Tim and Tigon
In June 2004 Tim Cope set off on an epic journey: 10,000 kilometers from Mongolia to Hungary by horse—a trek that eventually took him more than three years and led him into the fabric of nomad society on the Eurasian steppe.The award winning documentary film of Cope's journey is now complimented by his new book, On The Trail of Genghis Khan, An Epic Journey Through the Land of the Nomads, which won the Grand Prize at the 2013 Banff Mountain Festival.
Here, Cope shares some of his favorite images from the trip. Above: I pose with my Kazakh canine travelling companion, Tigon (name means "fast wind" or "hawk" in Kazakh) in the desert of Western Kazakhstan. Tigon was given to me as a pup by a herder called Aset who travelled with me for ten days into the first blizzards of winter in November 2004. He told me that I needed someone to protect me at night from the wolves, keep me warm in the tent, and to be my friend en route to Hungary. I couldn’t have done the journey without Tigon, who now lives with me in Australia.
My Mongolian mount, Rusty, and I survey Khokh Nuur (Blue lake) near the 9,840-foot-high pass between Kharkhiraa and Turgen Uul in western Mongolia. I was just three months into our three-year journey to the distant Danube river in Europe.
A proud nomad leads her caravan down from the Kharkhiraa-Turgen Uul massif to the plains for autumn camp in western Mongolia. A single camel can carry around 300 kilograms. Using camels for hauling during migration is becoming a rarity in Mongolia, where mechanized transport is gradually replacing traditional means.
Christmas in Kazakhstan
Self portrait on the Betpak Dala, central Kazakhstan, two days to Christmas, and six months into my journey. Temperature was dropping below negative 22 degrees Fahrenheit, my horse Taskonir had an abscess, and my tent was beginning to fall apart. I later evacuated to the gold mining village of Akbakai but became stuck there for nearly three months.
Spring Has Arrived
Children hold freshly picked tulips next to their woolly Bactrian camel near the aul (village) of Tasty on the river Chu, Kazakhstan.
In Stalin’s era in the 1930s, Kazakh nomads were dispossessed of their animals, and as many as 2.2 million Kazakhs (a third of the population) perished in a famine. These boys are part of the small minority of Kazakhs who live a nomadic life in the modern era. Much of my journey in Kazakhstan was about understanding the legacy of the Soviet times, and finding out what remained of nomadic
People of Mongolia
A Khoton child near Tarialan (west Mongolia) holding her baby sister. The Khoton people are a small minority group of Mongolians renowned for living a traditional nomad life in the remote slopes and valleys of the Kharkhiraa-Turgen mountain range.
Early on a summer morning I lead horses through the dry interior of the Crimean peninsula on the way to mainland Ukraine. I’ve been on the road for more than two years now, and it appears that the most trying conditions of the journey are behind me. A couple of months later, however, my journey is waylaid when I receive news that my father has been killed in a car accident.
Desert in July
Kazakh nomad child amid a camel herd on the River Zhem in western Kazakhstan. The deserts of western Kazakhstan are still home to some nomadic families, who spend the hot summer days (when the temperature reaches above 120 degrees Fahrenheit) in underground huts. Finding shelter with nomads in the desert during summer was a matter of survival for me and my animals. I rode exclusively at night during the month of July.
Life of the Saddle
The tail end of the Svidovets ridge in the Carpathians of Ukraine. I’m being led by Tigon; I am riding Taskonir, and leading Ogonyok and Kok. By this stage, I have been on the road for nearly three years, I’ve dealt with the sudden death of my father at home in Australia, and generally transformed from a novice horseman to someone who can’t imagine life out of the saddle. In the 13th century the Mongols had ridden through these very mountains on their way to conquering the largest and empire that has ever been.
Note the dog lead – sometimes necessary in Ukraine and Russia where there was a risk of him being shot by sheep herders, and eating mice poison in the fields.
Cope completed a route not successfully passed since Ghengis Khan and his descendants created the largest empire in history more than 700 years ago. A testing journey of 10,000 kilometers and three years in the saddle.