The Ancient Tea Horse Road – Now in Portuguese

As an old trader along the Ancient Tea Horse Road once remarked to our team as we traveled through his village, “You all are lucky because you can read, you can write, and can tell a story that many will hear. I cannot read or write…I can only speak if there is somebody listening”.

Dandee Pinchu (tea trader, brigand, bodyguard, muleteer extraordinaire)

Dandee Pinchu (tea trader, brigand, bodyguard, muleteer extraordinaire)

In his case, his words rest here in this text so his audience has multiplied and many have heard his voice and of his tales.

Heartfelt gratitude and thanks to the courageous Livros de Bordo who relentlessly ploughed on with publishing my Ancient Tea Horse Road into Portuguese and extended this great mountain route’s history to a wider audience. Language is kept accurate and the thoughts and subtle wisdom of a last generation of muleteers and traders is wonderfully intact.

Tea Horse Road - Jeff Fuchs

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Tea Horse Road – words from Drolma

Elder Drolma from Dzogong speaks and reminisces about the days of the Tea Horse Road linking her home in eastern Tibet with Lhasa and beyond. In her words “It was a journey that both gave and took life”. Both Drolma and her husband offered up bo jia (butter tea) while speaking about an eternal route of tea, trade, and of relentless movement through the mountains.

nomad - Jeff Fuchs

These words (like so many from the elders) spoke of something tangible and fierce, but ultimately of a route that bound cultures within the Himalayas’ protective walls to others that they would never meet. The Tea Horse Road was one of the great Himalayan pipelines and providers to peoples whose version of luxury might extend to a single extra brick of tea or a bag of salt.

They spoke of a route of punishing and suffering landscapes that ranks as one of the great adventures. Always though was the reminder that the mountains also protected.

When our team of six moved on from Drolma’s home with full bellies and lumps in the throat, she wished us well on our way to Lhasa and with a small grin (that kept it all very real) reminded that though Lhasa was the holy place, she’d heard that thieves were perhaps more clever there and told us to “Bow on your knees to the great Jokhang Temple while keeping one hand on your knives”.

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Condè Nast Traveller Tea Article on Jeff Fuchs

 

Condè Nast Traveller Tea Article on Jeff Fuchs

Condè Nast Traveller introduces my latest tea-fueled exercises in the green leaf here.

A trip of sips with some of the most ancient of cultures of the green on the planet…from soil to cup.

Tea preparation with Bulang minority

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Snow Curtains in Tibet

Winter has set in marking the end of my own season within the Himalayas and Tibet. It is time for the  grand silences and deep cold – that seep into and out of the earth – to bring their annual change to the earth. This year brought with it all of the mountain magic that it always does with additional reference points on the ancient trade routes that once passed through the Himalayas, the health of the heights, and a confirmation that what happens in the heights will inevitably soon find its way down.

Tibet - Monastery

The time within the mountains also emphasized however impregnable they remain, they also are changing at speed and suffering as temperatures rise, glaciers melt into the depths, and water becomes an even more tempestuous necessity and commodity. Sand dunes climb ever higher into the mountain valleys as silt and sand from dry river beds are blown and carried into the heights.

Tibet - Sand Dunes

As always though, the overwhelming feeling and perhaps ‘lesson’ that I take with me is that beyond the risks and sheer daunting nature of the spires, snow passes, and isolation, the mountains offer up something of a sanctuary and silence. They nurture even while they are abused.Tibet - Himalayas

In a season that saw a Tibetan mastiff attack a friend leaving an inch-deep puncture in a leg, a blood oxygen level of another friend drop to half of what it should, the Himalayas did once again show an astonishing ability to soothe and remind of the sanctity of the elements.

Tibet - Nam Tso

Nam Tso lake in its magnificent sheen of power, and high-altitude waves that crash into the shoreline remain somehow pristine. The ever-flowing Tsangpo River which is the highest major river in the world, follows its ancient route etching its way through canyons and communities as it has for ages.

Tibet - Himalayas

Black necked cranes wandered through the valleys as elegant and without fear as they are rare. Beyond the buffer that the Tibetan Plateau has offered up in ice and stone, the great glacial pieces have long been the providers of some of the most important waterways on the planet. They are the crucial feeds of the waterways.

Tibet - Himalayas

I was also reminded of the wisdom that remains so present in the mountains when Tibetan friend Gonpo said one day “The mountains and rivers are the same. One end is always attached to the other end and you cannot touch part without touching the whole thing”. I would only add to that, that one cannot touch a part without being touched.

Tibet - Himalaya

A trader (another of those gems of the times when things moved and were moved by foot rather than wheels) offered up another mountain law telling me ”If you are lost, you must ‘follow the snow’. It too has a path” – this while looking at a white drape of snow lining the entire sky.Mount Everest

Chomolungma the great female deity that rises in stone higher than any piece of earth, (aka Mount Everest) sits broadly and mesmerizing in its intensity. But it also feels intensely calm and almost forlorn.

Tibet - Sand Dunes

I often wonder what the mountains would wish for and what they might observe. Tibetans certainly think that they might slowly shake their heads at some of the shenanigans performed by their noisy little two legged neighbours. Or perhaps the mountains might simply remind us that beyond being wondrous widths of stone and ice, that they are also the harbingers of things to come.

Tibet - Himalayas

In Tibetan there aren’t really words for good-bye but rather to “live long”, “go slowly”, “go well”… and so a year comes to an end ‘going slowly’. People, phases, time itself are all given a farewell but rarely a good-bye.

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Our Expedition Ladakh gets Cover Feature in Outpost Magazine

Delighted to make the cover-feature (top-less no less) of Canada’s award-winning Outpost Magazine in the current edition. Our journey last year along the Route of Wind and Wool, tracing the ancient Himalayan pathways by foot is the focus.

Cover - Outpost, Issue 101

Expedition Ladakh, Jeff Fuchs

Another of the great mountain’s unheralded routes gets a little light shone on it with some emphasis on the glaciers, which continue to ‘bleed’ and disappear. Our ‘expedition Ladakh’, known more accurately as the Route of Wind and Wool (both of which thrive up in the mountains) was an odyssey as much into the suffering mountains as they were along a timeless route of commodities.

glacier - Jeff Fuchs

Indeed, it was the glaciers (and the elusive snow leopard) that were occupying the mind during much of this journey. A few years ago, according to a local, glaciers like the one above were “covered in white“. Now, “The mountains I knew as white, my son has only known as black and snowless“.

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Tea-Infused Journey to the Sources of the Leaf – Beginning next March

 

Much sipping, waiting, travelling, and finally contentment, has been put into creating a tea tour with Wild China where we will sip of the greens, the whites, the precious Puerhs and as many other teas as we can manage in between. A journey that begins next March spanning China’s famed southern tea belt, it will be nothing short of an odyssey of instruction and history as it applies to what was known once simply as ‘du’ or ‘bitter herb’.

A tea cultivator enjoys a tea high away from the precious leaves

A tea cultivator enjoys a tea high away from the precious leaves

An immersion into the fluid, the leaves themselves, and the personalities behind names like the famed (and much faked) Longjing, and ancient tree Puerh. How tea is produced, its history and a rampant bit of sampling at all hours of the day and night will be enjoyed.

tea - jeff fuchs

From my adopted home in Yunnan, we’ll head east into the southeast of China, where Oolongs were born and shipped out by schooner, and where white buds now stir up trends.

tea - jeff fuchs

Tea as a medicine, as a tonic, as a food and fuel, and tea in its most notable form: desiccated leaves unleashed by water, will all be looked at and sampled where possible. We’ll take in one of the ancient world’s great green commodities in tiny sips, and great heaving gulps.

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Sri Lanka In Style and Dilmah Teas join with Jeff Fuchs

 

Though I’m not known for cocktails, looking forward to joining tea-stained forces with Dilmah Teas and Sri Lanka In Style for a series of hosted talks and evenings throughout some of Sri Lanka’s most fabled resorts. Tea tales, mountain tales, and some ‘tangent’ tales to be shared.

Event(s) Information here.

tea - Jeff Fuchs

 

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Tea Horse Road – Nomad Style

Few can claim to live as simply and as absolutely efficiently within (and atop) their environment as the nomads (ndrog’ba) who have long learned to survive and thrive well above 4,000 metres. Closer to the sky than most, their lives are shorn down to essentials, and precious few luxuries. One of the great fuels and treasures was ‘ja‘ (tea).

Tea Horse Road - Nomad Style - Jeff Fuchs

During many visits with Ajo and Omu over the course of years to their various seasonal homes, the bare minimum of ‘things’ always struck the mind. Like so much that is hidden and understated about these people, their role as prime consumers of tea along the Tea Horse Road has gone largely undocumented.

Tea Horse Road - Nomad Style - Jeff Fuchs
Only what is absolutely needed is taken…tea was inevitably one of those necessities.

Tea,  could always be found and was always craved and in fact much of the tea in history that travelled along the Tea Horse Road was destined for the smoky yak wool tents of the nomads. As one old saying of the nomads goes, “We waited for the caravans bringing tea like we waited for family”.

Within Ajo and Omu’s tent, tea was a constant, whether flowing, being prepared, or waitng. Most often in its bamboo and rattan cylindrical containers, bricks of the stuff inevitably sat close to the altar, occupying a place of rare privilege in the lives of truly stoic people.

Tea Horse Road - Nomad Style - Jeff Fuchs

Cooked rather than infused, with additions of thick butter globs and salt, a kettle would be tucked into the embers and kept at the ready day and night.

Of tea, Ajo once said, “Tea is a food, it is something valued from far away, and it is something that no nomad would ever leave the tent without first sipping.”

Tea Horse Road - Nomad Style - Jeff Fuchs

Ajo, like his people, wasn’t given to much excess talk, but tea, yak wool, and the weather occupied both his thoughts and words to an almost obsessive degree.

It is as concise a description as any I’ve heard about tea’s enduring vitality.

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Tea Horse Road – The Faces

Yeshi during an interview in Pomda, in western Sichuan Province

Yeshi during an interview in Pomda, in western Sichuan Province

Beyond simply the daunting snow passes, eccentric bandits, and disorientation and dehydration abilities of the Tea Horse Road, there is the underside which kept business, business. Yeshi worked for one of the great family run companies, the Pomda-tsang, which ushered tea, resin, salt, and anything with value. In its time the family fought (and won) battles with the the Lhasa government, the Republicans of China, and any who challenged their right to trade. Many simply referred to the Pomda-tsang as the “masters of the Tea Horse Road”.

They were also known as a company that paid on time, and even went so far as to guarantee their shipments. What endeared them to (and garnered loyalty from) locals was the fact that they never interfered with smaller caravans or their shipments.

Tea Horse Road - Jeff Fuchs

In time the Pomda-tsang became like a mini-empire with their own stationary, codes of conduct, and even their own banks. Yeshi (who features in book documenting the Tea Horse Road) played a role, though in his words: ”I could not have traveled the route. It would have killed me, but my numbers told me all about how vital tea was. I could sip the tea but not walk the trail”. Geographies, mules, yak, a green leaf, and will all played a role along the Tea Horse Road, but so too did the faces.

 

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The Tea Horse Road Expedition – 8 Years’ On…

Eight years ago this month, a team of mountain men that were in part desperate, utterly tough, and not entirely sure of what was to come, embarked on an expedition to trace what was left of the physical remnants of one of the globe’s most underrated trade routes.

It is time to include some shots and tributes of that journey through the sky.

Nomè (the most patient of all of us) leads our mule team up the Sho'La Pass

Nomè (the most patient of all of us) leads our mule team up the Sho’La Pass

The Tea Horse Road, Cha Ma Dao (Mandarin), and Gyalam (Tibetan for ‘wide road’) ended up taking twice as long to complete – 7.5 months – and ended up being far more about the memories of the last traders, muleteers and participants than it would be about anything else.

Myself and Dorje enjoy a cave-bound hotspring...and briefly contemplate being pious....briefly mind you.

Myself and Dorje enjoy a cave-bound hotspring and briefly contemplate being pious….briefly mind you.

The beings that shared in this odyssey with me: Sonam, Dakpa, Norbu, Nomè, and Dorje ended up becoming epic characters for all time in my mind.

From left: Dakpa (the charmer and linguist), Sonam (aka Spiderman), and Norbu (the Bull) upon the Sho La Pass where 20 minutes after this photo was taken, we almost lost Dakpa in a blizzard

From left: Dakpa (the charmer and linguist), Sonam (aka Spiderman), and Norbu (the Bull) upon the Sho La Pass where 20 minutes after this photo was taken, we almost lost Dakpa in a blizzard

Here a little tribute to them eight-years on from a journey that gave life, risked it, and finally inspired. A tribute too, to the mountains that have – up until now at least – kept us all safe, hemoglobin-rich, and in awe.

Incorrigible, beyond tough, and man I came to refer to as 'the Peter O'Toole of the Mountains'...for reasons both provocative and good.

Incorrigible, beyond tough, and man I came to refer to as ‘the Peter O’Toole of the Mountains’…for reasons both provocative and good.

We were assisted and enriched by some mountains, a lot of tea, and the generosity of those with so very little, but who knew that they had been part of something epic (and by epic, I speak of the old connotation…of something truly huge). The Tea Horse Road was about far more than a route through the sky, a green leaf, or horses…it was about a  segment of rarely told mountain lore.

Kawa Gebo (aka Meili Xueshan, Meili Snow Mountain) in northwestern Yunnan, which threw a blizzard upon us, and very nearly take one of us.

Kawa Gebo (aka Meili Xueshan, Meili Snow Mountain) in northwestern Yunnan, which threw a blizzard upon us, and very nearly take one of us.

A deep bow of appreciation to all of it

What fueled a good deal of the route and our passing along it...tea.

What fueled a good deal of the route and our passing along it…tea.

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