Expedition Update: The Where’s and What’s of the ‘Route of Wind and Wool’

Our intended route – a faint path at best that disappears entirely in the snows and sands at times – will average 4,000 metres + and will trace one of the most vital trade routes of Himalayas and Central Asia. Pashmina wool – timeless in its appeal and value – was mentioned in Afghan texts as early as the 3rd Century BC, so our expedition’s title pays homage to an ancient item of great worth.

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What I’ve coined as ‘The Route of Wind and Wool’ was a passage that pushed (and often disappeared) through thin-aired blizzards, stone, and valleys of remarkable lushness. It was a route that tested the fortitude of mortals and beasts alike, but like much in that realm has rarely been spoken about or documented beyond the cultures that participated in it. We seek to open up this uniquely Central Asian route and stir up the memories of the last traders so that at the very least the route has a tale that extends beyond its geography.

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Precious pashmina wool, yak wool, salt, tea, medicines, and precious stones were all hauled from Xinjiang (northwestern China), Tibet’s remote Changtang, and beyond to the market towns. Wool would be brought down out of the great heights where Pashmina sheep find comfort in the most extreme of lands for buyers far distant.

Though we won't be joined by a yak team this journey, mules will be along with us for the journey.

Though we won’t be joined by a yak team this journey, mules will be along with us.

Nomadic traders, middlemen, wandering monks, and vagabonds all took turns on this remarkable highway through the sky. A great stew of peoples: Yarkandis, Dards, Tibetans, Han Chinese, Kazakhs, Hindus from the south, and various Turkic peoples were all part of the weave of trade in these remote wind-blown lands.

Our own journey will take in the main portions that we can still access in Ladakh. We’ll pass through the notorious ‘Galloping Dead Horse Plain’ with its bone-laden and scarred lands paying tribute to the lives lost on this relentless route.

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Michael, myself, and a team of locals – who we’re desperate to meet – along with a ridiculous amount of tea will attempt to traverse this magnificent and slightly forbidding landscape.  One old trader remarked about this trade route that it was “a journey that a smart man only attempted once”.

Like on a previous journey Michael and I will no doubt be 'stuck in' loading. This shot of yours truly was taken on our 'Tsalam' expedition to trace an ancient nomadic route of salt.

Like on a previous journey Michael and I will no doubt be ‘stuck in’ loading. This shot of yours truly was taken on our ‘Tsalam’ expedition to trace an ancient nomadic route of salt.

We’ll touch, pass over, plough through, or circumnavigate the daunting Parangla and Sasserla Passes, the Nubra Valley and Changtang Plateau, the great Tso Moriri lake, and the ancient market capital and home of royals in Leh Ladakh. We’ll also pass through the haunted uninhabited regions where the wolf and Khyang (wild asses…yes it literally) still roam.

We'll be travelling through lands where traders, migrants, brigands and wandering monks all took their chances.

We’ll be travelling through lands where traders, migrants, brigands and wandering monks all took their chances.

About JeffFuchs

Bio Having lived for most of the past decade in Asia, Fuchs’ work has centered on indigenous mountain cultures, oral histories with an obsessive interest in tea. His photos and stories have appeared on three continents in award-winning publications Kyoto Journal, TRVL, and Outpost Magazine, as well as The Spanish Expedition Society, The Earth, Silkroad Foundation, The China Post Newspaper, The Toronto Star, The South China Morning Post and Traveler amongst others. Various pieces of his work are part of private collections in Europe, North America and Asia and he serves as the Asian Editor at Large for Canada’s award-winning Outpost magazine. Fuchs is the Wild China Explorer of the Year for 2011 for sustainable exploration of the Himalayan Trade Routes. He recently completed a month long expedition a previously undocumented ancient nomadic salt route at 4,000 metres becoming the first westerner to travel the Tsa’lam ‘salt road’ through Qinghai. Fuchs has written on indigenous perspectives for UNESCO, and has having consulted for National Geographic. Fuchs is a member of the fabled Explorers Club, which supports sustainable exploration and research. Jeff has worked with schools and universities, giving talks on both the importance of oral traditions, tea and mountain cultures. He has spoken to the prestigious Spanish Geographic Society in Madrid on culture and trade through the Himalayas and his sold out talk at the Museum of Nature in Canada focused on the enduring importance of oral narratives and the Himalayan trade routes. His recently released book ‘The Ancient Tea Horse Road’ (Penguin-Viking Publishers) details his 8-month groundbreaking journey traveling and chronicling one of the world’s great trade routes, The Tea Horse Road. Fuchs is the first westerner to have completed the entire route stretching almost six thousand kilometers through the Himalayas a dozen cultures. He makes his home in ‘Shangrila’, northwestern Yunnan upon the eastern extension of the Himalayan range where tea and mountains abound; and where he leads expeditions the award winning ‘Tea Horse Road Journey’ with Wild China along portions of the Ancient Tea Horse Road. To keep fueled up for life Fuchs co-founded JalamTeas which keeps him deep in the green while high in the hills.
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2 Responses to Expedition Update: The Where’s and What’s of the ‘Route of Wind and Wool’

  1. Wanda Seguin says:

    Oh Jeffry, you’ve peeked my curiousity now. A couple of months ago I saw a documentary on a gentleman that tried to do what you are doing…I didn’t really like his approach yet I did like the idea of honouring the local people, directly, with not so many hands in the pot. Your heart is in a good place and I can see that your mind is balanced with your actions and your heart….cause as I watch you speak of your adventures and share your knowledge…you shine…..and I thank you.
    Play safe and look forward to spending some time with you.

    • JeffFuchs says:

      Thanks for joining for our tea ‘evening’ and for the words Wanda. We’ll be doing more of these sorts of impromptu tea sessions. Be well Wanda.
      Jeff

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