China horseman eyes London Olympics after conquering Siberia

29th March 2009, Comments 0 comments

The ride will raise money for charity while also commemorating the move of the Olympic Games from Beijing last year to London in 2012.

Beijing -- It is only a couple of weeks since Li Jing finished a solo 9,000-kilometre (5,600-mile) horseback ride from central Russia to Beijing, yet he is already preparing a similar trek to London. Next month.

The rugged horseman, who drapes a green cape over his shoulders as he rides solitary through pastoral settings, is fulfilling a childhood dream to retrace the route of Mongolian conqueror Genghis Khan.

"Ever since I was a child I've loved horses and I've also greatly admired Genghis Khan, whose spirit has been a big encouragement for me," Li told AFP in an interview at a Beijing horse club.

"His armies rode from Mongolia and China to Russia and Europe," he said of the medieval warrior. "I have done it in the opposite direction from Votkinsk to Beijing. And now I will go back."

Born in central China, Li, 47, moved to Russia in 1990 where he married, had a child and taught Chinese as he planned his eventual horse ride back to his homeland. Two earlier expeditions never panned out but his dream stayed alive.

"For me there is nothing more beautiful than being all alone with my horses on a beautiful Siberian steppe," he said, as he pulled his long hair back from his bearded face. "The feeling of solitude and tranquility is indescribable."

Following his trek from Russia, Li was invited by Megan Lewis, a Welsh equestrian, to join her expedition from Beijing to London, scheduled to start on April 19 from the Great Wall near the Chinese capital.

That ride will raise money for charity while also commemorating the move of the Olympic Games from Beijing last year to London in 2012.

Chinese and British equestrian organisations are helping arrange the trip.

"It is not a certainty that we will be able to reach London," Li said of the nearly four-year ride.

"Anything can happen on such a long ride, we have to see if we are lucky, if the heavens will shine down on us."

Li's knowledge of Chinese and Russian will help the expedition as it travels along the Great Wall and the ancient Silk Road into central Asia, he said.

He will also be helped by the experience he accumulated during his just-ended trip from Russia to China.

To overcome motorised traffic and constant fears of robbers or unfriendly locals, Li sought to avoid cities and camped out in nature when he could.

While riding through Siberia, extreme cold in January last year left him stranded for three months in a village where the residents turned out to be both friendly and helpful.

"The villagers told me that I would never survive in minus-40 degree weather, so they asked me to stay with them," he said with a gleam in his eye.

"I wanted to leave as soon as I could but blizzards blew up and it was too dangerous to ride because you could not see."

Once in Bashkortostan, a remote Russian republic, he was repeatedly apprehended by police who were looking for a horseman who was suspected of murdering a fellow policeman.

"I got picked up by police at least six times," Li said. "Once I was roughed up pretty bad."

The 19-month journey cost him 15,000 dollars, mostly spent on food and grain for the nine horses that he rode with during the trip. Locals often fed both him and his horses, though he often went hungry.

"There are horse lovers all over the world, they helped me a lot," he said.

"I could buy or trade horses with them. Sometimes they would give me horses."

At times he would ride with one horse, at other times he would use a second horse to carry his belongings. While crossing into China he had to give up his horses due to quarantine regulations on animals.

Yuri, his current horse, known in Chinese as Lu'ai, or "love to travel," was given to him by a horse lover in northeastern China.

Li said the biggest hardship was being away from his 10-year-old son and his Russian wife.

"When I was alone I would often sing the Russian song 'The Sacred War,' I remember it because my son used to sing it in choir," Li said. "Singing this song would also give me strength to go on."

Robert J. Saiget/AFP/Expatica

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