Palani Mohan – Freelance photographer
This is a story of how I came to be on the edge of the world, frozen, and on the trail of men who hunt with eagles. I spent four years photographing the last remaining men who live around the Altai Mountains in far northwest Mongolia, who hunt the red fox using the golden eagles. This extraordinary way of life which has lasted for centuries is vanishing in front of our eyes. And I’d like to tell you about it.
But before I do that, I’d like to take you all back a few decades. I was offered a photographic cadetship with The Sydney Morning Herald newspaper. In that old newspaper office, there was a room where they kept all their international newspapers, where I used to spend quite a bit of time. It was in one of those newspapers, a British broadsheet, I think, that I first saw an image of a man standing on top of a snow-covered mountain, holding a golden eagle in his arms. It was a beautiful image, and it quite literally took my breath away. It was in black and white, and it had a caption which read that it was shot in Mongolia. A bit like the image you can see on your screen.
I have to tell you, growing up as a teenager in Sydney, there are many things that I have little recollection about. But that image was cemented in my mind. Where on Earth was Mongolia? And how can men tame eagles? I was desperate to go and find out for myself. But for 25 years I did nothing about it. I had the great privilege to travel to many parts of the world and photograph some truly amazing things, but that man, and that mountain, and that eagle … they had to wait.
But strange things happened in life. In 2012, when I was living back in Hong Kong with my family, one day I received an email, a junk email from Mongolian Airlines, saying that they had just started daily flights between Hong Kong and Ulaanbaatar, the capital of Mongolia. That was my cue. I had waited long enough.