On the Genghis trail of Khan
One man’s mission from Mongolia
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.