us is a lone photograph; we can only surmise why such a remarkable sight didn’t warrant a place in the narrative.


Upon his return to the British Isles, Perry-Ayscough put together a report, “The Russians in Mongolia”, with a fellow member of the Royal Geographical Society, Captain Robert Bruère Otter-Barry (1879-1947), who had travelled through the region at a different time. The text remains rare, and rarely remembered. Perry-Ayscough would die in France the next year, fighting for the UK in the First World War.

Douglas Carruthers and Jack Humphrey Miller

Unknown Mongolia : A Record of Travel and Exploration in North-West Mongolia and Dzungaria



Unknown Mongolia is Douglas Carruthers’ master work, two huge volumes of ethnographic and geographic accounts from a field trip in 1910. Carruthers was accompanied by the hunter Jack Humphrey Miller, who helped finance the mission and contributed two chapters of his own to the book.

Visiting the upper valleys of the Khovd River in modern-day Bayan-Ölgii, Mongolia, Carruthers became captivated by the Kirei. Here, in the “farthest outpost of Islam in Asia”, was a tribe that Carruthers claimed was descended from Prestorian Christians. Even before finding their settlements, he knew he had found them when he stumbled upon their hunting eagles, tied to trees:

The encampments were pitched in snug quarters amongst the reeds and the poplars, so well protected as to be almost hidden from view; their existence was quickly discovered, however, by the presence of many golden- eagles tethered to the higher branches of the poplar trees. Inner Asia is the home of falconry, and the natives not only use hawks and falcons, but even train the great golden-eagles for the purpose of hunting such large quarry as gazelle, foxes, and even wolves. p. 358

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Several pages later, the Kirei are glowingly admired for the sophistication of their lifestyle, falconry as its noble core:

These well-made yurts, covered with white felt, were in direct contrast to the black, torn, and ragged tents of the Mongols. The interior spoke of prosperity, and showed a distinct appreciation of comfort. Clean carpets of felt covered the floor, and many household belongings stood around the sides — gaudily-coloured boxes, a bed, quilts and cushions, saddlery and a falcon; while the right-hand side of the tent displayed a profusion of cooking-pots, kettles, kummis-bags, and other signs of a commissariat, such as would arouse the envy of any Mongol housewife…There was almost an appearance of opulence in these Kirghiz encampments; in comparison with the Mongols and Uriankhai, these Kirei tribesmen might be described as “gentlemen-rovers,” rich in flocks and herds, well-housed, owning a fine country, and with sufficient leisure at their disposal to indulge in horse-racing and in falconry. p.362-363

Moving south into what is now Xinjiang, Carruthers found hawkers in an altogether different corner of Central Asia. The geographer and his companions were priveleged travellers, visiting the highest of officials along the way, and thisthis included, magnificently, the so-called “King of the Gobi,” Maqsud Shah. Lording over the city-state of Kumul, the Uyghur shah was, like most royalty-types in the region, quite keen on falconry:

He possessed stables for his horses, mews for his falcons, and a three-storied harem for his womenfolk, while surrounding the palace was spread a garden of extraordinary luxuriance. p. 489

Maqsud Shah kept a team of falconers at his court, and upon Carruthers’ request, they showed off his wares:

We chanced to ask if he had any falcons, and the falconers appeared as if by magic. one with a peregrine, another a goshawk, and a third bearing a magnificent golden-eagle. p. 491

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The next mention of falconry in the work comes from Mr. Miller, who contributed Chapter 20, “Game of the Plains.” Miller never got to see a hunt, but he quotes liberally from his predecessor Charles Sperling Cumberland:

The Kirghiz, and occasionally the Chantos, have a much more sporting way of hunting gazelle, by means of trained golden eagles, called in Turki ” bouragut.” This method is only attempted in winter, when the game is easy to approach, and the sportsmen have plenty of time on their hands. Often we saw a man riding along with a hooded eagle on his well-gauntlet ed right hand. The great weight of the bird is supported by means of a forked stick for the wrist, which fits into a socket in the front of the saddle. We were never fortunate enough to see a flight ; but Major Cumberland, in Sport on the Pamirs and Turkestan Steppes, gives such a good account of a kill he witnessed on the Tarim east of Aksu, that I cannot do better than quote his description.

“I was anxious to see the eagle work, and, as I could see nothing of a stag, went off with the Yuzbeggie in the afternoon to try for another jeran. I was mooning along thinking of something else, when all of a sudden the Yuzbeggie started off as hard as he could gallop across the maidan (plain). I followed suit, and soon made out a doe- jeran in the distance. It stood and looked at us in amazement, and then cantered off, not very fast, while we still continued our headlong career, every now and then floundering on to our noses over a tussock of grass or into a hole hidden by the snow, until we got to about a hundred yards from our game, which only then realized the situation, and extended its stride. The shikari now hurled the eagle, which he had unhooded and held clasped to his breast during the run, at the jeran. The eagle, instead of rising like a falcon and sweeping on its prey, flapped along with its great wings quite close to the ground ; and, although it seemed to fly very slowly, gradually caught up the jeran, which was impeded in its course by the high grass, and at last grabbed it by the rump with its strong talons. It regularly dragged the deer down, and held on for some time, the little gazelle kicking out like mad. We still galloped on, and I wondered what the finish would be. The shikari, when he got up to them, without drawing rein threw himself off his pony, and grabbed the deer by the hind- leg, just as it had kicked itself free, and, pulling out his knife, cut its throat.”

In addition to gazelle, hares, foxes, and even wolves are killed by means of the golden eagle ; but, in the case of wolves, dogs are generally used to assist the bird. p. 586-587

Reading the text, I was initially confused by the mention of eagle-hunting “Chantos” – who were this mysterious tribe? In a footnote on p. 397, Carruthers’ clears things up:

The name of Chanto will constantly recur throughout the following chapters, and needs some explanation. It is the Chinese generic name for all Mohammedan-Turki sedentary people, meaning literally “wound round their heads,” or turban-wearers. It corresponds to the Russian term “Sart,” as applied to the sedentary population of Russian Central Asia. All the inhabitants of Chinese Turkestan are Chantos, but they have no such broad title for themselves, – as a people, they have no name, – describing themselves only according to the towns to which they belong, viz. Kashgarlik, Turfanlik, Kumulik.

Carruthers’ text can be read in its entirety on the Internet Archive.

Benjamin Burges Moore

From Moscow to the Persian gulf, being the journal of a disenchanted traveller in Turkestan and Persia



Wandering through the bazars, sometimes I chance upon curious sights. Beside a gateway a man is seated, holding a falcon on his gloved hand — like some picture of a medieeval falconer come to life. The large slender bird, speckled with olive-brown and black, has a cruel look as it sits very quietly on the falconer’s fist, slowly turning its curved beak and small head, without a tremor of the round wide-open eyes in which the pupils have contracted to narrow slits. Around its neck is a silver ornament with a little bell on either side, and on its legs are red jesses fastening it to its master’s hand. Man and bird are a striking survival of customs we usually think long since gone by.

Frederick Holbrooke

Through Turkestan and the Caucasus, a letter from Frederick Holbrook to his wife



I tied my silk handkerchief about the waist of one of the Chief’s nine children, as all men wear such things as belts. The Chief had a blue one, bright blue. This apparently pleased the Chief, and he sent for his “falconer,” who came with a hawk perched on one hand. The Chief then showed us about falconing, and had the hawk catch a wild sort of quail out in the fields for us. It was interesting.

Stephen Graham

Through Russian Central Asia



The men all wore hats, or, rather, bonnets, trimmed with an edging of fox’s fur, and the foxes from whose thighs this fur had been taken had been captured by trained eagles. The Kirghiz are deeply versed in falconry, and have diverse birds for various preys : hawks for cranes, for plovers, and for hares. They hunt the fox, whose skin is very precious, with eagles. They carry the hawks on their wrists when they ride, and for the support of heavy birds they have stalls or rests coming up from their saddles to hold the bird arm, whilst they hold the horse’s reins with the other.

E. Nelson Fell

Russian and Nomad



Edward Nelson Fell (1857-1928) was born in New Zealand to a family of wealthy English entrepreneurs, grew up attending private schools in Europe, and later founded a town called Fellsmere in Florida, so perhaps it’s not so surprising that this world traveller spent six years living on the steppes of Central Asia. It turns out that his brother Alfred, a British Member of Parliament, had heard about the mining potential of that unheard-of land, and so Nelson was sent to head operations there for a London-based company. He would live there for from 1902 to 1908, supervising the very Spassky operations that would later draw John Wardell.

In 1916, Fell would publish “Russian and Nomad” about his time with the Kazakhs, and the final chapter of his book is devoted to a hunting tale. He had met a rich Kazakh, or bai, while looking for a local financier, and this man, Adam Bai, eventually invited Fell for a grand eagle outing:

Although our relations with Adam Bai had been strained by the unfortunate incident of the disappearance of the three-rouble bill up the sleeve of the old gentleman, when we were borrowing twenty thousand roubles from him, yet the old man was such a good sport that he duly kept his promise, made in happier days, to invite us to join him in an eagle hunt, and on a certain chilly morning in October two men rode up to our village and, with much ceremony, delivered a message to this effect: that Adam Bai hoped to take the eagles for their first hunt of the season on the following day, and that he begged us to share the sport with him and to join him at his zimofka or winter quarters on the Kisil Tav mountains without delay. p. 189

Fell joins the bai and, waking in the morning, finds him sharing a moment with one of his eagles:

We awoke as the first dim rays of light filtered through the solitary window and saw Adam Bai sitting on a pile of cushions, gazing earnestly through the brushwood smoke at his priceless bird. It was sitting on its perch in the corner, ruffled and fierce, motionless yet alert, its black eyes keenly following every movement of the Kirghiz coming and going in the room. During the warm weather its blood has been running sluggishly, but now it has felt the first touch of cold and it gives a restless cry, to which warning note it would be well for every living thing on the Steppe to give heed, from the fluffy owl to the bucking bighorn ram.

Soon, the flurry of the hunt breaks out, but the prey is something unexpected:

The door bursts open, “A fox! A fox!” cries a herdsman, tumbling breathless into the room, whip in hand, brown eyes alight under the furry brim of his malachai. The sleepy household awakes to instant life; first boots, then layer after layer of wadded clothes are pulled on, fur malachais are firmly tied around eager, smiling faces, and lastly, each shapeless form is girthed around the middle with a leather belt, from which dangle hunting knives, bags and horns for powder and shot and all the paraphernalia of the primitive chase; all headlong down the hill, but reaches the eagle too late to rescue a huge fluffy owl from its clutches. The hapless bird of night is lying on its back in the grass, helplessly snapping at its foe; the eagle holds fast to its prey and glares resentfully at its approaching master. All the Kirghiz ride up to watch Malik extract his eagle’s talons one by one from its victim’s flesh. When the conqueror is once more hooded and placed on its perch on Malik’s wrist, they ride away, first plucking out a handful or two of the downy feathers of the owl, wherewith to decorate the caps of Tauk and her friends.

Once more the huntsmen wait upon the hilltop, holding the unhooded eagles, while the beaters scour the plain.

And behold! A moving speck among the karagand! This time it is the turn of the old eagle which has seen it first. Already it has left its perch and is hanging high in the sky, poised above its prey. Whatever it is, it is crouching low among the bushes, until the final downward sweep of the death-dealing speck above it sends it scampering for its life. An anxious cry breaks from the Kirghiz; the quarry is a wolf, a dangerous foe even for an old and experienced eagle. Two miles from the hilltop the eagle drops. Its talons sink deep into the head of the flying wolf, and bird and beast roll in the grass together. With whirling whips and frantic kicks, the Kirghiz beat their ponies to the battlefield. When they arrive the wolf is almost overpowered ; the eagle’s beak is deeply imbedded in its brain, and, though minus a few feathers, the gallant victor is as indomitable as ever. The efforts of three men scarcely suffice to extricate its claws, so ruthlessly are they implanted in its victim.

An hour passes; the riders have dismounted and are resting their panting ponies; some squatting among the rocks telling long tales of aquiline exploits, others stripping the wolf of its precious pelt. The eagles are resting sleepily upon their perches ; the sun has come out, the snow has begun to thaw; their blood is running sluggishly again.

“It is too hot to hunt now,” says Adam Bai. “If Allah wills, we will catch that fox tomorrow;
but now, aoolga beramin (I am going home).”

Gaily the riders troop zimofka-ward. The eagles have relapsed into torpor, but their masters chatter gaily as they hurry along, their mouths watering for the koomiss and boiled mutton, which they know are awaiting them.

Though, he doesn’t introduce her, Tauk must be the name of Adam Bai’s eagle – she appears in a few photos. Tauyk means “chicken” in Kazakh, so perhaps it’s a cute little term of endearment for a big, brutal bird.

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Ella Constance Sykes

Through deserts and oases of central Asia



We often saw the great golden eagles which are trained to hunting in this part of the world. They kill gazelles, hares and foxes, and I always wondered how their masters could ride at breakneck pace and mount and dismount while carrying such a weight on their arms. The great birds seemed wonderfully docile, and apparently indifferent as to whether their hoods were on or off. The hunting eagle is captured by means of a live fox tied to a rope ; the bird, busily employed in tearing its prey, does not observe that the quarry is being drawn by the rope gradually nearer and nearer to a hole, in which the hunter lies concealed with a net to throw over the eagle. When captured the unfortunate bird is confined in a dark room, its eyelids are sewn up, and its spirit is broken by the incessant beating of drums which allows it no sleep. It remains morose for a time, refusing all food, but gradually becomes tame and attaches itself to the man who feeds it and takes it out hunting.

Another interesting personality was the Chief Falconer of the Mehtar of Chitral, who was engaged in a search for a pair of white hawks. These birds, which are extremely rare, if indeed they exist as a species, are said to be found in the district of Hi ; but our fellow-traveller, having heard that one had been offered for sale at Kashgar and another at Khotan, determined to throw in his lot with us, as we were bound for the latter city. Truth to say, he was a timid man, entirely devoid of the love of adventure that is part of the equipment of the true traveller, and moreover he had no knowledge of the Turki language. He found no white hawk in Kashgar and probably expected none in Khotan, but I fancy he joined our caravan to pick up the language and so fit himself more or less for the still longer journey to Hi. ¶ When we were at Tashkurghan during our visit to the Pamirs, we heard that a pair of white falcons had been procured in the valley for presentation to the Agha Khan. Unluckily one of the birds died, but the Sarikolis, not to be foiled, stuffed it and offered it to the Head of their faith together with its live mate.

Isabella (Ella) Robertson Christie

Through Khiva to Golden Samarkand: The Remarkable Story of a Woman’s Adventurous Journey Alone through the Deserts of Central Asia to the Heart of Turkestan



Ella Christie (1861-1949) was a Scottish heiress who travelled through Central Asia on two occasions, in 1910 and 1912, publishing her accounts of the journey thirteen years later. An heiress to the industrial fortune of her grandfather, Alexander Christie, the Lady Ella, or “Miss Christie of Cowden” as she preferred to be called, had an estate in Muckhart, Scotland, but was a passionate traveller, journeying to India, Ceylon, Tibet, China, Japan, Malaya, Borneo, America, and Cuba in her time. She was a fellow of the Royal Scottish Geographical Society, and the first British woman to visit Khiva. Miss Christie died of Leukemia in January, 1949.

Christie’s first voyage came in 1910. After receiving a special permit from the Russian government, getting a smallpox shot, and hiring a Jewish interpreter, Christie set out on a ferry from Baku, driven to see “what lay on the comparatively bare spot on the map east of the Caspian Sea”. From Krasnoyarsk, she travelled overland to Merv, Bokhara and Samarkand and then onward to Khokand and the Ferghana Valley, returning by rail from Tashkent. In Samarkand, she notes the local sport of quail-fighting, and also the presence of falconers at bazaars:

One striking feature of the rejoicing was that all the wayside trees in the native city were hung with covered birdcages, and these were even suspended across the roadways like lamps. The occupants of the cages were quails, and it is a fashionable amusement of the gilded youths to have quail fights, the sporting instinct that under other skies would keep a pack of hounds. This also finds an outlet in the mediaeval sport of hawking, and it is not uncommon to see in the bazaars a falconer with a hawk perched upon his gloved hand, often a fine-looking, light-speckled bird, with its cruel eyes blinking in the sunshine, its legs tethered by a red silk cord, and a couple of small silver bells attached to the collar encircling its neck. (p. 156)

Her second trip, a journey in 1912 from Moscow to Orenburg to Tashkent by rail, does not yield any observations of falconers, but in Tashkent she does mention the training of jackdaws for amusement.

I found that a turbaned Sart, with a comic cast of countenance, seated on a minute donkey had, thanks to the gullibility of his onlookers, gathered quite a number round him to watch the acrobatic performances of a tame jackdaw on a stick! (p. 254)

During her first trip, she also mentions a local tradition of sparrow-training:

The great amusement of men and boys is to tame a sparrow, and, tying a thread to its leg, let it perch on a finger and toss it off and on. (p. 92)

Such stories show that in Central Asia, the training of birds of prey should be seen as part of a greater complex of relationships between humans and birds. In Kyrgyzstan, we were told of a boy in Bokonbaevo who trained some sparrows to follow him to school, flying through the air and perching on his shoulders. In another case, a local boy caught an eagle-owl, just for fun, and brought it to a local falconer.

Percy T. Etherton

In the Heart of Asia



Falconry is a form of sport indulged in by the wealthier classes, the quarry being mainly the chikor, or hill partridge, and hares, some of the latter giving the falcon a tough struggle, although they seem to have little difficulty in holding on, and are not infrequently carried some distance before the hare is fainlly brought to a standstill. When on one of my tours in the Bostan Terek valleys I met a young Kirghiz lady of sixteen, an adept of falconry, who was reputed to the be the best exponent of the tribe. To see her mounted on a little rough-haired pony, with her falcon, the size of the English goshawk, perched on her right wrist, both eagerly scanning the country in search of game, took one back to baronial days in England when knights and their ladies went forth to the chase as the Kirghiz do on the Pamir uplands to-day. (p.40-41)

In the evening I had a long conversation with the custodian and his assistants, and was much interested in some hunting eagles they possessed, magnificent birds of the golden eagle type.

Falconry, as I have already stated, is a favourite form of sport in Turkistan, and one to which I devoted much of my spare time, and it may not be out of place to give an account here of a day with hunting eagles, and the methods of training falcons generally in Turkistan. The eagles are trained to bring down wild boar, gazelle, foxes, and hares, and their education to that end is effected on different lines to that obtaining with falcons.

The hawks are taken when quite young, and by a system of training at night and prolonged deprivation of sleep are rendered docile and amenable to treatment. Being kept in darkness, stroked at first with a feather, and handled only by lamplight, further reduces their power of resistance, the process extending over two to four weeks according to the hawk’s individual temperament. Great care is taken to avoid any distraction or shock to the nerves that may cause undue fright; the hood is removed from the eyes only by night; and when the hawk feeds well and contentedly from the hand, it is taken out and trained to a lure, having by this time become accustomed to the human voice, to artificial feeding, and returning to the wrist after seizing artificial bait.

Although a passive form of sport, a day with the hunting eagle has its thrilling side when in pursuit of gazelle or pig. The party proceeds on horseback to the reed and tamarisk jungles, wherein the game find cover that is supplemented by the maze of hillocks and sand-dunes, early morning or late afternoon being the best times, as they lie up during the heat of the day.

As soon as the quarry is sighted we dismount and continue the chase on foot, taking advantage of cover and following the contour of the ground, creeping silently through the heavy growth of reed and kamish, and anon passing round the flank of a giant dune that may be a hundred or more feet in width and thirty feet high at the crest line. When within two hundred yards we seek the shelter of such a sand-hill, peering cautiously above the sky-line, and raising the eagle just sufficiently to give it a view of the quarry. It is no light weight, this splendid specimen of the genus aquila, as it perches on the right forearm, glancing intently with its piercing eyes, keenness personified. The moment has arrived, the eagle sways slightly backwards and forwards, straining, as it were, at the leash, and so with a forward movement of the arm we release the bird and it sets out on its flight, keeping close to the ground and moving without apparent effort, but with a speed that justifies its claim to being one of the fastest fliers in the world. The gazelle has spotted the enemy, and is off like the wind, but the eagle gets into its stride, conforms to every movement of the prey, and gradually lessens the distance between hunter and hunted. Then, with a final spurt, it is above the quarry, and drops lightly on its back, to dig razor-like talons into the neck, at the same time flapping its wings to hamper and blind the gazelle and so bring it to the ground, the collapse usually eventuating within a hundred yards from the eagle’s descent. The latter by an offer of raw meat, which is in readiness, can then be drawn from the game and handled with the customary ease. Should the gazelle have had too long a start and so evade its pursuer, or, in an extreme case, succeed in shaking it off, the eagle flies slowly away to a hillock or the top of a sand-dune and there alights, refusing to be flown again, as if conscious of a loss of dignity in the quarry thus eluding it.

In the jungles and swamps along the Tarim River, between Aksu and Maralbashi, eagles are occasionally used for the pursuit of wild boar, but with such formidable game their efforts are supplemented by beaters armed with club and musket, who, when the eagle trips up the boar or brings it to a partial standstill, despatch it with their primitive weapons.

Clarmont Percival Skrine

Chinese Central Asia: An Account of Travels in Northern Kashmir and Chinese Turkestan



Clarmont Percival Skrine (1888-1974) was an officer in the Indian Civil Service who spent two years as the Consul General in Kashgar. Francis Younghusband and George Macartney had established the rogue consulate for Britain in 1890, meaning to check the Russian advance into Western China and the British empire that sat below it. It has been said, however, that Skrine found the region richer for its culture than for its political potential. Though he never received a formal higher education, he wrote scholarly articles for the Geographical Journal and the Central Asian Journal, and he became a well-known Persianist after spending time in Iran following his stint in “Kashgaria.” He seemed to have an all-devouring mind: while in Chinese Turkestan he studied Turki (as Uyghur was then called) and recorded local folk songs. Frequently taking exploratory trips from his walled compound in Kashgar, Skrine saw much of the surrounding region, always accompanied by his wife Doris Forbes Whitelaw (referred to as “D.” in these memoirs). With such a keen interest in his surroundings, Skrine was sure to take notice of the local falconry culture, and take notice he did.

His most extensive description of the falconry tradition in Chinese Turkestan comes from an account of October 1923, when Skrine and his wife embarked on one of their many expeditions to the oasis cities near Kashgar. Skrine writes that the trip was “a tour to which we had long looked forward, north-eastward along the southern slopes of the Tien Shan to Uch Turfan, Aqsu and beyond.” While travelling back to Kashgar, west through the Muzart River valley from Kucha to Aqsu, Skrine and company met a local Kirghiz leader and bürkitshi near the settlement of Bai:

It was here that we made a new and most picturesque acquaintance, the Kirghiz headman of Qara Bulaq, Hushur Beg. As I approached the “Dusty Pass” I saw the solitary figure of a man on a horse standing on the crest of a ridge. This proved on closer inspection to be a youngish Kirghiz with a high-cheek-boned, weather-beaten face, mounted on a shaggy little Kalmuck pony. On his right wrist, which was protected by a large white fleece gauntlet and supported on the saddle by a wooden prop, he carried a magnificent hooded qara qush or black hunting-eagle. This bird, I afterwards found, measured three feet from beak to tail and over seven feet from wing-tip to wing-tip; it was a dull black in colour, with a ruff of rust-coloured feathers, yellow claws, black beak with yellow base and fine red-brown eyes. From the near side of Hushur Beg’s saddle dangled an object which puzzled me at first; it proved to be the lure with which he attracted the bird back from wandering, and consisted of a large ball made of skin from the heads of antelopes. The Beg turned out to be a thoroughly good type of man and a real sportsman, very different from the lazy and untrustworthy “Taghliks” of Pakalik and Tarlak. He was passionately fond of hawking and “eagling,” if one may coin the word; he used hawks for hares and other small game, eagles for antelopes and sometimes wolves. He told me he would not part with his favourite qara qush for a hundred taels, though it was very fierce and had more than once clawed him when hungry and rashly unhooded. I noticed that he held the string attached to its hood in his teeth, and that after unhooding it for a moment so that I could take a photograph of the two of them, he put the hood on again at once with his bridle hand. He pointed out to me the precipitous red sandstone cliffs above Abad where it had been netted as a fledgeling.

He also told me about his hawks, among which he prized most a white one from the Altai. All over Central Asia these white hawks,1 [1. Hierofalco altaiensis, Turki toighun] which are exceedingly difficult to get, are highly prized, though their performances are not, I believe, in any way superior to those of ordinary falcons. They are occasionally brought from Ili to the Aqsu market, where they fetch from fifty to a hundred taels or more. Almost every year the Mehtar (Chief) of Chitral, the Mir of Nagar or some such potentate from the Indian frontier sends men up to Kashgar to try and buy a white hawk; as often as not the messenger returns empty-handed. (p. 232-233)

Hushur Beg’s white fleece gauntlet is notable, as glove design nowadays is fairly consistent, almost always made from leather. Skrine’s keen eye was drawn to the hunter’s lure made of antelope head-skin, and this too is a technology that has disappeared. The author’s suggestion that the legendary status of tuyguns is based more on aesthetics then performance is provocative, as modern falconers more or less assume that this bird is endowed with unmatched hunting skills. Lastly, Skrine’s observations on the bird trade, with raptors broughts from Ili to be sold in Aksu and beyond, are invaluable to our understanding of the breadth and “international” nature of the falconry phenomenon during that time.

It is absurd to complain of the “bad manners” of the inhabitants, as some travellers do in similar circumstances; their curiosity is perfectly natural, and must be put up with. What Londoner would not stare, if he saw a Keriya Beg strolling down Piccadilly in full costume with an eagle on his wrist and the ladies of his harem following him at a respectful distance? (p. 118)

In the course of my studies of the Eastern Turki language I transcribed many of the songs sung by the beggars and wandering musicians. There is no more difficult task in a foreign language, and it was only with the invaluable assistance of Murad Qari that I was able to puzzle out and translate the words; Qari himself was more than once at fault, for some of the verses are very old and the singers themselves could not always explain them. The “Ballad of Said Nochi Gangung” is of Kashgari origin, and my favourite quatrain, “My white hawk hath flown from my hand,” would seem from its reference to the hills of Besh Karim, to be the work of an Artush bard. (p. 207)

My white hawk hath flown from my hand / To the hills of Besh Karim; Howsoe’er I lure her, she will not come back to my luring, She hath flown to the Garden of Paradise.2[2. The white hawk (toighun) is very highly prized in Central Asia (see p. 233). Besh Karim, to the north-east of Kashgar, is the most fertile and picturesque district of the oasis. (p. 209)

The Mir and his sons rode thoroughbred Afghan polo ponies; behind them came the “Subedar Sahib,” the Mir’s right-hand man, a jovial talkative person, to whom we took a great liking; then there were various dignitaries, “Trangpas” or headmen of villages, “Yerpas” or tax-collectors, falconers with hawks at their wrists; in the background were the stalwart lads of the bodyguard dressed in grey woollen uniforms, dark-brown ibex-hide riding-boots, and the peculiar quoit-shaped head-gear of the country; last but not least, the musicians of the State Band blew furiously on their quaint pipes and banged their drums. (p. 292)

Theodore Roosevelt

East of the Sun and West of the Moon



At Bora, the last halt before Karghalik, there were two handsome golden eagles in large wooden cages. The townsfolk use them for coursing jeron, the so-called goitred gazelle.

In one khourga we found a large hooded eagle. Its owner told us that he used it for coursing roe-deer and also for wapiti; but in the latter case he can only have meant partly grown wapiti. The eagle was not a silent bird; it called out incessantly, but the other occupants of the khourga paid no attention to it; there was a fat baby asleep in a cradle right beside the perch.

We would like to have accepted his invitation and stayed a few days with him. He had a big hooded eagle which we would have been glad to see in action, but time pressed far too heavily to admit of delaying.

William James Morden

Across Asia’s Snows and Deserts



In front of each yurt a great eagle was tethered by the leg to a pile of earth. The birds closely resembled the golden eagles of North America and were used for falconing, we were told. Winter is the falconing season, and the eagles’ prey usually consists of rabbits and other small animals, though on the Dzungarian plains they are said to bring down full grown gazelles. (p. 150)

Before leaving, we went over to the Russian Consulate to say good-bye but found they had all gone off on a two-day shoot. On the way back, we met a mounted Kirghiz who carried on his right arm a huge golden eagle. The man had a heavy leather gauntlet which covered his arm nearly to the elbow and on this the bird was perched, while the rider rested his arm on a forked stick braced against the saddle. A long, coiled leather thong was attached to the bird’s legs and a closely fitted leather hood covered its head and eyes. This the Kirghiz slipped off for us and the eagle, when unhooded, seemed quite tame and contented. We had seen golden eagles in captivity at several places in the Tekkes but this bird was the first we had seen carried about. Kirghiz and Kalmuks use these big birds for falconing. The quarry is usually such small animals as hares and young gazelle, though we were told that even full grown gazelle were sometimes brought down by them. Among the Kirghiz, falconing might be termed a major sport, with various kinds of hawks used even more extensively than eagles. (p. 260)

Owen Lattimore

The Desert Road to Turkestan



On the way down we stopped at the first tent we reached, to eat and drink. In the tent was a superb old Qazaq, who had come in with a fox skin that he wanted to barter. He carried the golden eagle that had caught the fox – a noble creature standing about two and a half feet high, grave and docile in a plumed hood. (p. 276)

Nicholas Roerich

Altai-Himalaya: A Travel Diary



A man rides past us with a falcon in his hands. The falcon hunt is still the favorite sport here.

The Kirghiz are galloping on small white horses. On their heads are many-colored, quilted helmets. Just like the ancient kuyak of Russian warriors. On the crown is a tuft of feathers of the horned owl. On the hand sometimes is a falcon with a tiny hood above the eyes. They appear like a group which might have come out of the twelfth or fifteenth centuries.

Owen Lattimore

High Tartary



Like the hound the berkut, [Eagles are also used by the Turki of the South; Skrine calls them black eagles. I think that the eagle of the North Road and the Tien Shan (berkut in Qazaq-Turki) may be a true golden eagle, and the eagle of the South Road (qara-qush in Kashgar-Turki) a darker variety of the same species. The qara-qush, however, seems also to come from the T’ien Shan; but perhaps from the southern slopes.] the great hunting eagle of the Qazaqs, is used above all for taking foxes. The eagles are captured from the nest, in itself something of an exploit for bold young men, the nest-robber beign most often swung out on a rope over bad crags and sometimes attacked by the parent eagles. The eaglet is kept hooded almost from the beginning, and fed choice meat from the hand. It is usually so well in hand by the beginning of its first season that it will return readily to a lure. It is first flown in the autumn of the year after its capture, being then more than a year old. The female, larger than the male, is always the better.

Both hawks and eagles are fasted before being cast at a quarry, hawks for seven days and eagles for as much as twenty days. When well fasted, they will strike at the first quarry sighted; otherwise they are likely to tower, waiting for a quarry of their own choice. A good eagle, when striking at a fox, will fix its talons at the back of the neck, the talons penetrating through the soft base of the skull into the brain and killing it instantly, without a flurry or damage to the pelt.

Hounds and eagles are sometimes worked together, [Long dogs and large hawks are also worked together in the chase of hares, in the Manchu or North China school of falconry] to make sure of the quarry, which in doubling back to escape the strike of the bird falls to the hounds. The Qazaqs, however, everywhere maintain that the best of eagles will take even a wolf unaided. All of them assert also that in the eagles’ eyries are found the bones and horns of full-grown roe deer (which can weigh forty pounds) and the bones of full-grown wolves. The eagles pass their prime at about seven years. After that they are still good to be flown at hares, but no longer at foxes. It is only natural to assume, however, that eagles in the wild state retain their vigor much longer. Among the Qazaqs a good eagle is a possession of much honor; it has a nominal price of two or three good horses, but in fact is rarely bought or sold. It is reserved as a present of more than usual splendor to tribal chieftains, or exchanged between close friends. (p. 106-107)

Catherine Theodora Borland Macartney

An English Lady in Chinese Turkestan



There’s a kind of mini-genre of Central Asian travel literature that came out of England in the 19th century, of British consuls and their wives writing of their adventures in Kashgar and the edge of the empire – Macartney, Etherton, Sykes, Skrine were all connected to the same royal headquarters, and they all wrote about falconry. For example, the wife of the first British consul in Kashgar, George Macartney, wrote of a summer holiday taken with a Swedish couple, three days west of Kashgar in a valley called Bostan-Terek, and there the crew met some hunters:

They sold us sheep from their flocks, and brought us various kinds of game they had hunted with falcons. Beautiful little red-legged partridges called Kek-liks, that ran over the hill sides, hares, ulla (a large bird like the Scotch capercailzie), ibex, ovis Poli, yak, and gazelle, all made a welcome change from the eternal mutton and scraggy chickens, of which we got so tired in Kashgar. p. 144

Aleksandre Polovtsoff

The Land of Timur: Recollections of Russian Turkestan



Aleksandre Polovtsoff was a Russian aristocrat born in St. Petersburg in 1867. He served in the Russian cavalry, and later worked in the Ministry of Interior Affairs and as a diplomat in India. With the Russian revolution in 1918, he emigrated to Paris, where he wrote these memoirs in 1932.

The Land of Timur tells of Polovtsoff’s travels to Samarkand, Bukhara, and other parts of Turkestan. During Polovtsoff’s reminiscence of his visit to the “Ameer of Bokhara,” he recounts the hunting traditions of the region:

Now hawking is an entirely different business when one does it oneself; it was a favourite sport in Turkestan in the Middle Ages, and is so up to the present day. I have only hawked quail personally, and I think it is greater fun than shooting. When the season for quail begins, the natives ride out with their hawks or falcons into the fields of thick, soft lucerne where the quails hide, the horses’ hoofs force them out, and then you fly, or more correctly throw, your hawk at the quail, and you have to do it so that the bird of prey shall be able to catch the game. You hold the hawk in your hand as if it were a dart or an arrow, and you have to cast it with the right speed and in the right direction, otherwise it misses its goal. It is all so jolly and gay – the natives in their brightest robes prancing around on their best horses, the dense velvety grass underfoot, the first touch of autumn in the air; there is such a charming flavour of former ages in the whole scene.

Foxes and even antelopes and wolves may also be hunted in the same way; but for catching game of this order one has to use fairly good-sized eagles. These are not common; good specimens are very highly valued and cost sometimes as much as a horse, if not more. Once when I was going on a trip into the mountains, I asked a native who possessed such an eagle to come with me and carry the bird along in case we found an opportunity for flying it. It was a heavy bird and its owner had a special saddle provided with a wooden crutch for resting it on. For two long days we met with nothing of interest, but on the third day towards sunset something suddenly appeared to move far away at the foot of a hillock. It was late summer; the grass was all scorched into a dull, greyish yellow colour, so that my European eyes were hardly able to detect the moving spot of a slightly different hue. The man at once took off the cap in which the wretched eagle had been sitting blindfold all this time; it turned its head for a fraction of a circle and catching sight at once of the running speck, it spread out its wings and with incredible directness flew straight at its prey. We galloped along as fast as our horses could carry us, but the whole thing was a failure. The eagle usually alights on the fox’s back, the fox turns round to bite it and the eagle pecks out its eyes; the blind fox then remains crushed under its enemy’s weight till the hunter rides up and kills it. But this time the fox we expected to catch turned out – as we discovered by the tufts of fur in the eagle’s claws – to be a wolf. It had managed to escape, having shown itself more than a match for the poor bird, which we picked up with its legs all bitten. (p. 115-117)

It is noteworthy that “good-sized eagles…are not common.” In Bukhara, it seems that hunting with eagles was much less common than hunting with smaller falcons and hawks. The tale of the eagle’s battering at the hands of a wolf is also insightful. While claims of wolf-hunting with eagles are epidemic, eyewitness accounts of such hunts are rare. Given the risk of hurting one’s bird on such dangerous game, it seems likely that much of the lore on wolf-hunting is apocryphal, or at the very least exaggerated.

Colonel Reginald Charles Francis Schomberg,

Peaks and Plains of Central Asia



After an illustrious career as a British military man (and likely spy), Colonel Reginald Schomberg reinvented himself as a Central Asian explorer, travelling by horseback caravan and making photographs and written records along the way. His journey through Xinjiang yielded several encounters with falconers, the first of which came while trekking near the oasis of Kelpin:

In the freezing dawn we went down into the arid purposeless desert; and suddenly we saw four horsemen, each with a great hunting golden eagle on the left wrist – a splendid sight in this wild and rugged setting. They stopped. Their eagles all cooed gently ‘Qush! Qush! Qush!’ from which they derived their Turki name – a fascinating, alluring sound, so soft and unexpected from these savage brutes with their great tearing beaks. p.25

Schomberg offers a curious etymology of the pan-Turkic “Qush”, but it seems unlikely. After all, anybody who has heard a yelping eagle knows it’s hardly “soft and unexpected”, and it sounds a lot more like “Kwerp kwerp!” than anything self-referential.

The explorer went on to stay in Kelpin for a bit, meeting the Chinese magistrate there, or amban. Even these local Han appointees enjoyed the local past time of falconry, it seems:

We had a long march on leaving Kelpin, as in Central Asia the stages are determined by the presence or otherwise of water, so that when the Amban suggested a day with the hawkers, I had to refuse and bade him a formal farewell. He had been very kind it seemed to me – especially as I probably bored him.

So we slunk away early from Kelpin in charge of a pudding-faced soldier, hoping to escape before we were discovered. But it was no use. The pudding-faced one soon gave a cry and pointed to a large mob rapidly gaining on us. There indeed was the Amban in his sporting get-up, a huge ulster, sage-green socks, goloshes, a dark blue silk gown and a Homburg hat. He was all smiles and exuded affability, and behind him came the burgesses of Kelpin, young and old, great and small. The whole scene was hospitable, picturesque, and dusty. Every one was friendly, and we felt ungracious brutes to want to get on with our journey. The smooth soft cries of the hooded eagles rose above the chatter. p.27-28

Passing through Aqsu, a town now the center of China’s ethnic Kyrgyz region, Schomberg described falconers as a common presence:

The streets are often enlivened by fortune-tellers and Kirghiz or other nomads, with their falcons and eagles on their wrists; and everywhere the quacks ply a brisk business with dozens of bags, dirty half-empty bottles, and little boxes all spread out to seize or imprison, and doubtless to slay, every passing germ. p. 35

The retired colonel travelled with a cook, Aziza, and one of the most entertaining tidbits concerns relates his slapstick encounter with a ruffled eagle:

Aziza could generally be relied on to enliven the daily routine. Perhaps one of his absurdities that amused me most was when he tied his horse to the wooden perch of an eagle, on which the bird was sleeping comfortably in the courtyard. All went well until it woke up and flapped its wings. This startled the horse and it bolted, and eagle, perch and pony, with Aziza and the falconer running after, all disappeared across country in a crescendo of squawking and banging – a ridiculous sight. p.44

Schomberg returned to Central Asia a couple years later to cover similar routes, and he wrote of Kyrygz falconers who even today still live in the Toshkan river valley near Uchturpan:

Our way lay up the Hare or Taushkan River, and we were soon in the Kirghiz country. The people were a poor lot and unlike their brethren in the Pamirs. They were deteriorating, probably because they were half-nomad and half-agriculturalist and lived too much in the town. We met many with their eagles and hawks; they were picturesque enough, but their tents and their gear were of rather inferior quality. p. 204

Following the Khotan river across the Taklamakan desert, Schomberg documented a novel training technique:

The inhabitants of this village, never a hard-worked body, were teaching their hunting eagles to catch their prey. Hares had been caught, and these were turned loose with a large ‘brush’ made of grass fastened on them, for foxes were the usual quarry and the device serves to teach the eagles. The poor hare had little chance of escape as the great birds half hopped, half flew, after them. When the hare is caught and killed the eagle is fed by its owner, but it will not release its prey until it has been hooded, when its master lifts it up and throws it carelessly on the ground before taking the huge brute on his wrist. p.223

The next page over, a supplementary photo is provided, apparently taken by Schomberg’s companion, the Captain George Sheriff:


In the books final mention of Central Asian falconry, he gives intriguing support for the existence of this tradition amongst a little-studied Central Asian ethnic group called the Dolans, who live in modern-day Makit in the Taklamakan:

We met a donkey carrying two large, flat panniers, laden with live golden eagles which were being taken to Merket to be sold to the Doulans, who were keen hawkers and paid a good price for the birds, which were all hooded and laid in neat bundles side by side. p.229-230

Henning Haslund

Tents in Mongolia



I made a note somewhere that this book features a picture captioned “The Falconer” opposite page 25…sorry, still trying to track it down! The piles of antique books are beginning to collapse on me.

Ella Maillart

Turkestan Solo



Ella Maillart was a remarkable woman – an Olympic sailor, a photographer, and a renowned travel writer. Born in Geneva, Maillart was based there much of her life, though she shuttled off so frequently to Russia, Central Asia, China and the like. At only 29 years old, she travelled across across a young Soviet Union, as of yet unimpeded by the Intourist apparatus, staying with nomads and describing her visions with an understated flair.

Somewhere in the high Tien Shan mountains of Naryn, Kyrgyzstan, accompanied by a hunter-guide named Matkerim, she happened upon three Kyrgyz falconers and some time later set them into print:

Suddenly rounding a bend, we meet the most impressive sight of all: three Kirghiz riders with eagles on their fists.

The first is wearing large, dark snow spectacles. The others gaze at us and at our mute astonishment. The birds of prey are enormous, it is the only possible word for them, so mighty that I cannot imagine what other bird could better deserve the title “king of birds”.

From the jutting shoulder the wings hang, their dark shining plumes like an armour of overlapping plates. The heads of the birds are covered with leather hoods through which they cannot see. The cries they utter sound as though ten doors were screeching on their hinges. The hooked beak is on a level with the man’s forehead. The black talons are enormous, and issue from a grey, scaly sheath of skin to grasp the leather glove which, in order that the reins may be held, is cut for only one finger and a thumb. The bird tries to tear a piece off with its beak. A slip-knot fastens a long thong to one foot. The man’s fist rests on a wooden fork socketed in the saddle.

The nape of the eagle’s neck is a tuft of white disordered feathers. The hood removed, the implacable eye appears, glittering like a jewel.

From the cruppers of a pack-horse the stiffened skins of wolves, ibex, and marmots hang in quantities.

We sight a marmot, and track it down. The bird, released from its noose, is cast off after it. It does not rise very high, then it swoops down towards the marmot, and cuts off its retreat by settling in front of the warren. The marmot, disturbed by the noise, seeks its hole for refuge, and falls into the fatal talons. The Kirghiz comes up, finishes it off, ties up the eagle again, and gives it the entrails to eat.

The marmot will end up in our soup, and Capa stakes a claim to the skin.

“It is the beginning of my fur coat,” she says, as she fastens it to her saddle.

The men are finely bred. They have straggling beards, drooping moustaches, small straight noses without much bridge, prominent cheek-bones, and the sun has made deep crow’s-feet at the corners of the eyes.

We learn that even a young eagle is able, four or five days after its first flight and accompanies by its mother, to catch a hare. At the end of a month it will attack a fox. To capture an eagle in a net, the trap is baited with a pigeon.

Then for forty days and forty nights it is worn down by being carried about always hooded. Meat is given it once a day, cut up in a dish, to which water is added. Then its eyes are uncovered so that it may see its food. When the forty days are over, the meat is fastened to a goat’s shoulder, which is removed ten paces at feeding-time. On the second occasion the goat is removed by twenty paces, and the third fifty…Thus by degrees the eagle is trained and grows accustomed to the voice of man. It is is never allowed to eat its fill, so that its shall hunt better. They tell me that a well-trained eagle is worth several horses.

Falconry, art of the Middle Ages, this land was its cradle! I think of Attila, whose banners bore a falcon for device.

Maillart got some handy information about training techniques, and she’s also the first to mention, as far as I know, the real-life use of Kyrgyz shades. I’ve read about these wooden spectacles before in ethnographies, but I’ve never heard of them actually worn.

Pavel Stepanovich Nazaroff

Moved On! From Kashgar to Kashmir



Translated by Malcom Burr, an entomologist who apparently translated Russian books in his spare time, Moved On! tells the story of a man who was chased into Central Asia for opposing the Bolsheviks. On the way east from Kashgar to the oasis of Maral-Bashi, he stumbles upon some falconers:

In the village of Urdaklyk, “The Place of Ducks,” I met a party of seven natives on horseback, and on the wrist of each sat an eagle, trained for hunting. They had come to hunt foxes.

This is a non sequiter, but I must add that the chapter notes for travel books from this period are simply golden: “The opium problem from a new angle. Excursion to Maral Bashi. Sport and natural history. Am nearly drowned.”

Peter Fleming

News from Tartary



Peter Fleming, a British aristocrat and the older brother of Ian Fleming, the creator of James Bond, travelled across China with his fellow travel writer Ella Maillart, and on his way to Srinigar he stayed for two weeks in Kashgar. There he visited the British consulate, headed by the Colonel John Wililam Thomson-Glover, where he mentioned that a hunting eagle was kept. According to Diana Shipton, a later British consul, Major Harry Hall Johnson, may also have kept falconry birds.

Ponies apart, the Consulate was well and variously supplied with livestock: dogs, pigeons, wild duck, a young camel, and an eagle, bought from the hawking Kirghiz. p.326

Select passages from Fleming’s work can be read through the snippet view on Google Books.

Edward Murray

With the Nomads of Central Asia



I found Edward Murray’s “With the Nomads of Central Asia” in the January 1936 edition of National Geographic, but it was also reprinted by Nicholas and Nina Shoumatoff in their travel literature compendium Around the Roof of the World. They provide a nice little bio and intro:

Edward Stevenson Murray (1909-85) was born in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. After graduating in 1930 from Coe College in Cedar RApids, he joined the faculty of Robert College, an American institution in Istanbul. Several of his students were from Central Asia, and it was in response to their invitation that he undertook ane xtended journey to that part of the world. In the autumn of 1934, he arrived at Kuldja (Xinyuan), a bustling former Silk Route town in northwest Sinkiang (Xinjiang), populated by various groups of Muslims, Buddhists, and carousing Russians. The following June, he set off alone on horseback to spend the summer ont he upper pastures of the Tekes Valley, a fabled “plateau paradise” at the feet of the highest Tien Shan peaks.

While in the Tekes, Murray met a young Kyrgyz falconer:

Morning found us up at daybreak, for people who live close to the earth waste none of the best hours of the day. A young Kirghiz took me down the ravine to the stream bank to show me his gaming eagle; it looked like an American golden eagle, was hooded, and tied to a three-legged perch.

He showed me a small illik (Tien Shan roe deer) it had caught the day before. When in the velvet, the immature illik horns, as well as those of other deer, bring a fine price, because the Chinese buy them for medicinal purposes.

In the Tekes, hunting with falcons and eagles is a traditional sport. There are gay hawking days when the men go off on horseback, the hooded birds fettered to the hunter’s leather-protected arm. When the quarry is seen or suspected of being in the vicinity, the bird is unhooded and released; it soars up and pounces on the prey, to be recaptured again with the prize. In addition to the small game and illik hunted with eagles, there are ibex, ovis poli, bears, snow leopards, wolves, and foxes.

Gustav Krist

Alone Through the Forbidden Land: Journeys in Disguise through Soviet Central Asia



Gustav Krist had one of those stranger-than-fiction lives, whose stories were so wild his grandchildren would never have believed him. He was an Austrian soldier who was wounded and captured by the Russians in World War I, then sent to a POW camp in present-day Uzbekistan. He escaped, was captured, escaped, was captured, before the Russian revolution threw the whole region into disarray – but Krist still went back, disguising himself as an Uzbek geologist! He was such a savant with languages that he could pass.

While travelling in the Alay mountains, Krist came across some “Qara Qirghiz” hawking:

In summer the men go off to hunt with their hawks and eagles, or shot the nimble ibex with the ancient muzzle-loading matchlock on its forked rest. p. 130

Later, he describes Kazakhs (here called Qirghiz, confusingly) that hunted gazelles, and he detailed the training method required for this impressive feat:

In the Amu Darya regions I had often had opportunity to observe Qirghiz hunting gazelle with eagles. The moment a herd of these incredibly fleet deer are disturbed they take to flight, with the Qirghiz, on their swiftest horses, at their heels. The eagle is perched on its owner’s arm. At the right moment he snatches off its hood and flings the bird from him. Swift as an arrow the eagle overtakes the gazelles, swoops on its victim, and pecks out its eyes. The wretched deer falls to the ground blinded and in agony, and is whisked into the saddle by the galloping hunter, and borne home in triumph to his yurt.

Once in Burdalik I was able to watch how the Qirghiz train their hunting eagles. The heads of freshly slaughtered sheep were set up on poles and the Qirghiz taught the young eagles to go at once for the eye-sockets, which were filled with red chunks of raw meat continually renewed. p. 131

He also came across a bird dealer in a bazaar somewhere in Central Asia (I’ve lost track of where, unfortunately, as the book is not available online).

Riding through the bazaar I saw a dealer in birds of prey who trained and sold eagles, falcons, and buzzards for the chase. p. 165

A Dealer in Birds of Prey with Hunting Eagle
It seems unlikely that people were using buzzards as hunting birds – perhaps it was a different kind of eagle? In his last small mention of falconry, Krist got to see the Kazakhs training their birds one more time:

Some Qirghiz had pitched their yurts between the fortress and the river and I now got the chance to see them training eagles and falcons for the chase. p.221

Baron Carl Gustaf Emil Mannerheim

Across Asia from West to East in 1906-1908



Carl Mannerheim is that strange anomaly, a future head of state who happened to also mention the tradition of Kyrgyz eagle hunting in his memoirs. Mannerheim is now considered the father of modern Finland, but he was born into the Russian empire and rose in the ranks of the Imperial Russian Army. At the age of forty, in 1906, he was asked to make a surreptitious journey through Turkestan to Beijing, disguised as an ethnographer, in order to collect information for the possible Russian invasion of Xinjiang. We must rejoice at Mannerheim’s choice of an alter ego, for he subsequently left a wealth of fascinating ethnographic information, with photos and observations galore.

His diary was not published until 1940, for “want of time.” In the entry for March 9th, 1907, Baron Mannerheim writes of a short jaunt south of the city of Aksu, in Chinese Turkestan or modern-day Xinjiang. There, in a village called “Khotan Kimässi”, he remarks on his first sight of a hunting eagle:

We spent the night in a more than usually miserable hut. The village consists of five houses built partly of lumps of clay, but otherwise only of sticks and branches with no clay at all or very little. They are only inhabited in the winter by some Qaratalliks, who bring their cattle here and return in the summer to kill their plots of field. From the style of building, however, you would sooner take the houses for summer than winter quarters. Some fishing is done here; in two of the huts there were nets reminiscent of our warping-nets. An eagle was chained to a perch in front of one of the huts. A leather cap drawn over both his eyes quells any desire to hunt at an unsuitable time. -p. 166

The area in general was called Qaratal by the locals, and it was common in that time for people to be called not according to any ethnicity but according to their locality (Kashgarliks, for example). The form of nomadism described differs from the usual Kyrgyz pattern, but it’s hard to say from such little material whether this eagle could be said to be trained by a Kyrgyz, a Uyghur, or whichever; it’s better to just leave it at “Qaratallik.”

After continuing northwest in the direction of Gulja and staying with communities of Buddhist Kalmyks, Mannerheim arrives on May 13th at a “Kirghiz camp at Kharosun.” The camp is placed near the Aghias gorge, which remains obscure, but the Kirghiz are said to summer in the Tekes valley, a region shared these days between east Kyrgyzstan and Xinjiang. In Kharosun, Mannerheim stays with a local leader who shows his respect through the appointment of a guardian eagle:

My host, who is the judge among a population of 100 yurts, had put up a very well furnished kibitka for me. A huge dark-brown eagle, trained to hunt, had been placed at the entrance as a sentinel in my honour. My host said that he hunted wolves with this eagle. (p. 233)

Mannerheim even took a photo of the eagle security for posterity.

“An eagle trained for hunting, placed as a guard of honour outside my yurt in the Kirghiz camp on May 13th” Photo on p. 234

“An eagle trained for hunting, placed as a guard of honour outside my yurt in the Kirghiz camp on May 13th” Photo on p. 234

Douglas Carruthers

Beyond the Caspian



To be fair, Beyond the Caspian should perhaps not be considered travel literature, as it does not trace the story of one particular journey, but consists of the recollections and research of Douglas Carruther’s entire Asia-going life. Yet it is indispensable in any bibliography, for one rarely finds a text on Central Asian falconry that is so carefully-considered and informed in its opinions. Carruthers’ position as a naturalist-biologist extraordinaire is always evident, as he dishes on the varieties of eagles and prey in passages like these:

I wondered why the Kirghiz never used their trained eagles in the chase, since the wolf is one of their favourite quarries, but was told that they dislike using their hunting-eagles at this season. Eagles have great powers of fasting; in consequence they are difficult to get into yarak, that is to say into keen flying condition, at any time, and more especially during the summer months, when the birds, being dull, often abscond. It is preferable to reserve them for the winter’s sport, when they fly better. But another reason may be that, since their use is largely utilitarian, as a means of procuring good fur, their owners forego these risky summer flights when pelts are in poor condition.

The Golden Eagle must be fairly common in these parts, judging by the numbers one sees in captivity. Hawking with eagles (I use the word intentionally, for since falconers “hawk” with either falcon or hawk, I presume they “hawk” with eagles) is a favourite pastime of the sedentary people and the nomads alike. It is somewhat select in that it is only the yeoman farmers, Begs, Khans, and such-like, who can afford them. For although an eagle may be said to be worth a horse or two, a good one seldom comes on the market, for he is priceless. They are taken from the nest, of course, not caught on passage, but occasionally adult birds may be captured, for they can be easily ridden down when gorged on carrion. These will sometimes submit to training. In early stages they are wrapped up in a sheep-skin, in the same way as the Dutchmen use a sock – the lower portion of a worsted stocking, either of which making an ideal straight-jacket for the purpose. They are probably no more difficult to train and handle than a Goshawk, a bird of somewhat similar temperament and inclined to the same faults: sulkiness, for example. But they vary individually in character, some being easy to handle, others impossible to train at all.

Eagles are entered to fur only, which they clutch and hold. [According to Gordon and Bellew they are occasionally flown at herons and wild-geese; and some writers say bustard.] They “bolt” or fly straight from the fist at the quarry. They cannot be “cast” as falcons are, nor thrown as short-winged hawks usually are, and always should be. When let fly, they do not mount aloft in order to stoop onto the quarry, therefore the actual flight is a somewhat dull show, neither impressive to watch, nor exciting to follow, apart from the actual “kill”; the eagle just flaps along, and without apparent effort easily overtakes its victim. There is no thrill, no swift thrust up into the sky, and no sudden stoop earthwards. Having seen one flight you have seen the lot, there being little variation except in the nature of the quarry.

Herein lies the excitement of the chase, for the quarry consists mostly of foxes, gazelle, wolves, and, in earlier days, the Saiga antelope. It is said that a good eagle can kill a wolf unaided, but I have never seen it happen. Some authorities, Levchine for instance, declare that if a wolf is too strong, and goes off with the eagle still hanging on to it, the eagle is able to hold it with one foot and anchor itself with the other, until the wolf exhausts itself in the struggle! Believe it or not, but one must remember that smaller birds of prey, such as Peregrines and Sakers, are habitually flown at gazelle in other countries. These Tian Shan wolves may be a trifle smaller than the Siberian or Tundra wolf, but the difference would scarcely be discernible to any but an expert eye.

Occasionally larger game, such as deer – hinds and calves for choice – form the quarry, but this can only happen when the deer inhabit suitable country, such as river-jungles on the plains, and not forests in the mountains. Generally speaking, however, larger game is not flown at, unless it is in conjunction with men and dogs, and then the eagle may be used to advantage. In these cases, however, it is not employed to kill, but to fluster the quarry, and so to bring it to bay and bag. Even as the Badawin are in the habit of flying their Saker falcons, succoured by greyhounds, to take ibex and gazelle.

The early accounts, and pictures, of eagles pulling down and killing unaided, full-grown stags, are, of course, “travellers’ tales” embellished by an artistic imagination. In those dark days of ignorance there was little or no zoological discrimination; “antelope and deer” of the books on this region prior to the twentieth century mostly referred to gazelle, and in some cases possibly to saiga. In like manner, “lions and tigers” employed in the same lax manner as British boys use “blackbirds and thrushes” might refer to any beast of prey or carrion feeder, not excluding cheeta and hyena. This makes identification difficult.

Roe-deer, especially the fawns, may form part of the wild eagle’s diet, but they would not always be satisfactory quarry at which to fly trained birds, owing to the nature of the country in which they live; however, in certain suitable localities they are a favourite quarry. On the other hand we do know that eagles are used at wild-boar hunts. They are certainly employed by the natives of the Tarim for this purpose, the eagle being used to bring the wild-pig to bay so that the hunters are enabled to close in and club the victim to death. In this case, obviously, the eagle has little more than a nuisance value, but it is sufficient to fluster the quarry to the extent of putting him at the mercy of unmounted and poorly-armed men.

The same applies to the “Haukes” which Anthony Jenkinson saw being used by the Tartars to take wild horses. This was “beyond the Caspian” in 1559. Presumably the “Haukes ” would have been eagles, and the wild horses, the Kulan, or little horse-ass so numerous in those days in the region twixt Aral and Caspian. Jenkinson does not credit the “Haukes” with the killing of this unusual quarry, but notes correctly that they are used as an accessory, to bewilder the hunted animal – “The Haukes are lured to sease upon the beastes neckes or heads, which with chasing of themselves and sore beating of the Haukes are tired: then the hunter following his game, doeth slay the horse with his arrowe or sword!”

Up here they call the eagle Berkut, a name which although of Turki-Tartar origin, seems to have passed into the Russian language. Pallas, a German, writing for Russians, distinctly states that the eagle was called “Berkut by the Tartars,” and neither the Tartars, nor Baber three hundred years earlier, would have had to resort to the Slavonic language for a name for their own favourite bird pour la chasse au vol.

The settled Turki-speaking races call it Kush or Kara Kush fas Black eagle. The Chinese use the same adjective for our Golden eagle. Kush is literally the equivalent of our bird-of-prey, the place (Mews) where either falcons, hawks or eagles are kept during the moult being termed Kush Khana. The nomads usually set them on blocks beside their tents, but I have seen them being weathered on stunted poplar trees. It has been suggested that the Berkut of the north side of the Tian Shan and the Kush of the southern side are different varieties, but this is not so. The Golden eagle may not be one and the same bird from the Hebrides to Kamtchatka, but its variations throughout this wide range are very slight. The Russians split their Russian Golden eagles into four geographical forms, which can be described (roughly) as Western, Central, Eastern and Southern. The Southern form is distributed over the whole of “our” Central Asia, all Middle Asia, in fact, bounded by the Kirghiz steppes, the Altai and the Himalayas. This bird is Aquila chrysaetos intermedia Severtzov (daphanea Menzbier), and this is the bird which is caught up and trained as Berkut or Kush. It is actually a trifle larger and darker than the other forms. Some of the northern tribes, such as the Kirei of the Altai who are great sportsmen, may use their locally caught eagles, and these, according to Russian classification, would be the variety they call obscurior Sushkin (kamtschatica Severtzov). In earlier times the Western race, Aquila chrysaetos chrysaetos, was used as well ; for we know, from Pallas, that there was a regular eagle-market at Orenburg, where, up to the end of the eighteenth century, the local Bashkirs traded young untrained birds from the Ural mountains to the Kirghiz [Kazaks], This is of considerable interest. The Tartar invaders had carried this purely Asiatic form of falconry with them into Europe (if it had not been brought there by earlier waves of Turanian immigrants), even as they had introduced it into China ; and for a while Muscovite Grand-Dukes and Chinese Emperors enjoyed alike the same form of sport. I call it purely Asiatic, because, although falconry had been in vogue in Russia since earliest historical times, I can find no record of the eagle being trained and used there, except by people of Asiatic origin, such as the Bashkirs, until after the Mongol invasion. It had doubtless been fostered and kept alive in Russia by that element of Turkish origin which was left behind there when the Mongol flood receded. The market at Orenburg was probably the last vestige of the declining sport as practised in Russia between the thirteenth and seventeenth centuries. [The single instance of eagles being brought from Orenburg to be flown at bagged wolves and foxes on the Tolstoi estates in 1856, would appear to have formed part of the Coronation celebrations on the occasion of the accession of the Emperor Alexander II.] The custom gradually died out in both Europe and the Far East, ending where it began in the very heart of Asia. I have never seen, nor heard of, a trained hunting-eagle being used in Asia at the present day outside the limits of its original home. Although the Mongols used the eagle as a device on their battle-standards, we are left in doubt as to whether it was they, or their co-aggressors, the Turkish tribes, who were the principal exponents of the art. We do know, however, that it is only the Turkish branch of the Turanians who continue to practise it now. p.155-161

In a discussion of the desert rodent called the Jerboa, Carruthers mentions that they make good bird food:

They are edible, and their flesh is said to have the peculiarity of being cool, even when freshly killed ; therefore falconers like to use them as a special diet for hawks in moult. p. 64

Carruthers tells of how the Bukharan falconers were so skilled that they nearly wiped out local pheasant populations:

But later on the local falconers came along, took their toll and scared the birds to such an extent that after they had passed by I could not find a pheasant. But it was a goodly sight the cavalcade of gaily-clad Bukharans, well-mounted, and flying perfectly-trained hawks ranging along the river bank. It was as if a Persian miniature had suddenly come to life. They worked the best ground, wasted no time, and killed a lot, for they were evidently adepts at the game. This is not surprising considering the length of time they have practised it, for their ancestors must have been masters of the art thousands of years before ours had tried their hand at it. They flew Goshawks mostly. But, as I have said, when they had gone by, it was almost impossible to find a pheasant. p. 84

Somewhere near the Kyrgyz Alai, Carruthers notes seeing many falconers:

There were no nomad encampments along my route but I passed great flocks of sheep that were being driven down to market on the plains below, and occasionally parties of Kirghiz, wayfarers like myself – men in company, on pleasure or business bent. Many carried falcons and I noted that these were always carried right-handed – not left, as in Europe – and yet the art originated in these parts. p.152

Carruthers has one more long digression on falconry, discussing net construction and gyrfalcon terminology:

This great concentration of game, both fur and feather, attracted all the birds of prey into the same zone- The native falconers, or their retainers, took advantage of this to catch the passage hawks. I stumbled one day on to an old man, hidden in a booth of brushwood, who was waiting at one end of a long string. At the other end of the string, out on a clearing in the jungle, was the trap, which reminded me so much of what I had read of the hawk-catchers in Holland that I examined the contrivance more closely. The net, of very fine cord but of a large mesh, was hung on thin wands arranged in a circle, converging upward to a narrow mouth. Inside this was placed a captive pigeon, which the fowler in his hide could make flutter by pulling the string. The wild hawk would stoop at the decoy and become entangled in the netting, which would automatically fall in on him. Self-caught, as it were: there was no clap-net contrivance about it. Crude but efficient, for one had already been caught that day, and it lay there trussed up like a mummy in the booth beside the fowler. It ought to be a profitable business, if one had the patience, for the value of haggards is high. There was no butcher-bird to give the alarm, as the Dutchmen use; nor was there any need of them for the whole valley was alive with hawks; in fact, they probably caught too many of the sort they did not want. Those they chiefly required were Goshawks, Sakers, and Shikras, but their ambition was a Peregrine or a Gyr-falcon.

I never saw Peregrines in use by native falconers, although, of course, a Central Asian form, babylonicus, is here in a wild state and is trained. Nor did I ever see, or hear of, the celebrated “White Falcon,” which presumably is a Gyr-falcon, a northern breed with a great reputation, and much in demand. They are fare, and like so many treasures are hard to come by. The Altai is their nearest home, but they are said also to nest in parts of the Tian Shan: they certainly come down here in the winter.

Although this species in general is confined to very high latitudes of the Northern Hemisphere, both Palaearctic and Nearctic, one form of Gyr-falcon is to be found in the highlands of Central Asia. This race, known as Falco rusticolus altaicus Menzbier (synonyms Falco gyrfalco altaicus, Hierofalco altaicus, Hierqfalco lorenzi Menzbier), is resident over a small area along the north-western fringe of the Central Asian plateau, from the Altai to the Tian Shan – ranging further afield in winter. It might be considered a “Relict” of the glacial period.

The local Turki name, according to a reliable source (Skrine) is toighun, a word used, I believe, for a light form or albino of any species. But it is more widely known as shunkar, which, according to Pallas, is Bashkir-Tartar for Gyr-falcon, the same word appearing in Persian and Chinese literature. This name has been called “disputed” for the simple reason, I think, because it has been misapplied; and the following may be the explanation. In old days, when the Gyr-falcon was less rare, and the art of falconry more in vogue, Oriental potentates were accustomed to receive their annual quota of these birds from the far north. Shunkars often appeared in the lists of presents sent by one great man to another. An Emperor of China bestowed them on Shah Rukh at Herat; Muscovite Czars despatched them to London, Stambul, Tehran and Bukhara; even the falconers of Hindustan received a few. Gyr-falcons must have been common in those days, and their fame wide-spread. Eventually, however, with a slump in the practice of the art of falconry and a decline in the supply of Gyr-falcons, the traffic in them to foreign parts died out. The Gyr-falcon became a rarity outside its natural home, but the magic name endured in Central Asia and became a synonym for any falcon that showed signs of being a little larger and lighter-coloured than usual. Thus it came about that the large pale falcon of the Saker type, which Henderson discovered, and Jerdon and Hume described from Chinese Turkestan in 1870, bore the native name of shunkar, or more precisely kyzyl-chunkar (Dementiev) the Red Gyr-falcon, and this seems to be the origin of the Shanghar Falcon of ornithological nomenclature. This bird, however, is not a Gyr- falcon but a Saker, Falco cherrug milvipes Jerdon, or hendersoni Hume. [Opinion varies as to whether milvipes and hendersoni are con-specific or not. The most recent authority on the subject, Dementiev 1947, separates them, hendersoni being the resident Saker of the Tibetan plateau, and milvipes a partial migrant over the region north-east Mongolia – North China.] I sometimes wonder whether the identification of this Tibetan Saker with the famed shunkar is justifiable.

To return to the local falconers. I felt that the native methods of taking them were all rather backward and inefficient, but that, with a little more intelligence and the incentive of a better market, the whole business could be greatly improved. I cannot imagine a more suitable locality for the job. Seeing their methods made me wonder whether the art of falconry was as highly developed up here as it is in India and Persia. I doubt it. For instance, I never saw dogs properly handled as they should be to hunt in conjunction with hawks. When used they were run in packs, and not limited to a sporting and well-trained couple. On the other hand, the Central Asians should be pre-eminent at falconry. They live in ideal country, they own good horses and useful dogs, there is any quantity of game in great variety, and they have unlimited time on their hands. p.208-212

The text can be read in full at the Internet Archive.

Diana Shipton

The Antique Land



The wife of Eric Shipton, the British Consul General in Kashgar, wrote a memoir recalling her stint in Xinjiang, and in it a section detailing her husband’s hunting hobby, she mentions the falconry practices of local “Turkis” (what we’d now call Uyghurs):

Two ancient sports still popular in Sinkiang are hawking and eagling. Eric’s predecessor had been fascinated by the former and wanted us to buy his hawks. But one abortive afternoon out with the birds confirmed Eric’s preference for shooting. Training the hawks may be a fascinating interest. It certainly seems a delicate business.

According to Lhakpa’s information the trainer has to carry the captured hawk about with him everywhere for several weeks. He takes it into the bazaar to accustom it to men, to horses and to noise. He allows it little sleep; even at night he must walk it about to wear down its resistance. It is kept hungry and only allowed a small amount of bloodless meat each day. An ordinary, juicy bit of meat makes the hawk too fat. When the bird is in a state of hunger and submission, a long piece of string is attached to it, the trainer holds a piece of meat in his hand and calls. Gradually the bird learns to come to the food, learns to know his master and can then be trained to catch small game. A hawk can catch hares and pigeons quite easily, but is not very successful with duck. It can only fly fast for a very short distance; it cannot catch the duck on the water; two things which reduce its value considerably. Admittedly from little experience, it seemed to us that unless the hawk could see sitting ducks, on land, half asleep and therefore slow to take off, it had slight chance of catching one. The hawk must see the duck before the duck sees the hawk.

One morning three men on horseback arrived at the Consulate, after a week spent eagling near the hills. They gave us two gazelles and a fox, part of a large “bag” caught by the eagles. The birds perched on the men’s heavily gloved wrists; little leather hoods covered their eyes and at intervals they gave loud, penetrating cries. They were magnificent in size but evil looking in their fierceness – with huge curved beaks and wicked claws. When the hoods were taken off glinting, brilliant eyes made them yet more frightening. The men told us that it takes about a year to train an eagle for hunting. According to one owner they can live for twenty or thirty years.

The hunters go out into the desert on horses, and when any game is seen they race to cut it off before it reaches the hills. Then they release their eagles. For a good rider it must be an exhilarating sport – watching the huge bird flying strongly to sweep down on its prey and then galloping up to retrieve the animal. But I never saw it in practice. p. 67-68

Shipton notes that her husband’s predecessor as consul was fascinated by local hawking, but unfortunately that man, Major Harry Hall Johnson, seems to have left barely a trace in the historical record. The part about the eaglers bringing back two gazelles is also quite valuable, as it confirms that gazelles were not only flown on but were successfully caught as well.

On page 64, we find a nice photo of a falconer as well:

Diana Shipton eagle photo

The book can be read in its entirety after registering for a pass at Open Library.

Harold William Tilman

China to Chitral



Harold “Bill” Tilman became famous for pioneering Himalayan ascents, but he is less known for the climbs he failed to complete. Tilman’s friend Eric Shipton was the British Consul in Kashgar (his wife Diana Shipton has a book in this bibliography), and he invited the mountaineer out for an attempt on Bogdo Ola. Often called Mount Bogeda in today’s Sinified style, it’s the highest peak in the Eastern Tien Shan, but Tilman and Shipton didn’t quite make it. Tilman had a good sense of humor about it, writing, “The less successful a mission, the more reason there is to wrap its lame conclusion in a cloud of verbiage.” And thus we were given this work, from whence we get a nice photo of a hunting eagle.

Shipton and Tilman travelled with a sherpa and a Hunza mail courier whose name they forgot – they chose to nickname him “Hill Billy”. Hill Billy had a falconer friend, it seems, and a photo shows him with his swaddled eagle in transit:

Tilman - Hill Billy

Godrey Lias

Kazak Exodus



Godfrey Lias was a British journalist who wrote of plight of Kazakh refugees during the Cultural Revolution in China.

In a hagiographic first chapter, Lias describes the early life of Osman Batyr, a Kazakh political leader who led his clan’s escape from Xinjiang. Osman was a falconer himself, something he inherited from his father Islam Bai:

When Osman started to crawl, he was left just as much to his own devices as when he had been lying in his cot. His mother was too busy doing her share of the household chores to watch over him, and his father spent most of his days out of doors, generally with his animals, but sometimes hunting either with his shotgun or, more often, especially in winter, with his hunting eagle. p. 27

The author later explains that falconry was mostly prized for the furs it helped acquire:

He also learnt how to train the hunting eagles his family kept to catch the Altai foxes they needed for the skins with which they lined their clothes. p. 58

Lias later treats us to a wonderful extended account of a hunting trip:

Most loved of all sports was hawking, though the birds the Kazaks use are neither hawks nor falcons but eagles standing two to three feet high and often with a wing-spread of over six feet. Well-to-do Kazaks, and many who were less well-to-do, used to carry a hooded eagle on their gauntleted wrists which they supported on a stick stuck into a special hole in the saddle.

Hawking, however, was not a sport to be enjoyed alone and friends were generally invited to share in the fun. The Kazak story would not be complete without a description of a hawking party, partly because it was a feature of their way of life and partly because it epitomises and illustrates Kazak guerilla tactics in battle. So let us join Ali Beg, Yunus Hajji and young Hamza on a hawking expedition in the Tien Shan and see for ourselves what happens.

The sun has just risen as the little cavalcade sets forth laughing and joking in a ragged line behind the eagle-owner. There are white clouds round ‘the waists of the Three Sisters whose white-capped heads tower invisibly right above them. Maybe it will rain later in the day—it usually does on the northern slopes of the Tien Shan where there are very many thunderstorms in the summer, and days of steady snow in the winter, although on the other side of the range, scarcely a hundred and fifty miles away to the south, are the terrible Thirsty Mountains where rain practically never falls at all.

As the horses bear their riders up the twisting tracks over the hillside, someone starts to sing. The eagle stirs a little uneasily on its master’s wrist at the first notes, but its eyes are hooded so that it cannot see to fly away. Besides, by now it has been long enough in captivity to know and trust its master. So it simply digs its talons a little deeper into the leather gauntlet on which it is sitting and gives its undivided attention to the task of not letting its balance be upset by the movement of the horse.
As befits a happy occasion, the song is generally a gay love song or a ballad and soon everyone is joining in. But sometimes, the singer sings a song he has composed himself—the words, not the music—in which case everyone listens for the joke which is almost bound to come in each verse and then joins heartily in the chorus:


which goes rolling across the great moraines and woods on the other side of the narrowing valley and is tossed back and forth till the echoes are drowned in another stanza.

“How much farther are you going to take us?” shouts someone from the rear, when the party has had its fill of singing. “My horse is not shod for riding over glaciers—not at this time of year.”

“Don’t you see,” suggests another. “His eagle has had so many failures lower down, he has to take us where the hares and foxes haven’t met it before. Otherwise the bird wouldn’t dare show its beak.”

“You’ve got it wrong,” says a third. “He wants to get us up in the clouds so we won’t see the poor thing miss.”

The eagle owner smiles but does not answer. For the whole of the preceding week, the keen eyes of his retainers have been reconnoitring the mountain valleys, first marking down in their minds likely spots in which a fox, or maybe a wolf, might be found in the open at the right time of day.

When they think they have found one, they report back:

“Up in Twittering Bird Valley beyond the open meadow by the side of the little blue lake, a vixen leads her cubs to the waterside each morning two hours after sunrise.”

“In the Vale of Ravens where there is a tall pine tree with an open space round it, a lone wolf basks in the sun till an hour before noon.”

“How big is the wolf?” asks the eagle-owner.

“It is eight spans from the muzzle to the base of the tail—a gaunt beast and its hide is rough and scarred.”

“Thinkest thou that I will fly my eagle at such a scarecrow? Or at a vixen with her cubs? Shame on ye both!” shouts the bird’s owner. “Find me a worthier quarry or it shall go ill with the pair of you.”

So the retainers try again. And this time one returns with the news that a full-grown wolf with no mate following behind it trots each morning across a meadow at the bottom of a valley, the narrow sides of which are covered by gaunt rocks and low bushes.

“It is good,” says the owner of the eagle. “I will go and see.” And, having reached the spot, he notes carefully the time at which the wolf appears and marks in his mind whence it came and where it is going. Then he seeks out a cleft in the rocks high above the meadow from which he can launch the eagle at exactly the right moment before the wolf disappears from sight behind a boulder. Finally, he finds a place in which to leave the horses out of sight or smell of the wolf, estimates precisely the time needed to reach his vantage point from where the horses will be tethered and returns home to fix the day and time of starting and to invite his friends.

So presently the party reaches the spot the eagle-owner has pre-selected and he dismounts, whereupon if there has been singing it ceases immediately and everyone follows his example. He points out to them where the strike is to be made and then they all melt into the hillside climbing noiselessly to high vantage points overlooking the place chosen for the encounter.

For a time, there is utter silence except for the occasional shriek of a bird high above them, or the bleat of a mountain goat or the shrill, piercing whistle of a marmot. Then, suddenly, a long grey shadow appears on the green grass loping lazily down the tortuous, narrow track from the distant col at the head of the valley. “By Allah!” say the watchers to themselves. “A wolf! No cub either, but a full-grown male in the prime of life, moving without haste and not a finger’s-breadth less than ten spans! A formidable beast, indeed! Will the eagle be launched at such a quarry? Which will win if it is?”

They are not left long in doubt. The eagle, unhooded suddenly, rises into the air and looks around for an instant and then sees the wolf. The great bird is ravenous after two days of fasting and does not hesitate but swoops, swoops, down, down, not like a stone or a bullet, but with silently flapping wings, remorselessly, unerringly, a winged avenger, fearless, sure-winged, implacable. As the wolf moves forward unsuspectingly, the eagle strikes its great talons deep behind the beast’s head. Knocked over sideways by the force of the impact, it rolls over, gnashing and biting, trying to use claws and teeth on its assailant while the eagle strikes furiously for the wolf’s eyes with its curved beak. In a matter of moments, the fight is over and the wolf is dead.

Immediately there is a wild scramble by the watchers. All leap to their feet and race for their horses—rather breathlessly, some of them, even though it is downhill, for Kazaks are always more at home on horseback than on their feet. However, in an incredibly short time they mount and gallop to the scene of the combat where they find the owner of the bird has already re-hooded his eagle and is busy skinning the wolf. When he has finished doing so, he unhoods his bird again and lets it gorge itself to the full on the wolf’s carcase.

“A fine bird,” comments one. “Wai yapramai! The wolf was dead in three minutes, and slain by the eagle alone without the help of hunting dogs.”

“Ay, of course it was,” agrees someone else. “With such a bird and such a trainer. Nevertheless, look at the size of the wolf. See! the skin measures nine and a half spans from muzzle to the base of the tail.”

“Does not the eagle measure as much and more from wing to wing?” asks another jealously, knowing that he would not dare to set his own bird at anything larger than a fox.

“More than thou dost from outstretched fingers to fingers.” laughs someone. “Verily, if that eagle were matched against thee, I know which would be the winner even if thou hadst a sword in thy hand for the contest.”

“That is ill-said by one who lost the joint of his first finger to the beak of an eagle,” replies the other.

Though such a mishap is unusual, it is one which could easily happen through carelessness. The captured eagle respects only its own master who treats it, first with deliberate cruelty and then, when it has been trained, with the utmost care and attention. So an understanding is established between the two, and on the side of the man at least, it often develops into real affection. But the bird, even though it accepts its master, remains suspicious of all others. To them it is still wild, intractable, savage, dangerous.

The eagles are caught in the winter. The hunter first makes a snare of white string, twenty strands, each with another twenty joined to it by running knots. He lays this snare on the ground and then, when the first snow covers it completely, he ties a live chicken nearby. The chicken squawks, the eagle swoops, and, when it tries to rise again with the dead chicken in its talons, the nooses run together round its legs and it is helpless. The snare-setter rushes up, throws a cloth over the struggling bird and then, with both hands well gauntleted, fixes a hood over the eagle’s head so that it cannot see to fly away when he releases it from the cloth and the snare.

The next stage is to drive two stakes in the ground and tie a length of string between them. One end of another, shorter, piece of string is attached to the eagle’s leg and its other end to one of the stakes. As the string round its leg is too short to allow the unfortunate bird to sit on the ground, it is thus forced to try to keep its balance on the first piece of string, otherwise it would soon be hanging head downwards in space. It is kept like this, hooded, for literally days and nights on end —ten is about the maximum—until the trainer is sure dial it is too tired to fly away. Occasionally its captor unhoods it and gives it a mouse, or a hare, and a very little water; not enough of either food or drink to satisfy it but enough to keep it alive, and whet its appetite for more.
When its captor thinks he can safely do so, he rehoods the bird and lets it sit, still tethered, on his gauntleted wrist while he rides round the encampment. If it behaves itself, he gives it a much thicker piece of string to sit on when he goes home, then a stick, and, finally, it is promoted to the branch of a nearby tree. But he always keeps it tethered for he knows it would fly at anyone but himself—which, in general, is what he wants, for it prevents anyone trying to steal it. Moreover it must remain savage or it would not kill.

The great day comes at last when the eagle’s owner takes it up into the hills to make its first strike. He does not feed it for two whole days beforehand and he is careful to fly it at a quarry which is not too far away. Thus he is able to get to the place before the bird has eaten its fill. By the time he arrives, the eagle is already tearing its prey to pieces and ravenously devouring the raw flesh. But, as it knows its owner and is busy eating, it allows him to approach without flying away. He re-hoods it, quickly skins the animal—he needs the skins to line his clothes with—and then gives the carcase back to the eagle. Surprisingly soon, the bird learns that it will always be allowed to eat what it has caught and from that moment a bond is established between man and bird which lasts till one or the other dies. p. 86

The text also includes a photograph of a Kazakh hunter.

"A Kazakh 'falconer' with his eagle"

“A Kazakh ‘falconer’ with his eagle”

The text can be read in full at a site hosted by a mysterious organization called

Viktor Vitkovich

Kirghizia Today



In this carefully-orchestrated travelogue of Soviet propaganda, the author introduces us to the glories of Kirghizia (modern-day Kyrgyzstan). One of the sights he shares with readers is a falconry festival at the Bishkek hippodrome, where hunters with hawks and eagles hunt bagged game, just as they do today:

Kush salu and bürküt-salu are hunting contests. As the huntsmen with hawks on hands encased in leather mittens ride into the centre of the hippodrome, pheasants and mountain partridges are released from the other side of the field. The hawks soar into air, attack and sink their talons into their prey and bring it to their masters. Then a fox races across the hippodrome. The huntsman with a golden eagle sitting on a horn resting on the pommel lifts the hood off the bird’s head. The great bird spreads its wings and sails high into the sky. Catching sight of its prey, it drops like a stone on the fox’s head, holding it to the ground and announcing its victory with a loud cry. The huntsman gallops up, takes the eagle and again pulls the hood over its head. The next moment a wolf is seen speeding across the field with taigans (Kirghiz borzois) bounding after it and huntsmen bringing up the rear. Wolf-baiting with taigans is the last item of the performance by huntsmen.

“If the hunter is skilled he will make even the hen-harrier bring down a bustard.” The Kirghizes hunt with birds to this day. Around Son-Kul as in other places in the Tien Shans you will come across many a hunter with a falcon, hawk or golden eagle. It affords the Kirghiz hunter tremendous pleasure to release a falcon into a flock of flying geese. The falcon, a “high-flying bird,” cuts straight into the flock and enters into combat with the geese in the air, and this struggle provides a thrilling sight. The Kirghizes can never praise their falcons enough, but the professional hunter prefers the hawk. It is more “productive,” and among hawks the most prized is the tuigun, the white female goshawk. This bird strikes game not only in the air, as do the falcons, but also on the ground and on water. It gets the better of hares and even bustards. However, neither the falcon nor the tuigun can in any way be compared with the “death on wings,” the hunting golden eagle.

Resorting to the most incredible strategems, hunters get the birds’ young from nests built on inaccessible cliffs and then expertly train them. The hunting golden eagle (usually the female because the male is smaller and unable to cope with a wolf and sometimes even with a fox) is usually kept chained in a dark place in the house and is made to wear a small leather cap with a coloured crest. When the hunter sets out for game, he pulls the cap over the bird’s eyes to keep it from getting nervous, perches it on his left arm which is wrapped in thick leather and lets his hand rest on a forked stick fixed to the bow of the saddle. It is impossible to bear the weight of this huge bird in any other way.

After choosing the spot for the hunt, the master of the golden eagle lifts the cap off the bird’s eyes. The eagle spreads its wings and soars into the sky to a tremendous height. Spying out a fox, wolf or roe, it drops like a stone on to the head of its prey. In the meantime, the hunter, applying spurs to his horse, gallops to the scene of the mortal combat and every second is precious to him. If the bird does not quickly see the familiar figure of its master and does not hear the commanding cry of “Kii-tu,” it will tear the fox and thus spoil the valuable fur. But more important is that once it feels itself free of the master and realizes that meat can be found without its help, it might fly to the cliffs on the mountain range never to return.

John Wilford Wardell

In the Kirghiz Steppes



In 1914, the Spassky Copper Mine Ltd., a British mining firm, acquired an operation in the middle of the “Kirghiz Steppe”, a vast plain in the center of Eurasia that was mostly unknown to folks back in England. To get the thing up and started, they sent a young engineer named John Wilford Wardell, an inquisitive fellow who makes nonchalant admissions like “I studied non-ferrous metallurgy in my spare time.” He left on May 16 of that year for a kind of Wild West town south of modern-day Karaganda, a place called Spassky Zavod. His contract was for only three years, but the tumult of history intervened, and the First World War and the Russian Revolution kept him on the steppe for nearly double that. Wardell would come to know the country and its people quite intimately. Upon his retirement decades later, he prepared a memoir of his time in the middle of Kazakhstan, and falconry makes a brief appearance.

Wardell first mentions the Kazakh tradition in a long section that gives an overview of Kazakhstan, on the same page he mentions that culinary promise of cooking a bustard like a steak:

The Kazakhs used golden eagles and hawks for falconry, and the former were sometimes flown at wolves. (p. 71)

In a later chapter on the manners and customs of the Kazakhs, he goes into significant detail:

The most loved of all sports, however, was hawking, and although falcons were sometimes employed the bird most generally used by the Kazakhs for centuries was the golden eagle, which stands from 2 to 2 1/2 feet high and has a wing span of 6 to 7 1/2 feet. When carrying a hooded eagle on his gauntleted wrist the sportsman supported its weight on a tee-headed stick which he gripped with his left hand, the lower end being socketed in the saddle near his knee. The usual quarry for the eagle was the wolf or the fox, and the bird was starved for two days before its owner and his friends rode out for a sporting venture. When the wolf was found, the eagle was unhooded and cast off, rose in the air and sighted its prey and then, unhesitatingly swooping down with quietly flapping wings behind the unsuspecting quarry, it struck its great talons into the animals’ neck behind the head, knocked the wolf over sideways and, baffling its defence with its powerful wings, tore out the victim’s eyes with its great curved beak. A minute or so after the strike the wolf was dead, and then the watchers, who had dismounted downwind from the quarry when it was sighted, mounted and hurried to the scene of the conflict, where the owner rehooded his eagle and, after skinning the prey, unhooded it again until it had satisfied some of its hunger on the carcass. The cavalcade then set off to find other game.

In order to catch the hawking eagle, the hunter made a complicated snare of white string and pegged this on the ground at the beginning of winter. When the first snow just covered the snare the hunter tied a live hen above it and watched from a nearby hideout. The squawking hen attracted the eagle, which swooped down and seized it, but when trying to rise the nooses of the snare tightened round the bird’s legs and made it captive. Running forward, the hunter threw a cloth over the struggling eagle and then, with gauntlets on both hands, he covered the bird’s head with a hood so that it could not see to fly and attached jesses to its legs to facilitate handling, after which the cloth and snare were removed.

Although the owner was deliberately cruel to the eagle during its training, perhaps the only treatment the bird could appreciate, he became very considerate and attentive afterwards, and an understanding grew between the two, which perhaps reached affection on the part of the master, but never exceeded respect on that of the captive. The trained eagle, however, always remained wild and dangerous to others.

The training was carried out near the owner’s winter quarters, where for ten days the eagle had to stand on a thin rope stretched between two posts at such a height that the bird would hang head downwards if it left its perch because the rope connecting its leg to the top of one end post was much too short to allow it to stand on the ground. While keeping this difficult balance, the eagle was hooded, and only occasionally given a mouse and a little water, sufficient to maintain life and a great hunger, and it became too tired and weak to fly. At this point the owner rode round the encampment with the hooded and jessed bird on his gauntleted wrist, and if it behave itself it was allowed a thicker rope for a perch, and finally, with further good conduct, a thick stick was substituted and it was allowed more food, being unhooded more frequently, but always tethered. The eagle was now ready for its first strike, and the procedure followed has already been described. (p. 112-113)

Here Wardell has documented some remarkable techniques that may no longer be practiced. Using a snare hidden under snowfall, for one, is quite different than the four-posted net that is more prevalent today. It’s curious that he describes the hunters wearing gauntlets on both hands while wrangling the freshly-caught bird, because how would they then have the dexterity to subsequently hood it? Lastly, the practice of using a slack-rope perch to tire the eagle is here laid out with some usefully detailed description; Wardell notes that the birds might spend ten days on the tether, and also that it is gradually graduated to thicker ropes. Because this practice seems to have become more rare, we should be grateful that a metallurgist from England, called to the steppe, had the opportunity to make note of it.

Count Konstantin Konstantinovich Pahlen

Mission to Turkestan, Being the Memoirs of Count K.K. Pahlen 1908-1909



Count Konstantin Konstantinovich Pahlen (1861-1923) was a Russian Imperial official who travelled through Central Asia in 1908-1909 for an investigation of the local administration. Born into an protestant aristocratic family from present-day Latvia, Pahlen was to become a provincial governor just like his father. In June of 1908, Emperor Nicholas II ordered the Governing Senate to organize an investigation of affairs in Turkestan, then a peripheral realm of Russian rule that had become rife with corruption. Count Pahlen was chosen to lead the mission, and he left for Tashkent with a staff of hand-picked young officials later that month. His memoirs of the time, which describe these travels through Tashkent, Samarkand, Bukhara, and beyond, have been described as “the best single source concerning Turkestan in the pre-First World War period.”

In the Russian protectorate of Bukhara, Pahlen met with the Emir, Said Abdul Akhad Khan, at his palace, which was surrounded by a gate decorated with the skulls of his enemies. He recounts the tale of his retinue’s astounding encounter with the royal falconer:

Again, during the hour preceding the official banquet, when we were supposed to be resting in our rooms, some members of my suite had taken a stroll in the courtyard. There they met the Emir’s falconer, who, it appeared, had lived in Russia and was delighted to air his Russian. They were amazed at his contempt and positive hatred for the Emir, which he made no effort to disguise. ‘Look at this bird to which I am chained,’ he said, pointing to his falcon. ‘It is just like my master, unloving and selfish, and it gorges itself on flesh; I don’t know how many times I have been beaten on this wretched bird’s account, and if it should ail I’ll be thrown into prison, where a man dies like a beast. The Emir is a wicked fellow.’ The man was quite frank, and spoke out openly in the certainty that none of the natives present understood any Russian. (p. 69)

During a visit to Merv, Pahlen’s delegation were treated to a feast and the spectacle of horse races and wrestling matches. His Turkmen hosts insisted on presenting their falconry practice, but alas, Pahlen was to miss it:

I left in the evening, to the sorrow of the elders, who lamented the fact that not all of the members of their tribes had been notified in time. There were so many other things they wanted to show me, they said, particularly hunting with falcons, and a jiran (gazelle) hunt with their swift-footed greyhounds (a very graceful native breed), all of which had been planned in my honour. (p. 154)

David Bruce

Bird of Jove



Bird of Jove is a book that I hesitate to even include in any bibliography, because I found it so ridiculous as to be offensive; yet it deserves mention as a curiosity, and simply for the sake of being comprehensive. The author, David Bruce, writes with such colonial swagger that I thought the book must be twice as old as it really is. His enlightened hero is a Welsh man, Sam Barnes, “naturalist and supreme falconer, [and] also a gambler and an adventurer.” During a suspiciously vague research expedition in Issyk Kul, Barnes stumbles upon a group of “tribesman” and the English-speaking Khan Chalsan, a berkut-tamer whose primitive approach to falconry is laid out before the reader for mockery and derision. These savages don’t just hood their birds, but “seel” them, sewing their eyes shut. Eagles are starved for weeks at a time, then fed only bones and gristle. Their most prized berkut is left to die, because the ignorant locals can’t understand that they’ve been feeding it infected pigeons. Barnes falls in love with this tragic eagle, so he airlifts it to Kabul and brings it back to Wales, where it lives a happy life ever after.

If it sounds like nonsense, it’s because it most likely is: Alan Gates has written that the biographer, David Bruce, is none other than Barnes himself. The man was apparently quite the spinner of yarns, and various other tall tales of his eagle’s procurement were told over the years. We must treat this version with severe skepticism – how the heck could a Brit get into the Soviet Union and smuggle out a golden eagle in the first place? If you take it for fiction, it’s a fun read, but we better not give it any more credence than that.

You can read the passages of Bird of Jove related to Central Asian Falconry on Scribd.

George St. George

Soviet Deserts and Mountains



George St. George was a Russian writer who emigrated to the States to write Hollywood screenplays, but before he did he wrote this inoffensive English-language nature book about the Soviet Union. In a tantalizing passage, St. George describes his encounter with a Tajik eagle falconer. A Tajik eagler? It’s the first I’ve ever heard of one, but we’ll have to take the author at his word:

As we finally approached the road at Rushan, we were unexpectedly given an answer. We met an old man riding a sturdy, long-haired pony. His face resembled a baked apple and his eyes were mere slits: the result of life-long exposure to the strong sun of the mountains, where there is less atmosphere to filter the ultra-violet rays. It was impossible to determine his age, but he must have been very old. On his arm was a large, eagle, the bird mountain people use for hunting in preference to falcons. The eagle had a felt cap over its head so that it would not be distracted until its master sent it after its prey. Attached to the old man’s saddle was a rolled fish-net, an item of equipment that baffled me.

The old man spoke only the local language and we conversed with him through a small Tadzhik boy who had appeared out of nowhere with the suddenness that always surprises me about the mountain people; it turned out that the boy had a little rudimentary Russian (he would have learned it at school, since Russian is the state language and is taught throughout the Soviet Union.) No, the old man said through our interpreter, he was not going fishing. He used the net to catch snow leopards. He would throw it over the big cat and, as it thrashed around, it would wrap itself up “like a baby in swaddling clothes.”

The old man told us that he lived all alone, high in the mountains. He had had three wives, but all of them were dead. His five sons were living somewhere “on the flat land”. One of them was “a big teacher” in Samarkand, and he wanted his father to come and live with him. But the old man did not want to leave the mountains. When we asked him why, he squinted at the snow-covered peaks for a few seconds. “They are free,” he said, “and they are clean.”

The old man clicked his tongue and started off, leaving me thinking. Certainly the mountains were clean. There were no scattered eggshells here, no empty tins and bottles, no crumpled newspapers. People do not go picnicking among ice-covered cliffs. But the greatest advantage must surely be freedom. To anyone and anything that can endure the hardship of this frozen wilderness, the mountains offer a sanctuary.

“In that kingdom of narrow paths,” wrote Marco Polo, “are many inaccessible places, so that the dwellers therein have no fear of the foe.” In the past, the Tadzhiks found freedom in the Pamirs from conquerors, local khans, landlords, tax collectors and other oppressors. Today a few hardened individuals like the old man with the eagle still live in the lonely kishlaks, the tiny mountain settlements often tucked away just below the permanent snow-line, and clearly they cherish the isolation from modern civilization. p. 128-129

Gustav John Ramstedt

Seven Journeys Eastward, 1898-1912, Among the Cheremis, Kalmyks, Mongols and in Turkestan and to Afghanistan



Gustav John Ramstedt was a Finnish linguist and ethnographer described as “one of the great linguistic investigators of Altaic peoples.” Concerned with the question of whether the Finns were descended from Mongols, Ramstedt travelled extensively in the regions of Central Asia. His memoirs, dictated to a stenographer after he retired in 1943 at the age of seventy, tell of his research expedition in 1903 to the heavily Kalmyk town of Sarepta (now part of Volgograd, Russia), where he collected traditional Kalmyk folk songs and epics.

Though Ramstedt did not dictate any tales of falconers amongst the Kalmyks, a photo from his time there is labeled “A falconer. To the right of the horse can be seen argal (horse dung) drying in the sun.”


Charles Howard-Bury

Mountains of Heaven: Travels in the Tien Shan Mountains, 1913



Charles Howard-Bury (1881-1963) was an Anglo-Irish soldier and botanist who explored Asia during the heyday of the British empire. A member of the illustrious Howard clan, he achieved fame with his leadership of the first reconnaissance mission to Mount Everest, where his sighting of strange tracks in the snow ignited the Abominable Snowman phenomenon. Upon his return, his immense popularity led to a career as a conservative politician. Less known than his travels in the Himalayas are his sojourns through the Tien Shan, where he hunted Argali sheep, the largest in the world. A naturalist and a hunter fully integrated in one, Howard-Bury was described by Geoffrey Moorhouse as “one of that strange breed who can follow an animal for hours, while admiring its grace and being fascinated by its behavior, as a preliminary to shooting it dead, very often in order to decorate a wall.” Thankfully Howard-Bury kept a daily record of his travels from 1906-1922, and his Central Asian hunting memoirs from 1913 were edited and published by Marian Keaney as “Mountains of Heaven” in 1990.

The explorer’s six-month tour began with a trip on the Trans-Siberian to Omsk, a steamer through Siberia, and a carriage ride to Kuldja; it was only then that he rode horseback into the mountains of Chinese Turkestan, where he would find the finest game. There, he sought out a shikari named Tola Bai, who was wintering in the “Kustai Valley”, quite possibly referring to the valley of the Kax River in Northern Xinjiang:

Sunday, October 5th. The Kazakhs had nearly all moved lower down to their winter quarters in the valleys and the uplands were deserted. Wild pig had been everywhere rooting in the grass, apparently digging up the field mice which abound. Hawks, falcons and eagles are very common now in this month and September. The hunters catch them in large numbers by means of snares set round a pigeon or partridge. The Kazakhs are very fond of hawking and big prices are given for a good bird. Tola Bai’s son produced a fine eagle which they have trained to catch foxes and roe-deer. (p. 128)

Geoffrey Moorhouse

Apples in the Snow: A Journey to Samarkand



Geoffrey Moorhouse was an esteemed British journalist and travel writer, drawn to Central Asia like so many of his countrymen. Crossing Central Asia shortly before the breakup of the Soviet Union, Moorhouse writes of a familiar eagle-training method:

Many of the old traditions persisted as they had always done. The horsemen still hunted saiga, a kind of gazelle, with specially trained eagles. These were first introduced to the head of a freshly-killed sheep which was stuck upon a post, its eye-sockets stuffed with red meat so that the bird would learn to go for the eyes first of all. (p. 40)

Now, I doubt whether Kazakhs were still hunting saiga at that time, as those big-game hunts seemed to have ended during the communist days. I suspect that Moorhouse is lifting this from Gustav Krist, who wrote something nearly identical in his Alone Through the Forbidden Land:

Once in Burdalik I was able to watch how the Qirghiz train their hunting eagles. The heads of freshly slaughtered sheep were set up on poles and the Qirghiz taught the young eagles to go at once for the eye-sockets, which were filled with red chunks of raw meat continually renewed.

Tim Severin

In Search of Genghis Khan



Tim Severin is a travel writer with a very defined shtick – he follows in the footsteps of famous travellers before him, tracing their journeys in the present day. He’s followed Marco Polo, Sinbad, Ulysses, and in this work, the great Genghis Khan. While making his way across Mongolia, Severin meets two Kazakh falconers and gives his impressions:

In the early afternoon, with the snow beginning to melt, two men on horseback came riding up from the Kazakh yurts in the lower valley. They had heard about our visit to Camran and were coming to pay their respects and to gossip with Hojanias. They had also heard that I had been asking if there were any eagle hunters in the valley, and so each man made a splendid sight as he came cantering across the snow, carrying on his right arm a huge mountain eagle.

Carpini, Rubruck, Marco Polo – all the medieval travelers to the Mongol lands had noted the Mongols’ passion for falconry. According to The Secret History of the Mongols it was how Yesugei the Brave, Genghis Khan’s father, had loved to hunt in the valleys by Burkhan Khaldun, and falconry was an abiding passion of the Khakhans. The famous “pleasure dome” of Xanadu was surrounded by a nature park where Kubilai Khan, Genghis’s grandson, loved to go hawking, and as Rubruck had said about his Mongol host:

“They have an abns which they uniformly carry on the right hand, and they always put a little thong around the falcon’s neck which hangs down in the middle of his chest. When they cast him at the prey, they use this with the left hand to hold the falcon’s head and chest at a downward angle, so that he is not hurled back by the wind or carried upwards.”

During the interview with Rubruck, Khakhan Möngke had been caressing a favorite hunting bird, and when foreign ambassadors visited Karakorum they knew that the most pleasing and reliable gifts to bring were gyrfalcons for the royal mews.

Mongolia still swarms with birds of prey. Across the steppe and in the Hangay and Hentei we had seen hundreds of wild falcons and hawks thriving in the wilds. Kites swooped over our tents looking for scraps, and the mountains are the home for Mongolian mountain eagles similar to the golden eagles of the West. The semiofficial Mongolian directory even lists the peregrine falcon as a “cosmopolitan species” along with rat, mouse, sparrow, and housefly. But today the Mongols themselves had given up falconry, and it is left to the Kazakhs to carry on the tradition.

Their hunting eagles were majestic. Each bird was as big as a man’s torso and weighed 13 or 14 pounds. They were so heavy that the riders used small wooden props reaching up from the saddle to support the carrying arm with its massive padded gauntlet. The hooded eagles swayed easily to the rhythm of the riders, twisting their heads to face any new sound. As the riders dismounted, the eagles shifted their stance and raised their wings to maintain their balance. Their wingspan was 5 or 6 feet, and they have thin, high-pitched screeches. Camran now reappeared on foot. He too brought his eagle, which he had left for the night sitting on a nearby rock, and he gestured that I might like to hold it. I put on a heavy gauntlet and the superb bird was handed over. I could feel the powerful grip of the huge claws through the heavy padding of the glove, and Cee left hand and brought it across so I could appreciate the massively muscled thighs of the bird. Just a foot away from my face the eagle turned its head nervously, this way and that, ducking and bobbing its head with its cruelly curved beak, a perfect stabbing and tearing weapon. The great bird was aware that he was riding on the arm of a stranger, and I was relieved that it was blind behind its hood.

The Kazakhs were immensely proud of their eagles, and although the hunting season did not start until October the birds were in peak condition. In the valley, they said, there were at least twenty men who owned hunting eagles, and more eagle hunters could be found in every other Altai group. In the autumn the Kazakhs would begin their hunting forays, riding out into the frozen land with their eagles on their arms in search of the eagle’s natural prey. For the most part the eagles would be flown at fox and wolf, but the very bravest birds had been known to attack snow leopard and griffon.

Camran and the other eagle hunters were modest about their skills. It was not difficult to train an eagle, they said. The instinct of the birds was to hunt, and with patience and careful handling the mountain eagles were soon accustomed to hunt in company with humans. The owners took their birds from their nests as fledglings and then reared them by hand. As soon as they were strong enough, they were introduced to prey by being flown against rabbits. After that, they were ready. It all sounded far too easy, and I asked if there was any part of hunting with eagles that was difficult. To catch a fully grown wild eagle, Camran replied, that did take skill and cunning, but it was worth the effort. The wild eagles made better and braver hunters than birds that had been raised from fledglings, because they had learned to take their prey in the wild. I asked him how long it took to train a wild eagle to the hunt. Again Camran was quietly unassuming. About a week or ten days, he answered.

The Kazakhs loved their eagles and treated them well, and yet I could not help regretting that these magnificent birds should be restrained, even though they were well cared for and fed. Without knowing it, Camran responded to the thought. He was stroking his own eagle, preening its feathers. The eagle had its hood removed and was prancing on his arm and flapping its wings, now and again screeching its high piping call. “The eagle is three years old,” Camran said. “I hope that it will hunt with me for many years, but if it gets tired I will release it early back into the mountains. When eagles grow old or if they are weary, we let them return to the mountains to live as free creatures.” p. 183-185

There’s also a black-and-white photo of an eagler included in a series of plates:

coO09jzSeverin’s book can be found for pennies on Amazon if you’d like to read the whole thing.

Jonathan Maslow

Sacred Horses



Travelogues from the hermit state of Turkmenistan are hard to come by, so it’s a shame that Jonathan Maslow’s Sacred Horses is such a whiny, misanthropic affair, full of harsh judgments of his hosts and guides. The book follows the author as he seeks out the famous Akhal Teke horse, but along the way he meets Ovaz Sopiev, a Turkmen ornithologist who he at least gives a fair shake:

He took from his bookshelves a volume he had written on traditional Turkmen falconry to show me. It turned out Professor Sopiev was a leading authority on the subject. He had not only written on it, but had also brought one of the few practicing Turkmen falconers to an international anthropology conference on the tradition of falconry in Central Asia. “The falconers start hunting in December,” he explained. “A trained hawk costs twice the price of a good horse. The hawk hunts only with a dog. The dogs are called Turkmen Tazy. They are very fast and sleek, and like the Rhodesian ridgeback, they have no bark. The dogs flush and run the hares before the hawk is released by the falconer to attack. it’s the same hare as in your southwestern deserts in Arizona and New Mexico.”

At first Sopiev said they didn’t use horses. I found that strange, but later on in the conversation it developed that horses had become so rare, hard to come by, and expensive that the Turkmen falconers had given up and now hunted on foot with their bird and dog.

Maslow’s book doesn’t come with my highest recommendation, but you can find it on Amazon if you’d like.

Stewart Stanley

In the Empire of Genghis Khan



In an account of his journey on horseback across Mongolia, the British journalist and travel writer Stewart Stanley devotes a short chapter to his visit to Bayan-Ölgii, the Kazakh west. After offering a nicely-summarized history of Bayan-Ölgii Kazakhs, Stanley describes his visit to Aralbai, perhaps the most famous of the “eagle hunters.”:

In the morning I stripped naked and bathed in the river. The guide might have been less shocked if I had killed one of his horses and grilled it for breakfast. Then we saddled up and struck off across the iron plain towards the south-east and the valleys of the Kazakh eagle hunters.

The western aimag or province of Bayan Ölgii contains Mongolia’s only ethnic minority, the Muslim Kazakhs. Revisionist Mongolian history likes to believe that they all arrived from China in the late 1950s or 1960s when Beijing seemed intent upon settling the Kazakh and Kirghiz nomads in the north-western province of Xinjiang which borders Mongolia. At the time Sino-Soviet relations had taken a nose dive over the question of Communist world domination, and Tsedenbal, the Mongolian leader, was encouraged by Moscow to open his doors to the Kazakhs in China as a snub to Beijing.

The truth about the Kazakhs, who number about 130,000 in Mongolia, is more complex. Many did indeed arrive as refugees from China as an earlier generation had fled from Soviet Kazakhstan to escape Moscow’s equally authoritarian policies of settlement. But most have been here for centuries, migrating through the Altay mountains, oblivious to national boundaries.

The Mongols distrust them. Bold saw them as clannish outsiders, and potential defectors whose real allegiance lies with their brethren across the border in Kazakhstan. This perception was strengthened in 1990, after the fall of Communism, when some Mongolian Kazakh leaders tried to promote Kazakh autonomy. When that idea didn’t run many Kazakhs joined an exodus to the new republic of Kazakhstan, migrating across the border with their flocks. Most have quietly returned, having found in Kazakhstan a more modern world inimical to traditional nomadism.

The Mongolian Kazakhs have maintained a tradition of falconry which has a long history in the country. Genghis Khan’s father was said to have been a keen falconer, and during Friar William’s first audience with the Mongol khan Mongke at Qaraqorum he had inspected various falcons that were brought in to him by his attendants. Kubilai Khan, Genghis’ grandson, was also a falconer; Marco Polo claimed he kept 5,000 birds. But among modern Mongolians the tradition had been lost. It survives only among the Kazakhs of Bayan Ölgii who hunt with the largest birds used by falconers, the great golden eagles of the Altay mountains. The birds are so heavy that the Kazakhs are obliged to use a wooden prop to support their arms when carrying them on horseback. We rode all day through empty landscapes, coming late in the afternoon to a narrow lateral valley where gers were camped along the banks of a winding river. It was the first habitation we had seen since leaving the Namarjin valley two days before. We recognized the gers as Kazakh by their steeper profile.

A woman emerged from one to direct us down the valley. “Orolobai keeps an eagle,” she said. “You can’t miss him. His ger has a television aerial.”

One of the most endearing features of the Mongolian countryside was that you could travel a thousand miles without coming across a television. Now, in search of eagle hunters, we rode down the valley to meet what I feared might be the only couch potato in western Mongolia.

Orolobai was a burly square-jawed fellow in a pink skullcap. Delighted at the prospect of guests, he invited us in for tea. Kazakh gers are generally larger than their Mongolian counterparts, and much more decorative. But even by Kazakh standards, Orolobai’s ger was an impressive establishment: a mansion of the nomad world. Inside there was room to swing a yak. The lack of a stove made it seem even more spacious; that had been consigned to a separate kitchen tent next door. In its place, at the centre of the ger, was a remarkable innovation – a table and chairs.

We took our seats gingerly, like country bumpkins in the squire’s parlour, trying not to gape too openly at the expensive furnishings set around the perimeter of the tent – the metal cots enclosed like four-poster beds with frilly nylon curtains, the large wall hangings with their bright geometric patterns, the laminated poster photograph of two kittens peering over a stone wall, the pile of purple cardboard suitcases. Prominently placed to one side was the talk of the district – an old Russian television set.

Orolobai fussed about us with the exuberant hospitality that is typical of Islamic cultures. Tea arrived in cups and saucers, an unheard-of pretension. Bold and the guide, accustomed to the more reserved manners of Mongolians, had a slightly stunned look. Orolobai could hardly have seemed more outlandish if he had been wearing a grass skirt and a garland of flowers. ¶The Kazakh proved a congenial host who became a good deal more congenial as we began to tuck into the airag, the fermented mare’s milk. When we had demolished a few bowlfuls Orolobai invited us outside to meet the eagle. But first he had to change. Much tradition adheres to eagle handling, he explained, and he needed to be dressed for the part. I wasn’t so sure. He was a vain man and I think he knew he was about to have his picture taken.

Suddenly Orolobai had the flustered air of a man preparing for a formal dinner party. One of the problems of nomadic existence was the difficulty of keeping track of things when you move house every three months. Orolobai bellowed for his wife and daughters and they began to search through the suitcases and the chests, while he stood in the middle of the ger, his belt undone, waving his arms ineffectually. “They were with the blankets on the second camel,” he whined.

As the items emerged one by one, the women dressed him. With his formal black del he wore a pair of leggings above his tall boots and the kind of leather cap with ear flaps last seen when Charles Lindbergh crossed the Atlantic. The hawking glove was located and an arm guard, and after some rummaging in a suitcase of voluminous white drawers, the bird’s hood was discovered. Relieved, the women steered Orolobai out the door.

The eagle was perched on a boulder a short distance from the ger with a rather feeble-looking tether round one of its legs. The bird would have made a Dobermann look small. It stood almost three feet high. Its curved beak was the size of a carving knife. But its most striking features were its eyes, cold, black and penetrating. They were eyes made for the malevolent stare, and at the moment the eyes were staring malevolently at me. I don’t think the bird had seen a foreigner before. ¶As Orolobai lifted the eagle gently and settled it on his arm, it never took its eyes off me. I tried to act nonchalant. I looked away; perhaps the bird didn’t like anyone staring back. I gazed at some distant hills. I examined my boots. It was at this point that I realized with a start that I was wearing a sheepskin jerkin. I glanced up. The eagle was still staring at me, his head slightly cocked. It occurred to me that he had mistaken me for a stray lamb.

He stretched his wings – the wingspan was over six feet – and even Orolobai cowered. I slipped the jacket off, very slowly, and dropped it at arm’s length to one side. Almost immediately the bird lunged towards it. Almost pulled off his feet, Orolobai lurched forward, and in an instant the bird was on my jacket, sinking his talons into the fleece, and savaging it with his hideous beak.

“Seems to like that jacket,” Orolobai panted, struggling to pull the great bird away.

But I was already halfway to the ger and moving fast.

In the evening after dinner we were invited to watch telly. Neighbours and family crowded into the ger, settling round the set in an expectant half circle, Orolobai had his own generator which he had fired up out the back. The blue screen flickered into life. As far as one could tell it was a Variety Performance in Ulan Batur, though the reception was such that it could have been mistaken for morris dancing on the dark side of the moon. In the midst of what appeared to be a blinding snowstorm three people, or possibly six, were singing traditional Mongolian songs. Orolobai was excited with the reception, the best in weeks he declared.

Mercifully it was not to last. After a few minutes the ghostly figures disappeared into a blizzard, and then the screen went dark. Outside the tent we could hear the generator dying. Someone had obviously forgotten to pack the petrol. I tried to hide my disappointment. ¶Later Bold and I lay on the banks of the stream and watched the constellations falling towards the west. The stars seemed close enough to touch. Nowhere in the world is their reception as perfect as in Outer Mongolia. p. 100-104

David Pichaske




David Pichaske is an English professor who spent a year in Ulaan Baatar, Mongolia on a Fulbright, and he wrote a small book telling stories from his time there.

This citation is a bit of a stretch, as the author doesn’t even see Central Asian falconers but only shrugs them off:

In April, my landlady Enkhtuya was trying to sell me on a trip to Hovd aimag, a province in the far west of Mongolia: I would fly there and back alone, but she would line up a cousin or friend to show me the sights in the land of the eagle-hunters. She pitched it as an excursion into the Other – “Kazakhs, Muslims – a whole different way of life. You can’t even understand the language!” Yeah – well.

The book can be found for cheap on Amazon.

Stephen Bodio

Eagle Dreams



Eagle Dreams is the only full-length book on Central Asian falconry available in English, and for me it’s what started it all. I was teaching English in Ulaan Baatar, Mongolia, and had bought every book I could find about Mongolian history, culture, whatever. Sitting in my stack was this book, and when I read it, I was inspired. I had lived in Kazakhstan as a teenager, and in college I became a bird watcher. Here was a tradition that united these two passions of mine, Kazakh culture and big, beautiful birds, and it was written in such page-turning prose that I was totally captivated. I knew I had to visit the hunters for myself. I wrote to my anthropology professor, who offered to support my fieldwork, and then I wrote to the author himself. Steve responded quickly and kindly, and he put me in touch with everybody he knew in Western Mongolia. I visited many of the same falconers Steve visited in his book, and I’ve been indebted to him ever since.

I urge anybody who’s interested in Kazakhs or eagles or Kazakh eagles or the world at large to track down this book and give it a read. Perhaps it will be the start of your own journey.

Christoph Baumer

Traces in the Desert: Journeys of Discovery Across Central Asia



Christoph Baumer (1952-) is a Swiss amateur archaeologist and explorer who specializes in the history and cultures of Central Asia. Baumer was given the books of Sven Hedin at age 15 and grew to idolize the Swedish adventurer, longing to follow in his footsteps. After a long career in marketing, he quit to pursue his love of Asian cultures, travelling first in Yemen and later in the deserts of Xinjiang. Baumer has since written books on the cultures of the Silk Road, and in his compendium “Traces in the Desert” he mixes reports of his own travel through Mongolia, Tibet and Xinjiang with accessible histories of their ancient civilizations.

"A young falconer, Taklamakan."

“A young falconer, Taklamakan.”

The seventh chapter of this work, “Among the Eagle Hunters”, gives an informative account of Baumer’s trip through Bayan-Olgii, the westernmost province of Mongolia. Traveling with his wife Therese, a cook, a driver and a guide, the explorer reaches the foot of Mt. Khairkhan, where he approaches the gers, or yurts, of the Kazakh hunter Iktamer Baymanday:

In the magnificent desert landscape of black rock dotted with a few green pastures stood a few lone white felt gers. In two of these lived eagle hunters. Cautiously, we approached a ger guarded by snarling and barking watchdogs as large as wolves; fortunately, they were chained up. Beside the ger huddled a huge golden eagle, also chained, on a tower of stone blocks. Its body was almost a metre in length, and its beak resembled a curved dagger. It was blindfolded by a leather hood. (p. 61)

In describing the Kazakh yurt of Iktamer, Baumer notes that eagles are often housed indoors in the winter, and that they are specifically placed in the left half of the home, the masculine domain in the Kazakh cosmology:

In winter, new-born animals sleep to the right of the door, and to the left of it sits the hunting eagle. (p. 62)

The arrival of a neighboring eagle hunter, Arslan, leads to an extensive passage in which the man gives a chronological account of an eagle’s training, from capture to release:

After we finished our meal, Iktamer’s neighbour, Arslan, came to sit with us, leaving his hunting eagle tethered outside the ger. In contrast to Iktamer, with his round Mongol features, Arslan was of the Turkic race. A hooked nose projected from his narrow face and he had a dense pointed beard. He resembled his own eagle. As a greeting ceremony, the two men exchanged their snuffboxes briefly, taking a pinch each. Then Arslan began to describe their work with the eagles: ‘Training an eagle for hunting takes six months, and is very intensive. We catch young birds with a net and adults by using a lamb as bait. We use only females, which are stronger and more aggressive than the males. Immediately after catching one, we put on a special feast, at which we recite poems in praise of hunting eagles. Then older women place owls’ feathers on the captured bird, for owls have excellent sight and are clever hunters. After this, the training begins. First, the bird must become accustomed to me and people in general, and accordingly spends the night in the ger. Recently caught eagles also like the gers, since they are afraid of the large screech owls when chained up. The eagle learns to sit, first on a piece of wood, then on my padded glove, without losing its balance or trying to fly away. I then teach it to return to me on command by giving the bird meat only on its return from a flight. The third step is to teach the bird to hunt, by pulling a stuffed dead fox behind my horse, which it must catch in order to be given meat. Fourth, the eagle must become accustomed to the movements of a galloping horse. And finally we begin the real hunting, first for hares and marmots, later foxes, and even wolves. Since we use or sell the skins of the animals caught, the eagle must be taught only to kill its prey, but not eat it. Every catch is at once rewarded with meat.

We left the ger to have a closer look at Arslan’s eagle. Although golden eagles can reach an age of 30 to 40, they are usually released at the age of 12, 15 at the latest, so that they can mate. Iktamer would give his eagle its freedom back next year in September, in an area with plenty of prey. On these occasions, they will hold a feast and kill a sheep for the eagle. After not having fed it for some days, they release it high on a lonely mountain. Being hungry, it seeks food for itself at once. At the same time, they move their winter camp, to prevent its return. The parting is painful.

‘When I give an eagle its freedom, it is like losing a child’, said Iktamer.

‘In this province,’ Arslan continued, ‘there are about 400 families that have hunting eagles. We meet each year for the opening of the hunting season, which runs from 10 October to 10 March, celebrating this with a special feast. We take part in various celebrations, which we hold in honour of Genghis Khan, who was a passionate eagle hunter.’ (p. 64-65)

Several details here are previously undocumented and warrant specific emphasis. First, Arslan’s claim to use lambs as bait to catch grown birds is novel; other hunters testify that by far the most common bait is smaller birds like pigeons or crows.Second, the description of the eagle’s homecoming feast , with poems in its honor, suggests the more robust maintenance of traditional, oral culture among Bayan-Olgii Kazakhs, as Kazakhstan Kazakhs do not seem to practice such a ritualized celebration. Third, The release of hunting eagles has been rarely written on, but here Arslan repeats a common assertion, that birds should be released at the age of 12. The twelve-year period is a common trope in the cyclical Kazakh conception of life stages, surely related to the Zodiac calendar that has such wide influence across Asia. Lastly, one must marvel at Arslan’s proud honoring of Genghis Khan as an eagle hunter. Genghis Khan, or Chinggis Han as he is known to the Mongols, has become a ubiquitous icon in modern-day Mongolia, and it is not surprising that to his extensive local hagiography the suggestion has been added that the Khan was himself an eagle hunter. Though there are written accounts of his father and grandsons partaking in falconry, we have yet to find any solid reports of Chinggis hunting with birds of prey, yet alone eagles.

After Arslan’s monologue, Baumer goes on to describe the centrality of eagle imagery to Mongolian culture, perhaps needlessly confusing Mongolian traditions with those of the Kazakhs. On the next page, however, he returns to his Kazakh hosts:

Unfortunately, we were not able to accompany Arslan and Iktamer on a hunt, because the season had not yet begun. To hunt earlier than custom permitted would mean breaking the taboo that states that no one can hunt more than is necessary for survival. However, they were ready and willing to demonstrate a flight. They mounted their horses and fastened the T-shaped wooden arm-supports in a holder on the saddle. Then they approached the stone towers where the birds were sitting. Iktamer’s eldest son grabbed the birds and placed one on the thick glove of each hunter, whose forearm rested on the carrying frame. They galloped off over the crest of the nearest hill and in a short time returned, man, horse and eagle forming a compact whole – resembling a winged centaur, the birds keeping their balance with slight movements of their wings. The riders stopped, removed their eagles’ leather hoods, and raised their arms. The two eagles opened their pinions, with a wingspan of over two metres, and soared into the air. They circled slowly above our heads in search of possible prey, their dramatic silhouettes dominating the blue sky. With piercing cries the two hunters called their birds, which folded their wings and dropped like stones, falling at a speed of more than 100 kilometres per hour. A few metres above the ground, they opened their wings again, stabilised their fall, and landed with a noisy rustling of feathers on the outstretched arms of the horsemen: a perfect example of cooperation between man and bird. (p. 66)

The author here makes two suspect remarks. First, he identifies a vague taboo that prevents the hunters from hunting out of season, when the reality is more likely that the environmental conditions are simply not conducive then to a productive hunt. The pelts of prey are considerably thicker and more desirable in the winter, and the cover of snow allows for better tracking the quarry; these are the reasons more often given for the boundedness of the hunting season. Second, we must give credit to Baumer for an exhilarating description of a fairly mundane tourist show, but simply question whether these dive bombing eagles, with wings pressed close like Peregrines, are somehow using some local tactic; an eagle’s maneuvers in such a demonstration are usually limited to a steady glide.

"Iktamer the eagle hunter at the foot of Mount Khairkhan, Western Mongolia."

“Iktamer the eagle hunter at the foot of Mount Khairkhan, Western Mongolia.”

Christopher Robbins

Apples are from Kazakhstan



This book also goes by the name The Land that Disappeared, but no matter the title on the cover it’s a fantastic introduction to the land of the Kazakhs. Christopher Robbins, who passed away just last year, writes with a poetic flair and a sensitivity to history, delving past the stereotypes of the steppe to cover some stories that rarely get heard. Towards the beginning of the book, he makes a short visit to an unnamed bürkitshi – from his biography, I recognize the hunter as my friend Abylkhak Turlybaev. One frustration is that the author uses the Russian word berkutchy, which I’ve always found inaccurate, and translates it as “eagle ruler.” Bürkitshi simply means “one who uses eagles.” The word translated for him may have been kusbegi, which can be parsed as “ruler of birds.”

We came upon a wooden house surrounded by farm buildings where a piebald horse tethered to a hitching post stood in swirling snow. Krym was standing with the berkutchy, a tanned, rugged man in his sixties who exuded confidence and serenity (the berkutchy is renowned in Kazakh life as someone with great inner resource and dignity). An excited Krym conducted a series of rapturous introductions.

The berkutchy told me he was a Kazakh born in China who had become a victim of Chairman Mao’s Cultural Revolution. To escape he risked and survived the dangerous journey over the mountains into Kazakhstan, only to be arrested by the Soviet authorities. “Out of frying pan into the fire,” Krym said. The berkutchy nodded solemnly. He had been imprisoned for a year, he said, and he spent a further three under the cloud of official investigation, a condition that made life almost impossible. He related his story without bitterness or emotion: “That was how it was then.”

We walked to a small log cabin beside the berkutchy’s home where the eagles were lodged. He disappeared inside and emerged minutes later with a magnificent creature on his arm. My inner excitement was matched openly by Krym, who clapped his hands in spontaneous appreciation and pleasure, and smiled from ear to ear. We were a couple of schoolboys on an adventure, having a grand old time. The golden eagle was six years old and one of the berkutchy’s most prized birds. I asked him about the rudiments of training, a naive question for the secrets of the profession are closely guarded. He did, however, tell me the basics.

The berkutchy first spends weeks among the remote eyries of the Jungar, Altai or Tien Shan mountain ranges, where he risks his life to steal an eaglet from its nest. From then on a close relationship is established. The eagle ruler sleeps beside the eaglet for nights on end and feeds it by hand for a month. “And they have a big appetite.” The eaglet is hooded early on to make it totally dependent on the berkutchy, and the absolute trust which will last a lifetime is slowly built up. When bonded, the eagle ruler begins to train it to fly from his arm and return. The first kill cements the relationship. “The bird is given all the meat so it understands that man and eagle are partners in hunting and are not in competition.”

Time and boundless patience complete the process. “You go hunting together, and it only takes a couple of months for the eagle to understand the advantages of the partnership. An eagle properly trained is reliable and does not turn on its ruler. But if it is treated badly, or even if it is treated with harsh words and contempt, it can turn. it is like a dog or a man. Treated properly it is grateful – if not, it turns. There are less than a hundred registered professional berkutchy in the country, although many more Kazakhs hunt with eagles as a hobby. A trained eagle will catch rabbits and small deer for its ruler, kill foxes that threaten his sheep, and even confront wolves. “If the bird is big you can hunt for a big wolf. They fly straight into the face and go for the eyes, the neck, the snout. They do not attack from behind. In the wild they take sheep and even cattle, but they fear humans.”

I was handed a thick leather gauntlet and asked if I wanted the eagle on my arm. The berkutchy slipped a hood over the bird’s head and moved towards me. “Brace your arm more,” he said. “This bird is heavy.” The eagle that stepped onto the gauntlet must have weighed fifteen pounds and as it settled it spread its wings to display a span of around nine feet.

It began to make soft noises, then turned its head in my direction, and I saw the scimitar curve of a four-inch beak up close. The eagle could have taken out my eye in an instant or ripped open my skull with ease. I wondered if it sensed the disquiet of an amateur – no eagle ruler, but eagle-ruled. And eagle-scared. It became very still and silent. I looked towards the berkutchy for reassurance that this behavior was normal. He seemed unperturbed so I relaxed. The eagle was perched upon my arm for no more than a couple of minutes, but to be so close to such a powerful and noble creature was a quiet moment of communion with the eternal. p.88-90

Two illustrations are also included with the text:

The book can be bought in paperback for cheap on Amazon, and it would be silly not to get it.