May 12, 2010

The ancient Tea Horse Trail of China

Location: Horse caravan on the way to Chawalong, Tibet, China ( 28° 30′ 0″ N, 98° 24′ 0″ E)
Date: 4 May 2005; 10.45am
Camera: Canon 300D with kit kens

There is a good article about the ancient Tea Horse Trail in the latest issue of the National Geographic magazine (the article has a factual error- Budweiser is never available everywhere in China. Perhaps the author is trying to make the majority of the readers, who are American feel more “at home”). The Tea Horse Trail was an ancient route used by traders to transport much needed and appreciated tea to Tibet and in return bring the famed Tibetan horses back to China. It was a series of routes, crossing over high mountain passes from Sichuan and Yunnan into (then) Tibet. It was amazing because of the hardship and amazing terrains the routes passed. The article focused on the “Middle route” which is the most difficult as it crosses some very high passes and can only be accomplished by human carrying the compressed tea bricks. Some of the other routes are no less exciting due to the deep gorges and perilous environment they passed. Though the majority of such routes are no longer in use, some are still very important as there are the only connections for people along them. An example is the Tea Horse Trail along the Nujiang Gorge (or Salween River) from Bingzhongluo in northwest Yunnan into the south of Tibet (see these articles for a description of the route/trek and an alternate entry into Tibet). The route is perilously narrow, snaking along the river and is susceptible to frequent landslides, so unsuitable for vehicles. There are many remote villages along the route and their needs for necessities such as sugar and salt (as well as beer) can only be brought in by horse caravans. The scenery along this section of the Tea Horse Trail is simply breathtaking where human and animals are simply dwarfed by the immensity and majesty of the mountains and deep gorges (see photo). This is a part of China that very few people have seen and is changing rapidly, just like the rest of the country. This photo and journey description was in mid-2005. My friend, Michael had already reported in late 2007 that a section of the route in Yunnan is now passable to 4WD’s.


fufu said...

it must be great riding a horse passing through these trails in tibet... so picturesque :)

Herbert Wong said...

Horse caravans are actually a group of mules (not horse but Chinese refers to them as horse) that are used to carry goods. The caravan is not meant for humans. Caravan "drivers" walk with the horses for a few days from the source to end destinations. I joined them in the multi-day trek, not riding on a horse.