The Very Best of Mongolia: Eagle Hunters, Landscapes, Gobi Desert
The tradition of hunting with golden eagles is thought to have been started around 940AD by nomadic peoples from the Manchuria region of northern China. Today, the tradition is maintained largely by Kazakh and Kyrgyz people in their native countries, as well as in a few diasporas. In Bayan-Ölgii, the westernmost province of Mongolia, a small number of ethnic Kazakhs have dedicated themselves to this traditional pursuit of native rabbit, fox, and even wolves. Though modern amenities, including firearms, are increasingly available in their remote valley, this select group of hunters continues to honor ancient ways, and considers the use of eagles to pursue prey the highest form of art. The relationship between a man—or, increasingly, a woman—and an eagle takes years to develop and strengthen.
On this 14 day workshop, we’ll travel to Ölgii province to meet the Eagle Hunters, their families, and their eagles. We’ll journey up into the mountains with them, and watch as they exercise and train their birds. After exploring these relationship for several days, and in several locations, we’ll get to photograph at our very own private eagle festival! From our front-row seats, we’ll watch the region’s hunters gather to test their skills, and those of their eagles. Look for horse racing, too, and even goatskin tug-of-war. It’s a festive event, the stakes are high, and the competition is fierce! We’ll be staying close to the action the whole time, living in cozy, fire-warmed gers—traditional round, felted tents—set up for us among the families’ own. Kazakh hospitality is legendary, and you’ll likely be invited for a a cup of tea or two!
Afterwards we’ll leave the larch-forested valleys of the west, and travel into the heart of the Gobi Desert, to meet the traditional Bactrian camel herders. Bactrian camels are the lifeblood of the Gobi people—used for meat, milk, fur, and transportation. The ability of the camels to survive and thrive in arid conditions cemented their importance along the infamous Silk Road—the great movement of goods between ancient Europe and Asia—and earned them their prominent place in the art and literature of the region. Life here is little changed—the nomadic camel herders still live as they have for centuries. We’ll have the opportunity to compose portraits of the herders and their livestock in a variety of different lighting situations, against the stunning backdrop of some of the longest sand dunes in the world.
Are you ready for an adventure? Join Muench Workshops pros Kevin Pepper and Lisa LaPointe, as they journey deep into the Mongolian countryside, to places few get a chance to experience. Kevin and Lisa together have a wealth of experience in the region, and will help you to not just capture stunning photographs, but to have meaningful interactions with the local people. This workshop is fully customized—you’ll have simple, but comfortable, accommodations, and we’re bringing our own private chef—so you can focus on the experience. Come witness lifestyles that have been preserved for centuries!
September 12–24, 2020
Itinerary and General Information
While we don't expect it, we have learned to expect the unexpected! This itinerary is subject to change, but we intend to keep as close to it as possible. Also, not listed in the itinerary are the many image reviews, critiques, and post-processing sessions that we'll have over the two weeks. We schedule them when time and facilities best allow.
September 12, 2020: Arrive today in Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia (ULN airport code) and you will be picked up by our drivers, who will be holding a Muench Workshops sign with your name on it. You’ll go right to our hotel in downtown “UB”. The workshop starts with a group meeting at 5:00 PM in the lobby of our hotel, and then we will go for a group dinner at at our favorite restaurant in UB. We'll discuss the workshop and get to know each other better. Overnight Best Western (4-star hotel, rooms with private facilities and Wi-Fi).
September 13, 2020: We're up very early so we can fly to Ulgii on a 6:00 AM flight. No worries about airline luggage allowances, we've taken care of that! Once we arrive in Ulgii we will visit and photograph at the local outdoor market. Afterwards, we'll grab a coffee in Ulgii near town center, discuss the events of the coming days and continue to have one of many private photoshoots you will have this week. You will be taken to our host Eagle Hunter family where you will have your first of many private photoshoots with the eagle hunters.
Our accommodations for the next two nights are where you will see yourself living alongside an actual Eagle Hunter family. We will sleep in heated Ger tents. Men in one Ger, women in another Ger. Comfortable beds, and plenty of space. Toilet facilities are camp-style: a ground-toilet with a small tent around it. Electricity for charging is by generator, and is in the main dining Ger tent, as needed. Amazing meals for breakfast, lunch, and dinner cooked by our private chefs. (Stay with family)
September 14, 2020: Today we have set up private sessions with a total of five eagle hunters in the foothills of the mountains where we will be staying. You will have an intimate photography experience of how the eagle hunters have supplied food and fur for their families for over one thousand years. At sunrise and sunset we will have five eagle hunters on horseback with their golden eagles, and we have a variety of photo shoots and portrait sessions planned over the day. (Stay with family)
September 15, 2020: This is a very special day! Our own private eagle festival. We have worked with the Eagle Hunters and locals to create a special private Eagle festival just for us. The activities that you will witness and photograph are events where eagle hunter and golden eagle show how they have perfected their eagle hunting skills. You will also witness wild horse riding, kockbar, and other local events that show off the prowess of horse rider and horse. At the festival we will also have our own private ger tent erected where the eagle hunters can come and relax that only you have access to. Being in the tent will give you the opportunity to photograph some of the 20-30 best of the best eagle hunters in an indoor portrait situation. Make no mistake, while this is a private eagle festival, the competition is fierce, real, and intense! Tonight we stay in Ulgii
September 16, 2019: Catch our early afternoon catch our flight back to UB from Ulgii. Upon arrival in UB we will head to our hotel and have a dinner in the hotel. Overnight best Western (4-star hotel rooms with private facilities and Wi-Fi).
September 17, 2020: After breakfast, we'll switch transportation to our comfortable Toyota minivans. In these vehicles there will only be three guests per vehicle to allow for plenty of room for you and your camera bag with no crowding. As we head towards the Gobi Desert, there will plenty of photography stops, ending with a photoshoot of horses at sunset not far from our hotel where we will eat dinner. Overnight at hotel in Dalanzadgad (3-star hotel rooms with private facilities).
September 18, 2020: This morning we reach the Khongor sand dunes in the late morning. The Khongor sand dunes are the largest and most beautiful of the Mongolian sand dunes stretching for some 170km in length. At the Khongor Oasis area the dunes reach a height of about 200 meters and locals call them “The Singing Dunes”. Upon arrival we will check into our Ger camp. Then we will visit the camel herder’s family to discuss tonight and tomorrow's private photoshoots of Bactrian Camels and camel herders in traditional Mongolian dress. Overnight at Ger camp. Heated Gers, comfy beds. Electricity for charging is in the main building. Toilet and shower facilities are in a separate building, and are western-style.
September 19, 2020: Today we are at the Khongor sand dunes taking photos of the dunes and camel herders. It is a full day of photo shooting. We'll have amazing exclusive access to the camel herders and their camels at sunrise and sunset, walking and riding on the dunes, for dramatic photographs. These are some of the longest-ranging sand dunes we have ever seen. After our sunset shoot and visit with the camel herder family, we'll take the very short drive back to our Ger camp and have dinner and download images. Overnight at Ger camp. Heated Gers, comfy beds. Electricity for charging is in the main building. Toilet facilities are in a separate building, and are western-style. Showers are in another separate building.
September 20, 2020: After a morning photoshoot at the sand dunes we depart the Khongor sand dunes and drive towards the Gobi's Flaming Cliffs. Once we arrive we will have a sunset photoshoot at the famous Flaming Cliffs of the Gobi desert. Overnight at Dream Gobi Ger Camp. Amazing food, comfortable, electrified Ger tents with en-suite facilities (toilet, sink, shower).
September 21, 2020: Up early and return to have a sunrise photoshoot at flaming cliffs. In the afternoon we will have a variety of photo ops including horses being herded (running through the dust!), and some sporting events that we have set up just for our group. Overnight at Dream Gobi Ger Camp. Amazing food, comfortable electrified Ger tents with en-suite facilities Dinner tonight will be a barbecue & a bonfire. (toilet, sink, shower).
September 22, 2020: Today we depart after breakfast and do our reverse drive back to UB. We're in Land Cruisers for the first part, and then once we reach the paved road, we switch to Toyota Minivans and you can stretch out in "First Class" and enjoy a nice nap. We reach UB by late afternoon, and check-in to our hotel and have dinner. Overnight at Best Western (4-star hotel rooms with private facilities and Wi-Fi)
September 23, 2020: Today we travel to the Ghandan monastery and our group will have the opportunity to have a private photo shoot with a few monks. We will have the opportunity photographing two monks for one hour in one of the temples at the Ghandan Monastery that will be closed off to the public for our exclusive use. We will then have a private tour and discussion on the history of the location of the monastery and religion as it exists in Mongolia.
After our morning photoshoot we will head back into downtown UB where we will visit the State department store where you will be able to purchase some of the finest cashmere in the world, grab a quick lunch and head back to the hotel for a final editing session. Then it’s a celebratory dinner that we have prepared just for you in a museum in UB. This dinner will be catered by our private chefs. We'll then head back to the hotel and overnight at the Best Western.
September 24, 2020: depart for home.
Physical Requirements and notes on, food, and transportation during the workshop
Physical: There is not much hiking on this workshop, though you should be fit enough to walk a mile on level ground with your photo pack. During our time with the eagle hunters, the walks are usually less than 100 meters from the vehicle. In the Gobi, some of the shoots will require you to climb up or down short sand dunes, and you might walk on heavy sand for a little while. Optionally, you can climb some of the largest dunes on earth! Expect long days with early mornings up for sunrise. There are downtimes every day where you can rest, relax, or nap. Evenings are usually not too late, unless we are shooting the night sky.
Food: 4- and 5-star restaurants in Ulaanbaatar, with a choice of local and internationally-known foods. In the Gobi, we'll eat foods you know and understand, but cooked in the Mongolian way. At the eagle family, our private camp in the valley, and in the Gobi Desert, we have our own private chefs, and they will cook food you know and like in the traditional Mongolian ways. Beef, chicken, lamb, pastas, vegetables are all featured. We can accommodate food allergies and special dietary requirements throughout the workshop in all locations, no problem.
Transportation: We have two commercial in-country flights aboard Fokker twin-propeller aircraft. Most camera bags will fit in the overhead bins, but roller bags will not fit and must be checked. We have paid for extra weight allowances for your camera gear. When driving, we are in comfortable new minivans, with three guests to a van, plenty of room to stretch out. When off road and when out at the eagle families, we are in Toyota Land Cruisers, again 3 guests to a vehicle with plenty of room for you and your gear. The roads can range from extremely bumpy dirt tracks to smooth paved highways.
What To Bring
Please see our What to Bring page now for guidelines on packing. Approximately 90 days before your workshop, you will be sent a PDF with more specific instructions.
Double occupancy lodging (Single available, just ask)
All meals and tips during the workshop
All ground and air transportation during the workshop
Photographic guiding and instruction from Kevin and Lisa
English speaking local guide throughout the workshop
Fun, inspiration, amazing images, and a great time!
What’s Not Included?
Air travel to/from Ulaanbaatar Mongolia, passport and visa fees (if applicable), items of a personal nature such as laundry, alcoholic beverages. Medical Evacuation Insurance (required). Travel Medical and Trip Cancellation Insurance (optional, but recommended). Anything else specifically not listed as included.
Your deposit of $4,000 will hold your place in this workshop. A second payment of $4,000 is due by February 1, 2020. The balance of $4,995 is due not later than July 1, 2020. All of our standard terms and conditions apply.
Are you ready to experience ancient cultures in the exotic land of Mongolia? This workshop is limited to a small group so don't delay, click the "Sign Me Up!" button and we'll see you in Mongolia!
Images by Lisa LaPointe, Kevin Pepper, and Andy Williams