Khan had his Golden Horde with him; Cope had three horses and a dog, his companions for his three-and-a-half-year trek.
Cope’s is an inspiring journey through inhospitable environments, with the author relying heavily on the hospitality of communities he meets along the way. He’s fed, looked after, cared for when sick and even asked to participate in a Kazakh bride-stealing ceremony.
Yet it’s also a hard tale: for two months in the summer in Kazakhstan he’s forced to ride through the night and sleep through the torturous heat of the day; he has his horses stolen, only to get them back; his father dies and his relationship ends, yet still he soldiers on.
Reading the book, it becomes clear early on that it isn’t the Mongol hordes, long dead, that truly interest Cope, but the communities still living in the areas Genghis conquered. Cope tries to discover first-hand if the formerly nomadic communities have managed to survive.
While holed up in Akbakai, a desolate mining town full of drunks and garbage in the middle of the ‘starving steppe’, he sees the impact of modernity on isolated communities, of Soviet control over previously nomadic ethnic groups, and of the end of traditional ways of life.
While the book struggles by trying to be too faithful to chronology at the expense of pacing, it’s an epic tale and a worthy homage to a declining way of life, made even more so by the fact that Cope had barely ridden a horse before embarking on his journey.
ON THE TRAIL OF GENGHIS KHAN: An Epic Journey through the Land of the Nomads by Tim Cope, Bloomsbury, £20