The Tea and Horse Route

Picking Tea in Sichuan

Picking Tea in Sichuan

We have been interested in the Horse Tea Route, Tea and Horse Route, and other translations, of an ancient trade route that rivals the Silk Road in importance for China and Asia. We first heard about it from a friend, Cindy, and wondered if our route would take us near the ancient route.  It must have been a slow brutal traverse of the Himalayas, from what we endured, in the foothills today on the “modern” route.

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

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

As we were leaving Ya An today, we saw some beautiful, 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.

For now, the modern route is challenge enough, with landslides, constant mud and water on the road, trucks, buses and all manner of 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.


The Tea and Horse Route — 3 Comments

  1. Thanks for the update Bob and Claire – we enjoy following along on your journey. Stay safe – it sounds like the road conditions are less than ideal for biking at the moment.
    – the Waalkes family

  2. I think about what wonderful things you could do with all the little seeds and spice mixtures we encounter in the street food here. There was a huge spice market in Chengdu, but I wouldn’t know what to do with any of it. And, “that China scent” follows us into the mountains. Mystery?

  3. We are most grateful to read regular reports of your travels–the good, the bad, and the ugly. You and Claire are an amazing couple and we are quite thrilled to participate with you on your journey, albeit vicariously.
    Dick & Helen

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