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Along the Tea Horse Road in Lijiang

sunny 14 °C

All tea originated in the mountains of China and was only grown in India and Ceylon in recent centuries. So we have now traced our favourite cuppa back to its roots in Yunnan Province in the far southwest of the country...
Until about a hundred years ago these cobbled streets in the Naxi capital of Lijiang rang with the hooves of heavily laden pack animals carrying silk and tea across the mountains to Tibet. Lijiang was the major staging post for the caravans on the Silk Road and the Tea Horse Road for at least two thousand years. From here it took six months for the horses, mules, camels and men, to reach Lhasa in Tibet. Silk from Burma and tea from Pu'er in southern Yunnan passed through these narrow streets until the 20th. century on the first leg of its journey to Europe via Persia and the Middle East. Tea matures with age, like wine, so it didn't suffer during the lengthy journey that crossed numerous mountain ranges and hundreds of rivers during the 6 month trek.
Lijiang's narrow twisting streets, winding streams, and masses of beautifully restored buildings with ornamental tiled roofs, make it one of the most picture perfect cities in the world...
Unfortunately, like so many of the world's greatest treasures, Lijiang is a victim of its own success. Thousands of people cram the narrow lanes and are ripe pickings for the merchants and restaurateurs. Where else would a regular cup of local grown coffee cost $13 Cdn (8 quid)? Where else would you be charged $400 Cdn for one of these 200 gram discs of tea...
Buying tea in China is as dicey as buying 'genuine' Louis Vuitton handbags. Similar looking tea discs can be picked up alongside touristy knick-knacks for as little as $10. and unless you can read the Chinese fine print you have no way of knowing which to buy. Some teas have sold to Chinese collectors for as much as $80,000 Cdn.
The ancient Silk and Tea roads have long gone, replaced today by excellent toll highways and a myriad of flights. And the trading route through Tibet and Kazakhstan to Europe is now a freight rail service linking the east coast of China to London and Madrid. Now the Chinese are building a super high speed rail line south from Yunnan to Bangkok, Kuala Lumpur and Singapore. This once remote and mystical land on the very edge of Tibet is rapidly becoming a tourist mecca...
While it may seem romantic to imagine the caravans laden with tea passing this way en route to Shangri-La and Lhasa, it must have been a dreadfully hard life for the animals and their drivers. But life is not easy for all of Lijiang's residents today...
During the day Lijiang is a bustling, although somewhat Disneyfied, reminder of a China that has all but disappeared. But you have to look beyond the hundreds of trinket shops all selling exactly the same stuff and all pretending that it was handmade by some Naxi peasant living in a hovel. You have to see beyond the dozens of drum shops all selling exactly the same....OK. You get the picture. Ditto for jade shops, silversmiths and, especially, woven fabric stores where pretty girls barely pretend to weave and stop as soon as you lose interest. Once you see beyond the crass commercialism you find an exquisitely beautiful city. For instance, the authentically reconstructed Mu's Mansion, (circa 16th century) the onetime palatial home of the Naxi ruler, Tusi Mu Yamen, is a quiet oasis in the midst of a frenetic marketplace...
Much of Lijiang was badly damaged by an earthquake in 1996 but most of the ancient city has been restored to its former state with, unfortunately perhaps, an over emphasis on commercialism – especially the numerous, and extremely loud, karaoke bars...
It's been a long time since pack horses laden with tea trod these cobbled streets yet, in moments of stillness, we can picture them on their annual trek across the mountains and rivers to the foot of the Himalayas – and it's a very nice picture...
To see more views of this beautiful city please go to our photo section.

Posted by Hawkson 00:20 Archived in China

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Very satisfying photos and commentary. Hope you are successful in getting your tea without having to sell your home in Gabriola to pay for it. Was a beautiful area and an adventure.

by Sue Fitzwilson

It is so pretty there that I feel a little sad that I am not there. Can you believe that we had ANOTHER SNOW STORM YESTERDAY. I hope it is the last but who knows. love

by Jean McLaren

I love the trinkets. Something in my mind keeps me gaping at the little bright red things going Ooo and Ah and Oh look! Not that I would admit this to anyone.

by Janet

Exquisite pictures and post, what a beautiful place with such a history..

Thank you

by Gottfried Mitteregger

Interesting to study the map as you head deep into China. Mass of highways N,E, and S but very little to the west. Mountains in the way, I presume. Glad you got this feature back (map). Always a favourite with me.

by R and B

A delightful read, now I need to get my Yee Hing teapot topped up, it will be with Pu Erh tea ;-)))

by kenhuocj

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