At the top of a craggy mountain in the Altai range, a man raises his fist to reveal a golden eagle with a six-foot wingspan. The eagle spies its mark in the valley below and bolts into the air. Within seconds, the bird slams into its target, dust billowing.
The Eagle Festival in Bayan Ulgii, Mongolia, is an opportunity for residents of the province, which is overwhelmingly Kazakh, to celebrate their distinct culture. The Kazakhs of western Mongolia are considered to have preserved these traditions better than Kazakhstan itself, and Bayan Ulgii can feel like a different country from the rest of Mongolia.
Across Mongolia young boys work hard on their horse racing skills during the weeks leading up to the country's summer Naadam festivals. The jockeys, some as young as 11, often work and live with a horse trainer in the countryside, taking care of the horses and practicing for the big day, when the stocky equines charge across the steppe for up to 29 kilometers (18 miles).
The arrival of summer is prompting nomadic herders in Mongolia to come to terms with this past winter’s devastation, which left may without animals or income. For thousands, there is no alternative than migration to cities.
A primary cause of upheaval in Central Asia over the past five years has been the inability of governments in the region to respond to popular concerns and complaints. The leaders of Mongolia appear determined not to make the same kind of mistakes, and in recent months they have taken steps to demonstrate a greater degree of accountability.
Supporters with the People's Movement to Demand Election Promises (PMDEP) attended a series of nationwide protests, including this April 5 rally in the western city of Hovd, to demand that parliament give each citizen 1.5 million tugriks (about $1,150) as the ruling Mongolian People's Revolutionary Party had promised during the most recent elections in 2008.
Mongolia calls itself the land of blue sky, but for seven long months each year, a thick cloud of smog hangs over the capital, Ulaanbaatar.
The coldest capital city in the world, Ulaanbaatar suffers from palpable air pollution during the winter months. The city's power plants are responsible for some of the pollution, but most comes from individual family dwellings.
The dzud in Mongolia has killed more than 2.7 million animals, nearly a tenth of the national total, since the end of 2009. Families with fewer than 300 animals are particularly at risk - the relatively small sizes of their herds make each animal loss more devastating, and these herders often have no other useful skills.
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