Kharkhorin is not what I expected.
I was expecting Karakorum, a grand medieval city. But that’s not what’s here. Thankfully my disappointment is offset by the realisation that the place we have come to see, the Erdene Zuu Khiid (monastery) is pretty awesome.
At the entrance to Erdene Zuu Khiid, I’m not really surprised to find a row of shops.
But there is also an eagle. Tethered to a wooden perch, an entrepreneurial woman in a brimmed hat and shiny blue coat approaches us.
It’s a big bird, majestic. Eagles are used to aid Mongol hunters in the country’s far west. The popular Eagle Festival definitely came up on my radar during my trip planning, but the host town of Ulgii is almost on the border with Kazakhstan and would have been a considerable detour.
For a fee we can hold this eagle on our arm. We all do this, and it’s wonderful. But the woman, intent on giving us the full experience, scares the bird into taking flight. It extends its huge wings in preparation to flee, but the rope prevents it from actually escaping. I’d be impressed if it wasn’t so painfully cruel.