TC: "The first time I told my mother of my plans she was surprised - mainly because she knew I couldn't ride a horse! And this was to be a 6,000 mile trip from the old capital of the old Mongol Empire from Karakorum right across the Eurasian Steppe to the Danube River in Hungary." 

TE: Was it because where you were going was so different to your native Australia?

TC : "Yes, growing up in Australia, Russia and the East was a fascinating blank space on the map. I didn't know how people lived in this vast space stretching from Finland to the Pacific. It was a place that seemed almost mythical. I studied to be a wilderness guide with Russians in Finland and I met a Russian who taught me some of the language in Petrozavodsk.

"In 1999-200 I travelled across China to Russia by bicycle. And although that was a great way to travel I discovered that on the Steppe there were these nomadic people who would gallop in from the horizon and not have to stick to tracks and roads.This was the region where horses were first domesticated thousands of years ago. I loved the idea of being free of the modern world - even today Mongolia is predominantly a land without fences." 

TE: Did you ever feel threatened on your three years across the steppes?

TC: "Quite early on, I woke up in the night and discovered that two of my three horses had been stolen. I got up at dawn and rode for two hours. I found a nomad herder who had them with his own horses. He said I must have tied them up badly, and they had escaped! He took me back to his yurt and we feasted on mares’ milk. Then he taught me a valuable lesson, he said: 'A man on the steppe without friends is as narrow as a finger, but a man with friends is as wide as the steppe. I learned over time that if someone tries to steal your horse it's a compliment. It means it is a horse worth stealing. I relied on knowledge from local people - and strangely I lost my independence as a traveller. The horses gave me freedom but I needed the help of the nomad. It was a different kind of freedom - with limitations - and I always had to make sure the horses were healthy and had food and somewhere safe at night." 

TE: You seem to respect the indigenous culture and the people of the Steppe? 

TC: "They often knew a lot about the wider world - certainly more than I think many people in the West know about their countries. In the remote areas of Kazakhstan and Mongolia I met educated people - who were schooled in the Soviet times. But in the summer they always re-joined their families and they know about the outside world. But they still value the important things; friendship and family. They aren't disadvantaged or non-conforming. In Mongolia the nomad culture is still dominant, they have pride and status involves being a good herder, with fine horses and being able to look after the animals properly. No-one wanted to steal my computer or my money. They wanted my horse, or a piece of rope or even my saddle. These were things of real value." 

Tim Cope was talking to Tim Ecott about his new book On the Trail of Genghis Khan: An Epic Journey through the Land of the Nomads (Bloomsbury).

(Voice of Russia)