Tim Cope is making an amazing journey from Mongolia to Hungary - and makes Long Rider history by emailing this picture and the message below from the wilds of Mongolia!
2nd July 2004
Tim just contacted The Long Riders'
Guild from Mongolia.
What makes his message so important is that he used satellite technology to email us and send us the above photo - not from an internet cafe - but from a ger (commonly known as a "yurt") in Mongolia!
Tim sent us up-to-the minute information about horse prices, availability of saddles, political situations, etc.
His message is historic because it means that soon equestrian travelers all over the world will be sharing horse news between each other, like the old days of the chai khanas and caravanserais.
"Sorry for being out of touch. Things have been very complicated and busy as you could imagine......but, it has begun!
Having secured a 4 month visa with a 'Foreign Correspondent/journalist' status from the media minister, I set off from Ulaan Baatar a week ago. I had met a great guy called Gansukh earlier (he also knows Justin at the UK embassy) who was inspired by my idea and wanted to help. Last Friday we headed out to a place about 300km from Ulaan Baatar where we stayed with some local nomads. At first they were sure that the 'White man' had no chance. In the first few days we tried out my gear, and made everything else necessary - local hobbles, halters, etc. In Ulaan Baatar I picked up some tethering pegs, a few swivels, bits, and a few other materials. The horse market is a bit of a shock if you are used to Western made goods- only raw hide in view, no buckles to be seen (everything is done with knots here) and everything from bits to halters, saddles etc all one universal size. One very compelling fact though - the Mongolian stuff might be simple, but it is extremely lightweight. The hobbles weigh half that of ones back home and are probably better and more comfortable for the horses.
I spent about 5 days with the nomad family, and eventually Gansukh helped rustle up some good horses ('hero' horses). Most locals put the price up when they discovered that I was a foreigner, and were reluctant to hand over good horses. Eventually though some herders from a place 40km away turned up. The horses were inspected by the herders I lived with, and by Gansukh. Only after the deal did I show my face. With a bottle of Vodka the sale was made. The horses I have are 'quiet' horses, but by Mongolian standards, and each cost 150,000 tugrik (about 140 US dollars) - I bought 3. This is the standard Mongolian price for a very good horse. Of course it’s possible to get reasonable horses for 100 dollars and less as well....really good horses (i.e. racing horses) can cost up to $800-1000.
I spent another couple of days with the family and eventually set off on Wednesday, employing the family elder as a guide. We did pretty well, covered about 35 km each day. I am now in Kharkorin waiting my partner Kathrin who will be joining me from here for two months. The horses are tough - there is no such thing as hoof care here, and they eat only the grass along the way. I was amazed at how little water they drink. As far as I can tell, the horses are fantastic, responsive, but quiet natured (there were kids climbing all over the packhorse after I bought it, hitting it, putting the bell on - much to the amusement of Mongolians - and one kid even grabbed the penis! And the horse just stood quietly without batting an eyelid).
Life on the steppe is much easier than the bureaucratic stuff.
At this stage I have attached one picture. I am emailing from a Ger via satellite phone."
8th July 2004
Read more about Tim's adventures, and how his horses were stolen, in Stories from the Road!
26th July 2004
The Long Riders' Guild has received another message from Tim, sent from the middle of nowhere!
Into the depths of Mongolia.
I awoke in brisk cold and checked my watch - 5.30am. Next I crawled out of my nice warm cocoon and unzipped the tent door. My heart raced as my eyes adjusted to the dim morning light. Eventually, one…… two…..three, ‘phew’ all horses still there. It was the sixth and last time I would get up during the night to check on them.
I packed my things and headed up a nearby hill to survey the morning scene. We had camped on the far western shore of Tsaagan Nuur (lake) and an orange glow on the horizon warned of the sun that would eventually breathe warmth back into the freezing air. Below our tent was dwarfed by the mountains to the north and the lake that spread out like a sea to the west. Pegged out around our tent were the horses all still munching away steadily at lush grass. The sound of swans and seagulls echoing across the water sounded eerie in this land of dry deserts and open steppe. The horizon was as tempting as ever and I was happy that we would be able to get a good early start before the searing heat of day.
As we packed the sun breached the mountains and sent splinters of light across the land. In places it peeled away the shadows to reveal golden tinged grass and rock, and on the lake it sent mist curling towards the sky.
By 7.30am we were packing the horses when a couple of herders came into view. With no objects to give a sense of scale, they ‘enlarged’ so to speak until they were true human size to the eye and parked their horses next to us. They both wore blue deles, the traditional coat or dress worn by Mongolians. Slung over their backs were a couple of rifles for hunting marmot and wolf. We had barely greeted them when one of their horses ripped its stake out of the ground and bolted. It ran straight to a nearby herd. One of the men, (later we knew him as Davajargalan) jumped on his horse and galloped off. It was not so simple though. The herd caught wind and stampeded over the hill and out of sight. ‘Nerga’ the younger of the two ran off after them. We were left in silence with just their rifles lying by our camp. Over the next half hour we watched them come in and out of sight, in and out of earshot with no success. We decided to lend Nerga Kathrin’s horse and my climbing rope and off they went again.
An hour passed. Nothing. Kathrin climbed to the top of the hill and saw only the open steppe. After and hour and a half I was getting worried, and disappointed that it would not be an early start. I jumped on my horse and cantered off in the vague direction we had last seen them. I found them soon later walking slowly back. I approached with a smile ‘Got him!’ But something was up. They looked down at the ground sheepishly.
‘We do not have your rope.’
In pursuit of the horse Nerga had accidentally thrown my rope out into the lake and lost it. Any kind of ‘rope’ in the countryside was extremely rare here, and I wondered how I would peg out our three horses from now on. Not convinced it was a lost cause we all rode back to the approximate place where it had been lost. For Mongolians who are famous for their inability to swim and fear of water, the rope was already a foregone conclusion. We arrived at the sandy peninsula jutting out into the glassy water and Nerga swung his arm out in a big arc ‘somewhere out there’ I assumed he meant. Much to the surprise of the Mongolians I stripped off to my undies and left my clothes in a pile on the pebbles. They all shook their heads, laughed, and sat down to watch the show. It must have been quite a sight- an Aussie with dark tanned arms and face and a milky white body sauntering off into the water as if it was the most normal thing in the world. For the next hour I waded around up to my waist feeling the bottom with my feet and scanning the mud and sand below. The herders smoked cigarettes and threw pebbles out to suspect locations. One moment it was fifteen metres out, the next five metres out and ten metres to the right. A couple of other herders had spotted the fiasco from miles off with their binoculars (or more accurately monoculars) and came to join the fun. I was about to give up and retreat when I caught something in my toe. I pulled it up. There it was! The herders stopped laughing, and their sheepish looks vanished. I dressed, jumped back on my horse and we all trotted back to the camp where Kathrin had been left to wonder what on earth was going on. ‘A good story at least’ I tried to explain to the men. I was happy to have had a wash as well.
At camp we communicated for a while- that is long pauses of silence and looks of curiosity, then a few understandable words (and a lot of unintelligible ones as well). Nevertheless we had a good understanding by the time we all headed off.
We had only just said goodbye when we looked up to the sky to be met with a wall of black clouds gushing over the mountains and quickly enveloping the view. Thunder sounded and soon a rushing wind came hurtling towards us. We stopped and dressed in Goretex, just in time to turn our backs into a tirade of hail. In the space of a few minutes it went from hot to freezing. I held onto the lead ropes and felt my hands go numb. We had not even had time to hobble the horses and they were threatening to run in this wild weather. For an hour we stood like the horses - looking miserable with our behinds into the wind and rain, hoping and waiting for it to pass.
Then pass, it did. The wind halted abruptly and relative silence reigned. The wall of black gave way to blue and before too long we were baking hot and I was searching for the relief that the odd cloud brings.
By the time we really got moving it was 2pm. We wound our way around rocky peaks where eagles and falcons circled majestically. In the distance on hillsides the silhouettes of riders could be seen, herding sheep and goats. The animals moved like schools of fish across the ocean-like steppe.
Another storm broke the day and we took an invitation to a ger where we welcomed fresh Yak cheese and dried goat’s yoghurt (Aral).
The sky cleared and as usual for the end of the day we took the glare of the sun on the face for a few hours until we all felt a bit dizzy and exhausted. A wide open plain ringed by olive-green mountains opened up to our right and even from a distance we could see that the grass was good. We were all looking forward to the end of another day.
Unpacking- heaving off the saddles and boxes, letting the blankets dry before the arrival of dew, hobbling the horses and watching them munch greedily. The sun goes down and I lie next to the MSR stove and cook up another enticing meal of dried beef and macaroni. The warmth evaporates and the cold sets in. Staking out the horses, checking the knots, securing the hobbles.
It’s the end of another day. There are over 500 days remaining. I feel exhausted, yet again intoxicated by the routines of riding and another horizon elapsing.
* * * * *
That day was four days ago. Since then we have made our way up several valleys, and finally we have followed a challenging mountain route. Yesterday we wound our way up a narrow valley reaching higher towards some 3000m peaks. The last ger was in a remote patch of grass in the shadow of the mountains. An old almost toothless herder in a shredded dele warned us of terrain. We spent the afternoon climbing to the saddle where we arrived last night to be met with another even more violent storm. Up here there is a sound in the wind and a feeling to the land that here is quite wild. We are at 2500m and it is more of an arctic landscape. A few trees stand up to the wind, rising from permafrost-like earth. We are camped near a small alpine lake called ‘Davaa Nuur’ and overlook the valley we spent all yesterday meandering through. From here mountain peaks to the south rise up like crests on a stormy sea. The route to the north-west is still veiled in mist and cloud. Today we have not moved, ambushed by the weather. I am curious to know what it will be like over this pass. The next few days will be through relatively remote terrain. No doubt we will descend into yet another different part of Mongolia shortly.
Lastly, its seems fitting to put in a quote from Henning Haslund’s book about his extraordinary adventures in Mongolia in the 1920’s. He captured the spirit of Mongolia better than anyone else I have read. I am envious of the land he entered by horse and camel train - before the days of trains and four-wheel drives. Even in Mongolia today if you take a route away from the main roads and tourist destinations, then I think you can still find that spirit; in the people, the land, and the history that is ever present. When I sat outside last night cooking up the dried beef, taking cover from the wind, peering into the depths of the mountains beyond and at the way my horse stood - tail blowing in the wind - I felt that life here is timeless.
“Before us now stretched Mongolia with deserts trembling in the mirages, with endless steppes covered with emerald-green grass and multitudes of wild flowers, with nameless snow peaks, limitless forests, thundering rivers and swift mountain streams. The way that we had travelled with such toil had disappeared behind us among gorges and ravines. We could not have dreamed of a more captivating entrance to a new country, and when the sun sank upon that day, we felt as though born into a new life- a life which had the strength of the hills, the depth of the heavens and the beauty of the sunrise.” Henning Haslund
Note: Henning Haslund’s book, Mongolian Adventure, is available from Horse Travel Books – www.horsetravelbooks.com/.
23rd August 2004
Tim has sent another email to The Guild - here is an
"Morning came, and with it a searing heat. The sand-dunes were soon wobbling in the liquid-looking mirage. A hard day passed. No sign of Gers, or water apart from a puddle that the horses greedily drank from. We rounded a hill and huge largely abandoned wheat crops came into view extending right up to the border of the sand. A flat plain lay ahead and what seemed like a few hours away was actually a day’s ride away. Plodding, plodding, the sun moving from our backs to our shoulders, then to our eyes in the evening. No matter what time we leave it is a long day. At 4km an hour on average 30km means about 8 hours in the saddle. A longer day for the horses no doubt. Just before we make camp an eagle swoops on us aiming for a bird that our horses have disturbed in the grass. The swishing noise, the chirp as the little bird escapes. He survives. The Eagle returns to is high circling above.
Dawn and we are greeted by the deep neighing of the horses. Each morning as soon as there is movement in the tent they talk to us. Sometimes it is because they are out of grass and need to be moved, but usually it just seems like a ‘good morning’ gesture.
Another hot day was guaranteed. After an early start we fortunately found a spring and a couple of Gers. The horses drank greedily, but still surprisingly little. It is well known that Mongolian horses are very tough- they are always left to their devices. They always find grass themselves, often drink no more than once a day (especially in desert regions) and in winter do not drink at all and get by digging up grass under the snow with their hooves. Later we reached the next river marked on the map. It was a well hidden stream in a gully surrounded by rocky dry ground. We took advantage and of the shade, grass and water for several hours.
Baruunturuun came into view the following afternoon through some rusty old iron arches. ‘Welcome to Baruunturuun.’ The town itself was a collection of gers surrounded by ramshackle fences, a few abandoned factories and an some poorly built wooden homes. There was no electricity and few signs of traffic. It is a strange sensation to travel for four days or so and see no more than one car a day, then arrive in a village. The only sign of contact with the outside world in the village was the local government office. It had several huge solar panels on the roof and a satellite dish.
While the horses drank and rested by the local river I wandered into town for shopping. Each ‘Delguur’ (shop) had basically the same standard goods bar a few items. I discovered that one shop had the luxury of bread, another had semolina, and one even had some carab spread and Russian butter! Shop-hopping seemed to be the done thing here. An irritated looking guy in a Russian truck followed me, stopping at each shopfront with the engine going, running in and running out until finally he found what he was looking for.
We left Baruunturuun late in the cool of evening and soon it was eclipsed by the horizon. The river we aimed for turned out to be dry, but by then it was getting dark. We headed to the only Ger in view in hope that they knew where the nearest spring was. It was time for a day or two of rest and water was essential. After setting the tent up we were invited into one of the Gers. Inside in the low light a couple of fresh sheep carcasses were gleaming, hung up on the inside wall. Steam flooded the air, thick with the smell of mutton. Eventually a bowl was laid out. Steaming, brown, slippery chunks. Liver, intestines, bones, heart, stomach. Seven children crowded around, armed with three knives between them. “Ma!” said one of the two women in the Ger. It is time to eat. Slurping, cutting, chewing. A five year old boy lies back and stares up at the ceiling of the tent gnawing on a bone that is half the size of his own body. Later the children all lie asleep on the floor looking like dead, but content starfish.
Inevitably the smells and taste were with us when we finally retired to the tent.
Our hosts, two Gers (two families) had shifted to this dry place down from the mountains several years earlier. They had become frustrated by the constant harassment of wolves and decided that life down in this dry land was better.
As it turned out, we were not the only guests. A motorbike turned up with the passengers the next morning rolling drunk, singing endlessly. We watched sheepishly from the tent. The drunks slurred voices rose and fell. They limped from one Ger to another, yelling, demanding. We dared not get involved. After an hour or so our hosts seemed to be trying to get rid of them. One of the drunks tried to grab the motorbike (which was owned by our host) which then fell to the ground. The younger brother of our host swung a punch and soon a fight was on. Soon later the very two people who were fighting got on the motorbike together. We understood that one drunk was being driven home.
When all was calm we visited the family again. We were surprised to find one of the drunks lying dead asleep on the floor. Later he awoke and I discovered that he spoke fluent Russian. He was actually a good friend of these families and had just flown in from Ulaan Baatar. The scrawny looking horse tied up outside was his and to our amazement he had paid 1000,000 Tugrik for it ($1000US). It was a race-horse and would earn him a lot of money apparently."
22nd November 2004
Tim has sent The Guild another message. He is now in Kazakhstan.
"Ahead lie a difficult few weeks - more and more remote, and with little prospect of water or snow. There are some patches of sandy desert, and generally a very empty landscape. I have bought some Chinese fire crackers which I let off each night to keep the wolves at bay - hope they work! I have been wondering what is really out there on the empty steppe for years, and am interested to know more about Lake Balkhash. Lets see how it goes."
Tim then goes on to reveal an astonishing piece of information!
|"In terms of the pack-saddle - fantastic! Something you may not know is that it can be adjusted to fit a Bactrian camel or a Yak with ease!! I used it for 8 days on a camel through the Kharkirraa mountains and the herders were very impressed. Even the cinch and latigos were long enough to fit no problem. I feel that this gives me freedom now - I can rest a pack horse by using a camel when necessary, or even a yak."|
16th December 2004
Click on picture to enlarge
Tim telephoned The Guild
headquarters very late at night - which was 10 a.m. Kazakh time! He apologised
for not ringing earlier, but explained that he had had to warm up the satellite
telephone's battery in his pocket before he could make the call!
The photograph on the left shows the sun rising into a beautiful day taking the pinch, as Tim puts it, out of the minus 20 degree Celsius morning!
The intrepid traveller has just celebrated his 26th birthday - not all alone with his animals in the middle of the frozen Kazakh countryside, but on a farm with some welcoming herders. He is now trying to decide on the next part of his route.
25th April 2005
"Tim Cope: Modern Nomad"
There is an excellent article about Tim in the Adventure Issue of "Men's Journal"! Click on the picture on the right.
The photograph of Tim was taken in Kazakhstan, midway through his journey in the hoofprints of Genghis Khan, in February 2005.
Click here to read what Tim wrote about his experiences in London at the Royal Geographical Society.
In a telephone call to Guild HQ, Tim told us that according to his GPS he is now 12 kilometres closer to the end of his journey in Hungary than from where he began in Mongolia! Congratulations, Tim - that's a very significant moment.
He also noted that his horses have now travelled more than a thousand kilometres without shoes across the sandy terrain of Kazakhstan.
And finally, travelling as he is doing in the hoof-prints of Genghis Khan's horsemen, Tim has discovered numerous equestrian clues which indicate the Mongol legacy is still strong in both horses and horsemen along this ancient route.
Tim has written briefly with some interesting thoughts on weather!
By the way, seems that we travellers pick the
right years to travel. The winter I passed through was one of the coldest and
hardest in living memory. -48 - 52 was regularly recorded during late January
and February in addition to the wind. In fact for much of the winter this year
it was colder in Kazakhstan than it was above the Arctic Circle. Fred Burnaby it
seems picked a similar winter when he did his journey, as did the unsuccessful
Russian battalion that perished in the 1830s.
Dealing with bureaucracy at the moment. Horses are back out on the steppe,.
Buying a camel tomorrow.
Hope all is well,
Please click here to read a chilling story about horses and bridges.
TIM COMPLETES HISTORIC CROSSING OF KAZAKHSTAN!
After more than 12 months since his arrival in the Republic of Kazakhstan, Tim reached the border with Russia near Astrakhan (on the Caspian Sea) on Friday 14th of October. His three horses, Ogonyok, Kok, and Blackie and his dog Tigon are now resting happily while Tim prepares all the documents and logistics for a crossing into Russia. The arrival at the border marks the two-third waypoint of the journey to Hungary (theoretically) and the promise of a slightly milder climate. It’s also a time to reflect and celebrate.
Kazakhstan, as Tim now understands very well, is an
enormous country stretching 3000km in a straight line from the eastern most tip
to the west (only about 1000km less than the Australian continent). It is a
country defined by steppe but encompassing a wonderful contrast of climates,
ecologies and cultures. Although poorly understood and known in the western
world, Kazakhstan today encompasses the land where the first nomads in history
are thought to have tamed horses and learnt to ride. These horsemen/women as
Bjarke Rink aptly explains in his book “The
Centaur Legacy” changed the face of the earth, and began a swift charge
towards the communication and technology of the present era. Tim has
basically crossed Kazakhstan from the widest points and along the way ticked
over around 4500-5000km in real traveling distance. The distance however is an
unhelpful measure of his experience- for example you can travel that distance in
a mere three days on a train. What counts are the more than 70 families that
took Tim in (plus the many others who looked after him), the hundreds and
hundred of stories they shared, and the openness with which they revealed the
secrets of their culture and homeland. Distance also becomes irrelevant when it
is the conditions that make things tough and you are on horseback: no shortcuts.
In winter he experienced lows of –48 degrees Celsius, and in summer 53 degrees.
Finding water and pasture is what has dictated the journey from the very
beginning, and in the desert regions of central/western Kazakhstan, Tim and his
horses were tested to their limits. During this sometimes exhausting and
patience testing process Tim has come to far more intimately understand the
reality of life on the steppe and the mentality of the nomad. Essentially, as
Bjarke Rink explains very well, the nomads adapted their lives around those of
horses, and based it on the natural cycle of events with the comings and goings
of the different seasons. This is in deep contrast to the ‘sedentary, civilized
world’ where we have tended to try and dictate the natural world to fit in with
our needs and lifestyle.
It would be unfair to say that this journey is Tim’s alone. His horses and dog are inseparable companions that are not accessories to the journey, but ‘are the journey.’ Ogonyok, Blackie, and Tigon have shared the entire Kazak adventure, and if they can get through one of the coldest winters on record, a blazing summer, some of the worst pasture imaginable, and some days without water, then surely they can make it to Hungary! Tim’s plan is to see these tough Central Asian horses all the way to Hungary just as the Mongols and earlier nomads would have used their mounts all the way to Europe. The ministry of agriculture in Kazakhstan has been very supportive of Tim and armed him with the documents that will give him the best chance of getting his animals across the border into Russia. Thanks greatly to Kasibek Yerzgaliyev, the head of Atrau region’s ministry of agriculture who has offered invaluable support.
Ahead awaits another winter, and despite the horses
being in less than perfect condition (weight-wise) Tim is confident that
everything he has learnt so far will enable him to keep them in good health and
spirits for the rest of the journey.
So what now lies ahead? Most interesting for Tim is the republic of Kalmikia. This land of steppe, camels and horses to the north-west of the Caspian sea is the only Buddhist republic in geographical Europe. The Kalmiks are of Mongol origin, originally known as the ‘Oirats’ or ‘Zhungars.’ This tribe was eventually smashed by the Chinese, and many who had already moved to Siberia traveled further to the Volga region on the Caspian. In 1771 under a repressive Russian regime, about 100,000 Kalmiks attempted to return home to Mongolia/China. Their route was similar to Tim’s in reverse and only half made it alive through the horrific winter and with Russian Cossack soldiers on their tail. No doubt the Kazak population were not entirely sympathetic because the ancestors of the Kalmiks, the Zhungars were the number one enemy for Kazaks. In fact it was due to the Zhungars that Kazakstan signed the alliance with Russia, and were then eventually swallowed into the Russian Empire as a vassal state.
In 2004 as Tim traveled through Mongolia, he met
with an Oirat community who were descendants of those who made the tough journey
home in 1771. Now, after almost 18 months on the road, Tim is returning to a
Mongol culture as he enters Europe! This is telling example of how the nomads of
the steppe have swept back and forth across the Eurasian landmass for millennia.
Tim does not expect to arrive in Hungary before July 2006 where he will end the journey. When he does arrive though it is interesting to note that celebrations in the name of Genghis Khan will be in full swing back in Mongolia. 2006 is the 800th year celebration of the founding of his great empire.
|"Cantering at dawn. After the
graveyard feel of riding all night the sunrise always seems to invigorate."
Click on photo to enlarge. Copyright: Cara Poulton and Cordell Scaife
After his friends and travelling companions, Cara Poulton and Cordell Scaife, left the ride, Tim decided to give himself and the horses a well-earned break. He needed to renew his visas, and thought he had left the horses in good hands.....
When he returned, however, his horses had vanished! When he eventually found them, it turned out that they had been prepared for a race - and the local means of getting horses ready for a race is to starve them and rug them up warmly! Tim arrived just in time to rescue them - literally with only hours to spare.
However, the race was being held for a special reason. A mosque which had been destroyed in 1931 by the communists had been rebuilt. To commemorate this special occasion, local Kazak elders invited Tim to be the guest of honour at the ceremony, urged him to give a speech, and then presented him with a native cloak and hat to mark the event.
Click on any of the photographs above to enlarge them. (c) Tim Cope.
Tim then set off again and when he crossed the Ural River, he technically entered Europe. He is now camped on the north shore of the Caspian Sea, and hopes to reach his final destination in Hungary in about nine months.
Tim's next adventure will see him crossing Kalmikia, which was founded by the mounted warriors of Genghis Khan. This is the only Buddhist republic in Europe, and Tim is hoping to discover long-lost traces of Genghis and his warriors.
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