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Tim makes historic crossing of Kazakhstan!(23/10/05)

(CLICK HERE TO VIEW THE COMPLETE LIST OF DIARY ENTRIES) 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 the 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 horseman/women as Bjarke Rink aptly explains in his book “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 Ghengis Khaan will be in full swing back in Mongolia. 2006 is the 800th year celebration of the founding of his great empire. Be sure to check the website soon for an account by Tim of the last testing leg to the border, and for a series of new photos. From now on too, Tim will be sending in GPS coordinates with every update so that you can find out exactly where Tim is situated. Tim is now situated at: Latitude: 46° 34 Min. 00 Sec. Longitude: 48° 49 Min. 00 Sec. Go to WWW.MAPQUEST.COM/MAPS/LATLONG.ADP and type in the above coordinates to see where Tim is now. (CLICK HERE TO VIEW THE COMPLETE LIST OF DIARY ENTRIES)