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Tim Copes 6,000 mile ride in the hoofsteps of Genghis Khan

Posted: Sep 06, 2007 05:46 pm EDT

(MountEverest.net/ThePoles.com) 800 years after Genghis Khan ruled Mongolias steppes all the way to Eastern Europe; Tim Cope, 28, has followed the Mongol emperors tracks on horse-back.

The adventure has spanned over three years and 10,000km. Currently in Hungary, Tim - like once Genghis Khan - is now galloping towards a finish line.

Tim and Tigon's great adventure

The Aussie long rider and his dog Tigon set out on their great adventure on May 31, 2004.

From Mongolias Altai Mountains, they crossed into the plains of Kazakhstan, the high alpine pastures of the Tien Shan and Pamirs in Kyrgyzstan, then headed westward on the fringes of the Kyzylkum desert to the dying Aral Sea. From that point they crossed into Russia, then Ukraine along the coastland of the Black sea, before ending up in Hungary.
Not bad, considering that before the expedition, Tim had never been on a horse back in his life.

Becoming a nomad

Tim, his dog and horses have faced temperatures ranging from -52 to 54°C, frostbite, and robbery. At one point, Tim was hit by a car.

In spite of his young age, Tim is seasoned. He has biked 10,000km across Russia and Mongolia, and rowed a wooden boat through Siberia to the Arctic Ocean. He didn't really expect the current journey to turn into such a challenge. All he wanted was to be a simple nomad for a while.

I wanted to know what it was like to be a nomad; to travel to Europe by horse and understand what connections remain between the different cultures stretching from Mongolia to Hungary, he says.

"Im not sure how I will cope when it is all over"

Yet somewhere in all the struggle, while he wasn't looking, a Mongol's nomad soul found Tim. Currently only 15 days away from the end of his journey, the lone rider is already starting to miss his nomad life.

Its hard to believe that the end of the steppe is in sight after such a long time when it often seemed that Hungary was unreachable, Tim told his home team.

The horses and this journey have become my life and Im not sure how I will cope when it is all over. Of course, I am really looking forward to spending time at home with my family again but I wont be hanging up the saddle for too long. The horizon is always beckoning.

Celebration of the past...

The finish line has been set at Opusztaszer, a national historical memorial park on the edge of the Eurasian steppe which celebrates the conquest and founding of Hungary by the nomadic Magyars from central Asia. Tim will be greeted by the Kazakh, Mongolian and Australian ambassadors, plus kids and people from all over Hungary.

There will also be an outstanding display of dozens of horses with traditional horsemanship on show including archery, breathtaking tricks, and outfits dating back to the time of Genghis Khan and earlier, Copes home team reports. Tim is also to be greeted by leading equestrian explorer, Scottish Long Rider Gordon Smith, on behalf of the all the Long Riders from 35 countries.

...and a new age of horse-back adventures

CuChullaine OReilly, of the Long Riders Guild (the world's first international association of equestrian explorers) considers the trip as the first of a new age of horse-back adventures.

Though the Long Riders Guild has assisted equestrian explorers on every continent except Antarctica, Tims solo ride from Mongolia to Hungary will be remembered as having launched the modern age of equestrian travel, OReilly stated. Tim has proved that anyone can take a life-changing equestrian journey.

Tim, finally reflects, It has been an honour to ride in the footsteps and in the company of Eurasian Steppe nomads and it wouldnt have been possible without the incredible support from locals, who have always been willing to share their homes, hearts and minds. Also, I cannot praise my horses and my dog, Tigon, enough. They are the real heroes of this trip.

Genghis Khan

Genghis Khan's is yet another story of great power gained by resilience and smarts learned from a tough childhood - and a clever mom. Without skipping a heartbeat, the fearless Mongol took on Chinese Dynasties and Persian Empires alike, after he was betrayed by his best friend, and watched his father die by poison following a meal offered by Tatar neighbors.

Genghis Khan terrorized Asia, the Middle East, and large parts of Europe - leaving behind death and destruction - but also reddish-blonde and pale-blue eyed offspring with signature flat cheeks: and the second largest empire in world history.

Growing up tough

The eldest of 6 kids and son to a minor tribal nomad chief, Genghis was born straight into warfare, thievery, and raids by different clans. After his dad died, Genghis and his family were cast out by their own, and had to survive for years alone in the desert - the mother and sisters gathering; the sons hunting for small game.

It was during this isolation, that Genghis mother taught him all about survival - in the desert and among people. She strongly stressed alliances with others, a lesson which would come to shape both Genghis and Mongolias future.

These were harsh times. When, at age 13, Genghis killed his half brother in a dispute over food, the murder in fact strengthened his position as the head of the household.

Sharpening the edge

Captured by his fathers' former enemies a few years later, Genghis escaped and word of his courage began to spread. He married Borte, who was later kidnapped but rescued by Genghis and his best friend Jamuqa. Genghis made Jamuqa his blood brother after the event.

A bit too soon after her rescue, Borte gave birth to Genghis' first son - his true paternity being disputed since, especially by Genghis' second-born son. Genghis later resolved the fight by giving the throne to son number three.

Following his mothers advice, Genghis started his ascent for power by offering his friendship and services to already mighty Khans. Using their influence, Genghis united small clans and offered shares in war chests in return for their ultimate obedience. Creating the Yassa code (Genghis personal rule of law), soon Genghis had amassed his own small army.

The treachery

His rising power and tough rule didn't go unmarked. An early ally and powerful Khan now turned on Genghis, ganging up with no less than his blood brother Jamuqa. Genghis won the battle, the victory turning a major stepping stone in his climb for total rule. Jamuqa escaped, and even managed to become the Khan of Genghis' biggest enemy clan - forming coalitions against him.

Trouble was Jamuqa's people liked Genghis better and crossed-over, finally even turning Jamuqa over to him. Genghis still liked his old friend though, and offered his friendship back - Jamuqa however refused and instead asked to be killed in a noble way. His wish was granted by breaking his back.

The terror

By now, most clans were united and Genghis was made the head 'Khan'. The surprisingly race-, sex- and religion tolerant Mongols stepped up their trademark brutal conquests of other countries - plundering, raping and killing both civilians and soldiers on their way.

Like Jamuqa, the Russian princes for instance too were given a noble (bloodless) death: a large wooden platform was constructed on top of which the Mongols dined - while the princes were put under the structure and crushed to death. The Mongols' brutality and amazing war skills spread a paralyzing fear even before the wind carrying the sound of their approaching hoofs was heard.

The strategy for success

In addition to stern discipline (if one man deserted his entire unit was killed), and surprising unity (soldier groups were kept ethnically diverse to avoid old clan gruff) - contrary to many other violent plunderers such as the Vikings - the Mongols didn't just grab the money and run.

They noticed and quickly adapted enemy skills, technologies, ideas and warfare tactics - using them against their antagonists - or together with them: If they wished, foreign, skilled men were gladly invited into the Mongol ranks. In fact, if you wanted to be a Mongol, you just had to declare yourself such - Genghis wanted power of another kind. He loved allies, and loyalty above all.

Using their nomadic skills, the Mongols were mobile and swift, attacking by surprise. But they also quickly learned siege tactics to win fortress cities. Smaller settlements would be taken first, causing crowds of people to take refuge in the main capital - thus quickly straining its resources. That's when the Mongols surrounded, blocking the entries and exits - simply starving the city to surrender. To speed the process cities were sometimes also infected with disease - by means such as catapulting corpses of plague victims into them.

The double-edged sword

Unlike other mass-murderers such as Hitler, Mao and Stalin; Genghis didn't kill to induce fear, out of joy or personal beliefs. Genghis killed strictly to enforce obedience. The Mongols first offered enemy cities to surrender. If they did; then all were spared. If they refused, then they all - men, women and children - were murdered. Interestingly, the harsh leader despised material excess and gluttony. Later in life, he advocated simplicity, loyalty, tolerance and even studied Buddhism.

20 years after he had founded the Mongol empire (1206), Genghis Khan died at age 65, in 1227. No one knows exactly how or why. It's clear though that he went as he lived - in the saddle, seeking yet another conquest on yet another battlefield. Genghis asked to be buried without trace back in Mongolia, and to this day no one knows the location of his grave. The Mongol Empire would last for almost another 150 years, until 1368.

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Tigon warming up in a sleeping bag. Image shot by Tim Cope during his 6,000 mile ride in the hoofprints of Genghis Khan (click to enlarge).
I wanted to know what it was like to be a nomad," Tim says (click to enlarge).
"The horses and this journey have become my life and Im not sure how I will cope when it is all over," Tim says (click to enlarge).
The adventure has spanned over three years and 10,000km. (Click to enlarge).
Not bad, considering that before the expedition, Tim had never been on a horse back in his life. (Click to enlarge)
Tim, his dog and horses have faced temperatures ranging from -52 to 54°C. (Click to enlarge).
It has been an honour to ride in the footsteps and in the company of Eurasian Steppe nomads and it wouldnt have been possible without the incredible support from locals, who have always been willing to share their homes, hearts and minds," Tim said. (Click to enlarge).
Tim crossing the Kalmik steppe on the edge of 'Chernoye Zemlya Zapavednik.' This is one of the natural springs to which wild herds of Saiga come to drink at in Summer. (Click to enlarge).
Mongol horse races, reminding of the terror people must have felt when watching the approaching soldiers of the ancient Mongol empire. (Click to enlarge).
Tim was named Australian Adventurer of the Year in 2006 (click to enlarge).
Tim's long journey in the hoofsteps of Genghis Khan. All images courtesy of the expedition website (click to enlarge).