More of the precious from 2015. A final Ascent…An End and the New Beginnings
A morning snow, A Lao Banzhang Leaf, A Mountain Steward, A timeless Trader, and A Tea Mantra for all-time.
Camp Bharal. Our 4,635-metre base camp rests in an small valley surrounded by snow peaks and powerful serenity. Within those peaks the rare Bharal (Blue Sheep) wander and graze, and when they are present, their ancient hunters, the snow leopard, can be found. Our horseman, who knew these valleys well, commented, “The ‘Shan’ (snow leopard) are always there, looking down at us. If they want us to see them, we shall see them, otherwise not. They are not vain.” Every afternoon and dusk we would look up wondering if just maybe, we would be gifted a view.
Kamal: Mountain Steward. A 12-hour day that scorched the body and numbed the brain finished as most days did: with me sitting in the tent with tea beside Kamal flashing that grin of his, telling all that everything was utterly well in our little world. Kamal, another utterly steady presence and steward of the mountains frequently answered questions with some refreshing mountain honesty: “I don’t know, but soon I will know”. Born and bred in the mountains he could never imagine leaving their peaks and shadows, telling me with an earnest face that cities “confuse me”. Kamal and I spent an afternoon perched on sluice of glacier ice eating nuts and dried fruit, watching the ice run down under a punishing sun, and speaking about aspirations. When I asked for what the mountains meant to him, he thought a moment or two and then responded with a smile, “They are everything”. They are. Protect environment, you protect culture…they are inextricably linked.
Banzhang Leaf. A minimum in so many ways on this tribute but notable nonetheless. This was the seminal bundle of tea leaves consumed for the year. A single 9 gram serving – shared with fellow sipper Frank – of Banzhang raw 2008 old tree leaves harvested and produced by my mentor Mr. Gau of the Hani people. Unsprayed, the trees are allowed to grow unrestrained. Centuries of clean growth have allowed these trees to become forests of stimulant green power. Several of us had built up to the taking of this tea, knowing it would be something special. Afternoon in southern Yunnan’s dull heat, tucked into a tea shop, we at last prepared several infusions. Sometimes expectation is the killer of moments, but this tea was narcotic from beginning to end. A tea grower once said that to sip a tea one “needs to know the source and the hands that created it”. This tea’s story seeped in as the fluid’s raw force did.
Dakpa Kongba. Tea and salt trader, living tomb of memories, and warm host of tea sessions in the glorious Mustang region of Nepal, Dakpa’s time with us reminded that communication is about taking time to listen. Sitting with him, sipping tea for hours and interviewing him about the days of caravans of tea, it felt as though I’d reached a home of sorts where everything was clear. Shooting a documentary film about the Tea Horse Road we had in Dakpa, a being that was the embodiment of the mountain spirit of endeavour and authenticity. He was real and his warmth entirely something of the blood. Sharing time and tea with him was an honour. His smile upon being presented with a cake of tea stirred us all, stirs me still.
Nomadic Tea Mantra. In the Himalayas there is a long repeated mantra about tea’s eternal worth to the residents. “If a cup of tea isn’t offered, a relationship isn’t offered”. Succinct and clear about the vital nature of both tea and relationships in the highest of highlands. The same can be said for homes, warmth, and generosity. Nothing is restrained from the weary traveller, the fellow being in the mountains where to function and thrive one must cooperate. This woman’s home was opened to us to share warmth, time, and of course tea, and the idea of this is something magnificent. As much as this image is documenting a woman, it is also reflecting that moment of warmth and sharing in a world of thin-aired beauty. To her and that notion continuing on.
Two gents who along with a stack of tea, a will to document what remains of the greatest trade route on the planet, and an empathy with the mountains and their tales made 2015 huge in my world. Andrew Gregg and Michael Josselyn and I shot footage, documented tales, and took in snow passes along the Tea Horse Road for over a month beginning in southern Yunnan’s ancient tea forests, over the Himalayas and ending up in Kathmandu for the feature documentary, The Tea Explorer. Friends, fellow sippers of the leaf and ultimately those who shared in some magnificent moments together. Couldn’t have asked for two better souls on this project. This to them with a bow of thanks…and a slap!
Thanks for joining and another great year of sips of green and ascents of stone to come.