After finishing the Great Wall of China Challenge with the team from the University of Newcastle, I took a week of R&R with friends in Kunming, in Yunnan Province in China (musings for that week to come later!) After that, I prepared for another challenge; a 17 day exploration of the outer north west region of Mongolia with adventurer Tim Cope.
So these musings comprise my recollections and thoughts of that trip. If there’s anything factually wrong, I’d like to hear from you. Otherwise, it’s just as I saw it and perceived it!
I was actually heading to Mongolia for the second time, having been there first in June 2008 when I travelled overland from Ulaanbaatar, the capital of Mongolia, to Novosibirsk in Siberia. I fell in love with the place then. I love the wide open spaces, the people and the fact that I could travel for days on end without seeing mobile phone antennae, high tension power pylons or even aircraft con trails; all of this appealed greatly.
Apart from thinking about the place on the odd occasion since – it was still a far away place. Then the September 2014 edition of Australian Geographic magazine arrived in our mail box. And in there I spotted an advertisement telling me that Tim Cope was to lead a World Expeditions tour to the western parts of Mongolia in September-October 2015. In a flash, I was on the phone booking my place. At the time, World Expeditions couldn’t give me a price as it was so far out from departure date… but that didn’t matter. I said, “Put me down and where do I send my deposit”? I wasn’t going to miss the opportunity to travel with someone I admired so much and who obviously could give an extra special insight into Mongolia and its people. Because Tim has spent many, many months in the country, learning the language and getting to know the people. He would be in a very special position to impart an in-depth and personal understanding to our experience.
I had some inkling of what to expect from Tim, because, back in 2004, I’d thoroughly enjoyed listening to him telling his story during live crosses by satellite phone broadcast on ABC Radio. That was at the time that he was travelling on horse back, in the footsteps of Genghis Khan, from Mongolia to Hungary, a distance of approximately 10,000km. (6200mi.). Then came the doco on television – what a place, what a man, what an adventure! Then came the book which I read with delight.
The publisher’s blurb for this book by Tim includes the following:
“Inspired by a desire to understand the nomadic way of life, Australian adventurer Tim Cope embarked on a remarkable journey: 6,000 miles on horseback across the Eurasian steppe from Mongolia, through Kazakhstan, Russia, and the Ukraine, to Hungary retracing the trail of Genghis Khan. From novice rider to travelling three years in the saddle, – accompanied by his Kazakh dog, Tigon – Tim learnt to fend off wolves and would-be horse-thieves, and grapple with the extremes of the steppe as he crossed sub-zero plateaux, the scorching deserts of Kazakhstan and the high-mountain passes of the Carpathians.
Along the way Tim was taken in by people who taught him the traditional ways and recounted their recent history: Stalin’s push for industrialisation brought calamity to the steppe and forced collectivisation that in Kazakhstan alone led to the starvation of more than a million nomads. Today Cope bears witness to how the traditional ways hang precariously in the balance in the post-Soviet world.
Five years in the making, On the Trail of Genghis Khan is Tim’s personal story of adventure, endurance –and at times tragedy-, and eventual triumph. Intelligently written, it is a narrative full of romance, history, and drama that ultimately celebrates the nomadic way of life —its freedom, its closeness to the land, its animals, and moods.”
I recommend this book as a good read.
Perhaps this photo of Tim on one of his Mongolian ponies at ‘blue lake’ near Kharkhiraa Pass, self-taken during his epic trek, will give you some idea of why I wanted to go with him on this trek. I looked forward so much to this adventure. I thought….bring it on!
Mongolia is a vast country in east-central Asia bordered by Russia to the north and China on all other sides. It’s the second largest land-locked country in the world after Kazakhstan, which has an area of 2,725,000 sq. km. (1,052,000 sq. mi.) Mongolia’s total area is 1,565,000 sq. km. (604,250 sq. mi.). To perhaps give a better of idea of comparisons to places you may know, it falls between the size of Queensland (1,731,000 sq. km.) and the Northern Territory (1,349,000 sq. km.). It’s a little smaller than Alaska, (665,380 sq. mi).
With such a large land mass and small population it’s one of the least densely populated independent countries in the world with just 1.92 people per square kilometre (4.97/sq. mi.) Approximately 30% of the population are still nomadic.
Another 45% of the country’s total population of 3 million people now live in the capital city of Ulaanbaatar. ( “Ulaanbaatar” is the way the Mongolians write their country’s name; so that is the way I’m going to write it.)
Mongolia is a parliamentary republic, a country that has, in the past, been ruled by various nomadic empires. It has also spent time under Stalinist communist rule.
Buddhism is the predominant religion which has been revived since the lifting of a ban on religion that was in place during the rule by the Communists. Historically Mongolia has very close ties to Tibet. A small group in the far north of the country still practice Shamanistic traditions while around 100,000 Kazakhs in the far west are Sunni Muslims.
So, this is the first of a new set of my musings and photos, another armchair adventure, this time to the vast landscape of Mongolia, known as the Land of the Blue Sky. I’ll show you spectacular scenery of wide open spaces and lots of snow covered mountains. I’ll take you to meet nomadic tribesmen and horsemen and families who live a very different lifestyle to that which most of us know. We’ll trek in one of the ‘highest’ countries in the world; through snow and ice, dust and wind… and no two days will be alike!
Why not join me for the journey!
All photographs copyright © JT and DY of jtdytravels
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