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Mongols are reclaiming their country and their culture after the end of the Soviet occupation. Buddhism is again flourishing in central and eastern Mongolia, Sunni Islam in the western reaches of the country. Nomadic camel, yak, and cashmere goat herders send their children to boarding schools where they now study English instead of Russian. Cowboys ride the range in the Gobi Desert.
Each year at the beginning of October, Mongols and Kazakhs converge on the far-western Mongolian town of Ulgii for the Golden Eagle Festival. Many ride on horseback, carrying their eagles, for up to 150 miles to compete. The weekend of breathtaking competition allows hunters to display their horseback-riding skills as well as the speed and agility of their eagles. Traditionally, men and boys adopted and trained female eaglets to hunt, but recently teenage girls have joined in. Other competitions include camel racing, husband chasing, archery, and traditional costumes.