On the Tea and Horse Route: In Search of Shangri-la


Picking Tea in Sichuan


This is a re-post from one year ago today.

The Horse Tea Route, or the Tea Horse Route, is an ancient trade route that rivals the Silk Road in importance to Asia. We heard about it first from Cindy and Tim Travis, http://downthero and wondered if our route would take us near the ancient route.  It must have been a slow brutal traverse of the Tibetan Plateau, from what we endured, in the foothills on the “modern” route.

Horse, Symbol of Ancient Tea Horse Route, and Tanker Truck, Symbol of the Modern Route

As we were leaving Ya An, we saw some larger than life bronze statues of horses and men carrying heavy burdens. A sign nearby indicated that it was a memorial to the ancient route that took tea to SE Asia, India and Lhasa, in exchange for trade goods, and horses from Tibet. We are roughly following the southern route that was supposed to go to Yunnan (Shangri-la) and into present day Laos. We hope to find out more as we get deeper into the mountains. If we are lucky, maybe we will see a bit of the original not yet covered by later tracks and roads.

The modern route is challenge enough, with landslides, constant mud and water on the road, trucks, buses and many smaller vehicles competing for a narrow deteriorating road surface, often with precipitous drops into a burnt sienna river raging with rapids. The captain’s shoulders are tired and the stoker’s nerves are frazzled.

Claire Rogers
Claire Rogers writes on cross-cultural adventure drawn from her travels across the Silk Road from Beijing to Istanbul, around Australia and of course, through Iceland--all by bike.

She's currently traveling by tandem with her husband Bob, through southwest China, Laos, Vietnam, Cambodia and Thailand. Check out NewBohemians.net for more information on their travels.
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