Himalayan Exploration and Tea Fuelled Mayhem
There are few places on the planet that offer up the kind of clarity, pace, and stunning insight that the tea-stained lands or mountain-rich geographies do. The people too, that are inextricably linked, are vital for both their perspectives and their understanding of the spaces they occupy. Crucial too, are their memories and oral narratives which can summon up so much that is necessary.
Here is a space that exists entirely for the ‘green’ and the ‘heights’ and their influences and abilities to soothe and cleanse. Crucially too, this is a space for the precious people of the land who live within or around these two gifts of the heavens – for it is the people and their tales, their calluses and anecdotes that give lifeblood to all.
Here, a selection of images, moments, and thoughts that deal with tea and mountains – in my mind at least, a sacred life-giving duo. Here too is a little visual journey along the trade routes of salt, of wool, and of the ever-present green leaf, tea. Anything that had value in the mountains was carted atop mules, yak, man, and even sheep into some of the most remote communities on earth. And from those communities came commodities only found in the great heights.
Tea – A seven-hour all night tea session (and the ensuing rapture) in a Taiwanese teahouse and my own ‘tea need’ was fixed. Asia’s great green commodity has (like few other luxuries) soothed, fed and stimulated. Tea holds a vital role as one of the few constants in my life – a constant that has only become more satisfying with time. The Tea Horse Road became and has remained a fixation, not for any esoteric joy but rather as it speaks to tea as the great fuel and panacea.
Mountains – Their spaces and smells and underrated abilities as guardians and stewards have held me since I was young in Switzerland. There is a wonderful Himalayan saying of the mountains and being within their embrace: “You either cooperate or perish”. Apart from the drama of these words, the mountains offer up lessons of the earth and of the self in heaping gulps and in soft issuances.
Having lived for most of the past decade in Asia, work and desire has contentedly centered on indigenous mountain cultures, oral histories, and an obsessive interest in tea. In this journey I was invited as a Scholar in Residence to the East West Center in Honolulu. Photos and stories have appeared on three continents in such award-winning publications as UNESCO, Huffington Post, Kyoto Journal, Condè Nast Traveller, Financial Times, Outpost Magazine, TRVL, and the South China Morning Post, as well as The Toronto Star, World Geographic, The Spanish Expedition Society, South China Post Newspaper, Outdoor Exploration, and Traveler amongst others. Various pieces of photographic work rest in private collections in Europe, North America and Asia.
Happily, I serve as Asian-editor-at-large for Canada’s multi-award-winning, ‘Canadian Magazine of the Year’, Outpost Magazine.
Having led expeditions into the Himalayas it gives great pleasure to be united with Wild China to lead exclusive expeditions along portions of the Ancient Tea Horse Road. Recently National Geographic Traveler named our Tea Horse Road tour as one of their “50 Trips of a Lifetime“.
Having spoken to students, universities and organizations in Asia, Europe and North America on tea culture and oral Himalayan narratives I am convinced of both the importance of Asia’s eternal green leaf, tea, and the mighty (and not so mighty mountains) that rise above so much. This blog gives me a forum to vent about both.
Recently, along with Aurelien and Allen Leftick, I set up Jalamteas which features limited editions of hand sourced teas from Yunnan province. It is the realization of a slightly obsessive dream to get authentic teas to drinkers who care about genuine Puerhs, with a story of the people and places behind them.
My book ‘The Ancient Tea Horse Road’ – (Viking-Penguin Publishers) – ebook version here – detailing my 7.5 month groundbreaking journey traveling and chronicling one of the world’s great (and largely forgotten) trade routes, The Tea Horse Road. Like many obsessions, this journey to uncover more of its physical and cultural history will never really end.
Home for me in northwestern Yunnan for over a decade – close to my two ‘needs’, mountains and tea – allowed me unbridled access to both. Hawaii is now home for much of every year.