By Crystal Chung @crystalkchung

RACING through the mountain range on horseback, the Kazakh people of the Altai Region in Western Mongolia practise their ancient tradition of hunting with golden eagles

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The eagles soar through the air at speeds of up to 200mph as they race to reach their keeper first, during an annual festival

Only around 70 Kazakh eagle hunters take part in the annual festival and the following set of breathtaking images display the 4,000-year-old art in all of its glory.

Professional photographer Massimo Rumi captured the series of pictures when he travelled to the region to witness the occasion first-hand and to experience the nomadic lifestyle of the Kazakh people.

Every October up to 70 eagle hunters and a host of tourists gather to celebrate Kazakh customs in the shadow of the Altai Mountains

The Sydney based photographer said: “The pictures capture the nomadic life of the Kazakh and their unique culture and the century-old tradition of riding with golden eagles to hunt for foxes and marmots.

“Their difficult lifestyle is one that’s gone unchanged for centuries. As nomads, Kazakhs eagle hunters live in ger tents and they move three times a year, along with the family’s livestock, which usually includes goats, yaks, horses and sheep.

The series of amazing images show the golden eagles soaring through the air at speeds of up to 200mph as they race to reach their keeper first, during the festival celebrating the heritage of the nomadic group held every October.

The ancient tradition can be traced back more than four millennia in Central Asia, but is beginning to die out today
The hunters wear traditional costumes, complete with fur coats made of marmot, fox or wolf skins which have been caught by their eagles

Other pictures show the hunters wearing their traditional costumes, complete with fur coats made of marmot, fox or wolf skins which have been caught by their eagles.

Though the benefits of eagle hunting have decreased in the ever-modernising world, the Kazakhs living in Western Mongolia have preserved the tradition, due to their physical isolation. The hunters could hunt with rifles - but they opt to use eagles instead, as it is seen as the highest form of art and dedication.

Surviving the harsh winter is challenging, with permanent freezing conditions up to -40 C , and to the outside world their lifestyle may seem to be a very hard way of living. However, the Kazakhs have developed for centuries such qualities as strength and resilience that are essential for living in this harsh nature.

The eagles hunt mostly foxes and other small animals, although they are capable of killing young wolves

Massimo said: “The Kazakhs of the Altai mountain range in western Mongolia are the only people that hunt with golden eagles.”

The tradition of hunting with golden eagles is said to have been started by the nomadic Khitans from Manchuria in northern China around 940AD.

Training the eagles begins when they are just chicks and continues every day for three to four years

Other activities held during the Golden Eagle festival include horse racing, archery and Bushkashi, which is a goatskin tug of war on horseback.

Massimo said: “My desire to experience a different way of life and a unique culture is what took me to Mongolia. I read about the Kazakh people and their ancient tradition of eagle hunting and I wanted to learn about their nomadic lifestyle.

Though the benefits of eagle hunting have decreased in the ever-modernising world, the Kazakhs living in Western Mongolia have preserved the tradition, due to their physical isolation

“I was lucky to find Jess, an English lady, who operates a small independent company called Eternal Landscapes with a Mongolian Team. Their love for Mongolia is genuine rather than a business decision. Their focus is to provide experiences that support the local community and provide a real insight into Mongolia in the 21st Century.

During Massimo’s trip in the Altai Region he learnt that it takes the hunters around five years to finish their training.

Surviving the harsh winter is challenging, with permanent freezing conditions up to -40 C , and to the outside world their lifestyle may seem to be a very hard way of living

Massimo said: “During this period the eagle must be treated with respect and gentleness or it might fly away and never come back. The trainer constantly sings and speaks to his bird to imprint his voice in its memory.”

“The hunter does not keep the eagle with him forever. After years of service, the eagle is released into the wild.”

Professional photographer Massimo Rumi captured the series of pictures when he travelled to the region to witness the occasion first-hand and to experience the nomadic lifestyle of the Kazakh people

“During my stay with eagle hunters, I felt great respect for the way they care and treat the eagle like a child. They have an extraordinary bond with the bird and it is very hard for them to let the eagle go back into the wild.”

To take a look at more of Massimo’s incredible photography and adventures visit his website: http://www.massimorumi.com/#story-1