Kazakhs throughout Mongolia celebrated Nauryz on March 21st and 22nd
The Kazakhs are Mongolia's largest ethnic group with around 150,000 residing in western Mongolia - even though the region of western Mongolia is physically separated from Kazakhstan by a 47-60 km mountainous stretch of Chinese and Russian territory. The largest group of Kazakhs make their home in Bayan Ulgii Aimag with a smaller group in Khovd aimag. There are also smaller populations in Ulaanbaatar and its surrounding districts. The Kazakhs represent 3-4% of Mongolia's population (Mongolia’s entire population is just over 3 million people).
Language and religion are just two markers that make the Kazakhs of Mongolia culturally and ethnically different from Mongolians. Kazakh is the dominant language in Bayan Ulgii although Mongolian is the official language of government and business. Local schools teach in either Mongolian or Kazakh. The Kazakh population is predominantly Muslim (whereas the rest of Mongolia is predominantly a Buddhist country). Mongolian Kazakhs have created a cross-border community, continuing to maintain social ties and kin relationships on both sides of the border in both Kazakhstan and Mongolia.
On March 21st and 22nd, Mongolia's Kazakhs celebrated Nauryz. It translates into 'new day' and falls on March 21st - considered the first day of the spring equinox. It is considered a New Year celebration about renewal and spring. Nauryz is not only a state holiday for Kazakhs in Mongolia, it is celebrated in all countries of Central Asia, as well as Georgia, India, Iran, China, Turkey and others. In 2009, Nauryz was included in the (bit of a mouthful) Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity by UNESCO.
Our final Hunting With Eagles itinerary began on March 15th - with the group of four arriving from different directions (road and air) into Ulgii. From there we headed to the winter home of four of the Kazakh eagle hunters we work with - including Bashakhan, Sailaukhan and Babiolat.
Hospitality is a key ingredient in the Kazakh culture. As Kazakh culture dictates, they were warm and generous hosts. Besbarmak was cooked for us at least three times - a delicious dish consisting of boiled horse or mutton (it really is delicious). This is is one of the most popular Kazakh dishes and is also called 'five fingers' because of the way it is eaten - using your hands. Traditionally, the chunks of boiled meat are cut and served by the host in order of the guests’ importance.
We also feasted on Nauryz koje - a soup specially prepared for Nauryz. Kazakhs believe that you should eat as much of this soup as possible for your year to be prosperous. We certainly tried. Again, it is delicious - a nutritional rich soup that is cooked from 7 ingredients: meat, water, flour, butter, millet (could be replaced with rice or corn), salt and milk. Each component of the dish symbolizes one of the seven life beginnings: growth, luck, happiness, wealth, health, wisdom and auspiciousness.
The trip finished with us spending Nauryz at the home of our Kazakh translator together with her family. As well as spending time at the home of Jako's relatives, we also headed to Ulgii Square where we joined in with the local concert and parade.
So. That's your introduction. I'm now working on our winter 2017/18 itineraries but to see the style of winter trip we offer, use this link to our Mongolian winter tours. Alternatively, just email me (email@example.com) - I'm always happy to be of help and all advice is free with no sales pitch.
And, unless I have mentioned otherwise, all images used throughout this post were taken either by EL guests or members of the EL team. This is the Mongolia you will also experience if you chose to travel with us.
Wherever the road takes you in 2017 - Sain Yavaarai - Journey Well