Preparations…and Expectations of the Salt Road Expedition

Mountain Warmth

Time is always the great and constant editor and time winds down to the actual departure date of the Salt Road (Tsalam) journey. One can prepare gear, the body and the mind but that first blast of wind in the face from the heights in a blink obliterates everything but the ‘now’. The landscapes we will enter on this journey have their own stories and their own fierce abilities…but I inevitably imagine entire caravans passing through these lands being ushered by iron-men, laden with salt and goods ‘to’ing and fro’ing’ throughout the vast nomadic lands….

Himalaya's Precious Water

Isolated Splendour

Attaching some images of the trek area in southern Qinghai (Amdo) province taken on a previous journey of mine to research the area; an area known for bleak beauty, hallucinatory spaces of emptiness and of course people who reflect and accept their environs with simple strength. Wolf packs happily range in ever-expanding areas as snowfall is far less predictable and climate change plays some havoc with the heights.

The 'ordo'

Our intended route will take us through the Golok homelands, some of the plateau’s most fabled (and feared) inhabitants. The Mongols invaded centuries ago into these dry highlands at close to four-thousand metres, only to find themselves centuries later speaking the local Tibetan dialects and being assimilate. Throughout the entire Himalaya Plateau the Goloks’ namesake carries with it a spectre of warning.


The ‘tsa’ (salt), ‘lam’ (road), Tsalam, like all Himlayan trade routes is variously described by traders as “beautiful” and “daunting” in equal measure, but many still attest with passion that once one was used to travel on the road under the full brunt of nature’s tempests and glory, one was hooked. That it was almost impossible to go back to a basic life at home. Could explain some of my own habitual and very needed wanderings.


Beauty in Disguise

The ‘ancients’, the traders, who passed along this route of salt, are passing away and with this sad loss, their tales and vital details of how the route survived, what life was like and crucially for me, how it linked people, lands and ideas across the daunting weave of mountains and winds also disappear. For some the past is something unimportant to revisit but for me there are some tales that are beyond reproach…there are tales that simply need to be told or revisited. The Tsalam is one.

In two days time we will be amongst the skies that see all and the lands that still hold the remnants of snow on their surfaces.

One of my final meals in Shangrila. (Lhaso and Jeff)


Next update will come from the trek site. Until then…

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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10 Responses to Preparations…and Expectations of the Salt Road Expedition

  1. pispa says:

    Hola Fu,
    Just few words to wish you the best of the best .
    I know you will were your “excelents shoes” and as you are also the “machine of the mountains” the expedition will be a great succes and fun even during the hardest areas.
    Himalaya New Winds will clean and fill up yourself with Beauty and Love ,
    You know I will follow your trek day by day and tell Panchita about it ,
    Big Hug

    • JeffFuchs says:

      Thank you Spain and thank you Pispa. The shoes are ready, the socks durable….and yes, it is the winds that will feed and challenge in equal measure. Make sure Panchita gets to see the photos.


  2. Peter says:

    Wonderful, pictures, Jeff!

    I very much look foward to hearing from you the stories of the ancient traders of the Tsalam, as well as your own adventures.

    These old trade routes are becoming of increasing interest to me, partly (no doubt) due to your fascinating accounts.

    Please keep us updated.

    Best wises,

  3. Li-La says:

    Beautiful photographs, beautiful thoughts. Safe travels over mountains and through clouds…. breath the landscape for me too! Miss you, Jef-fu♥♡ お気をつけて!

    • JeffFuchs says:

      I will take in as much of the air and scenes as I can for all….and for myself as well. Thanks for the wishes Li-La. We are now getting updates on snow and passes….so a little bit (perhaps a ‘lot’) of white stuff is on the menu.

      Best from here in Golok

  4. Gen says:

    Hi Jeff,

    My class is curious about the weather – both at home and in the mountains. Also, how are you going to manage a zero carbon footprint on your trek? Looking forward to following your trek.


    • JeffFuchs says:

      Hello class and Gen.
      Weather here in Golok is sitting somewhere between “about to snow” and “not sure when it’s going to snow, but definitely will snow”. Temperature is hovering above zero, but we are right now at about 3,000 metres and will have to ascend further to begin our trek, so weather will get colder and and snow is definitely going to be waiting for us. Snow peaks wink at us and surround the area we are based right now, though the air today is almost gloomy.
      Where my ‘home’ is in northwestern Yunnan’s, Shangrila, it is apparently (spoke to someone looking after my home this morning) cool, threatening rain and grey…so I’m not missing much right now, apart from an unlimited variety and slightly ridiculous amount of tea.
      Where I am now, in Golok (southern Qinghai province) there is perpetual dust and sand in the air here as winds whip up anything not nailed down and throw it into the atmosphere.

      As for our desire to leave as little carbon footprint as possible, we will be four, two-legged ‘beasts’ travelling. Michael, myself, an old trader on horseback to show us the way by memory, a young local guide…a horse to support our ancient trader over the terrain and one yak which will be our beast of burden, carrying all of our supplies. We are travelling above the tree-line so we will be using yak dung (yes, poop) as fuel and all items that come into these lands with us, comes out with us. We will eat local foods: yak cheese (sour stuff, a bit like real yoghurt that has been solidified), yak meat, locally made barley bread and I will have my ever-present tea supply with me. Very little of what we will consume is actually coming from further than what we can reach on our journey. We are going to be using solar panels to recharge equipment – it is a sort of thick towel that we can unroll and stretch out to absorb some rays. From there we simply plug in our cables and ‘voila’…
      We have arrived via transport vans which carry in locals to these remote lands from the capital of Xining here in Qinghai province, will stay with local nomadic clans along the route and will live as they do: from the land, close to the land and respectful of the land.
      Will be posting a few shots shortly. Hope all is well.

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