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.