Time is winding down on preparations for Michael and I to depart for Ladakh and the India Himalaya. Our month long exploration of one of the ancient world’s great and daunting trade routes is a little over a month away. Expectation, preparation…and still more preparation, will eventually give way to actually being ‘there’ and upon the route of stone and snow and that wonderful sense of simply ‘being there’.
One of the underrated aspects of the route is that far from being simply a spectacular route through the sky which hauled goods over and through the spires of stone and ice, it was a route which transported DNA, cultures, languages, news, and gossip into and out of some of the most remote lands on the globe.
This is a post to offer some of the background into what we’re about to embark upon both geographically and culturally. The remnants and memories of a pathway that relentlessly ploughed over and into the great mountains hauling goods, ideas, mortals, and hope.
Though primarily a route of wool (from sheep and yak) which ushered the precious commodity to markets and middlemen, it was also a conduit for salt, medicines, herds, and of course my old friend, tea. One old trader explained to me that it was in some senses the most westerly strand of the ‘Tea Horse Road’, which of course brought joy to my ears. There is so much that these great ‘highways of the foot’ provided beyond simply economics and inevitably it is this fact that will add colour and lifeblood to our own journey. Personalities, our own daily grinds, and the vast spaces will provide their own ‘entertainment’ and painful pleasure.
For centuries this route challenged the most hardy traders and travellers. Tibetans, Han, Khotanis, Kyrghiz, Turkomans, Yarkandis, and Hindus all mingled, traded, travelled and blended into the local weave of high-mountain economics. Add to that mix the treacherous and often fatal storms and high mountain cocktails of elements, and the result is one of the mountain world’s great adventures.