On the Genghis trail of Khan

One man’s mis­sion from Mon­go­lia

The Sunday Mail (Queensland) - Escape - - FRONT PAGE -

THE trip was much longer than your av­er­age hol­i­day – and I don’t know that Tim Cope would call his 31/ year ex­pe­di­tion, which crossed the Eurasian steppe from Mon­go­lia to Hun­gary on horse­back, a hol­i­day.

That’s be­cause the writer, filmmaker, wilder­ness guide and pro­fes­sional ad­ven­turer en­dured great stretches of time when the jour­ney was numb­ingly painful, un­com­fort­ably scary and ruth­lessly con­fronting.

But Cope – who hails from Gipp­s­land in Vic­to­ria – came home with the sort of ex­pe­ri­ences, mem­o­ries and in­sights ev­ery trav­eller who spends time on the road ac­quires.

He made firm friends with peo­ple from far­away places, came to cher­ish the free­doms we take for granted in Aus­tralia, dis­cov­ered mys­te­ri­ous cul­tures, gazed upon iso­lated land­scapes and learnt to ap­pre­ci­ate the sim­ple things in life such as a field of wild­flow­ers and a warm bed.

From June 2004 un­til Septem­ber 2007 Tim roamed solo across the great Eurasian steppe, travers­ing more than 10,000km across Mon­go­lia, Kaza­khstan, Ukraine, Rus­sia and Hun­gary, and did it on horse­back in the foot­steps of the Cen­tral Asian no­mads.

Dur­ing the ad­ven­ture, which is the sub­ject of the six-part se­ries The Trail of Genghis Khan be­gin­ning on ABC2 this week, he was helped by ‘‘ about 160 ex­tremely hos­pitable fam­i­lies’’ and met peo­ple from the Mag­yar, Crimean Tatar, Hut­sul, Cherkes, Kalmyk, Kazakh and Kho­tont no­madic groups who have lived on the steppe for gen­er­a­tions.

When Tim set out from the for­mer Mon­go­lian cap­i­tal of Karako­rum in 2004, he planned to fin­ish the trek in 2006, which was the 800th an­niver­sary of the war­lord Te­mu­jin be­ing named Genghis Khan – or Strong Ruler – by the Mon­go­lian tribal chiefs.

But he en­dured scorch­ing sum­mers and bit­ter win­ters that slowed his progress, when tem­per­a­tures would soar above 50C and plunge to – 40C, and spent six months wait­ing at bor­ders to be let out of one coun­try and al­lowed into the next. And he had to break his jour­ney to re­turn to Aus­tralia for four months at the end of 2006 when his fa­ther, An­drew, died in a car ac­ci­dent.

He went back to the steppe and the an­i­mals he left at a col­lec­tive farm in Ukraine only af­ter re­al­is­ing his dad would have wanted him to fin­ish.

The idea of the jour­ney came years be­fore when Cope was do­ing his first marathon over­land quest, rid­ing a bi­cy­cle from a spot near St Peters­burg in Rus­sia to the Chi­nese cap­i­tal of Bei­jing, and was in­spired when he vis­ited Mon­go­lia at the end of the trip.

I was 21 when I set off by bi­cy­cle with my mate Chris Hatherly and we de­cided we wanted to ex­plore Rus­sia and China,’’ the now 31-year-old ad­ven­turer says.

We started in north­west­ern Rus­sia with the aim of rid­ing to Bei­jing in 14 months; it was our first big ad­ven­ture and we got frost­bite on our toes, our bikes snapped in half, and we dealt with a lot of things but saw places we never imag­ined when we were grow­ing up in ru­ral Aus­tralia.

The tail end of that trip took us through Mon­go­lia, which was some­thing else. We found this land­scape with no fences and a pop­u­la­tion that lived no­mad­i­cally.

These horse­men and women would come gal­lop­ing along from out of nowhere, say hello, and then gal­lop off, and they just seemed to have a sense of free­dom, such a strong con­nec­tion to the land and courage, friend­li­ness and hos­pi­tal­ity be­yond any­thing I had ex­pe­ri­enced.

COM­PAN­IONS: Tim Cope in the Carpathi­ans with his dog Tigon.

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