Summer 2018 • 51
50 • Vacations
Tea Horse Road
By Barbara Ramsay Orr
Off The Beaten Path
Today’s visitors can retrace the ancient caravan route to visit the
cities that grew wealthy from the traders, and to experience the
breathtaking mountainous scenery of Southwest China.
That evening, in a local restaurant I sample “Crossing the
Bridge Noodles,” a Yunnan specialty composed of platters of
thinly sliced beef, shrimp, tofu, ginger, greens, a quail egg and
long fat noodles. Everything is plunged into piping hot broth
to cook, and diners slurp up the results from large bowls. It’s
delicious and warming after a rainy day in the Stone Forest.
Next stop on the ancient road is Lijiang, one of the best
preserved of the trading cities. The narrow, cobbled streets
of the old town are busy, particularly at night. Food stalls are
busy with diners enjoying fresh seafood, bowls of noodles and
Jinxing beer. Music drifts out of open windows of nightclubs
above the stalls that will be busy into the early morning hours.
Vendors sell local crafts, leather goods, silver jewelry and
Squint and you could easily picture these laneways hundreds
of years ago when the caravans arrived.
Lijiang lies in the shadow of Jade Dragon Snow Mountain,
accessible by a gondola that carries you to a platform from
which you can climb above the clouds to more than 4,500
kilometres. At the base of the mountain is a massive outdoor
theatre where performances showcasing the ethnic groups of
the area are held against the mountain backdrop.
A walk-through Lijiang’s Black Dragon Pool Park and a visit to
the nearby ethnic Naxi village are important things to do here,
as is a ceremonial sampling of the famous aged pu-erh teas
– delicate and perfumed – for which aficionados will spend
hundreds of dollars for a single brick.
My journey begins in Kunming, the gateway to the Yunnan branch of the Chamadao, or Tea Horse
Road. Less well known than the Silk Road, but equally as storied and exotic, Tea Horse Road winds
from Yunnan and Sichuan provinces through the mountains into Tibet and beyond, making it the
longest and most arduous trading route in the world. I’m here to explore a part of this historic trading
route in Southwest China, where the legacy of the Chamadao still survives.
Kunming is home to the Yunnan Provincial Museum, the perfect place to learn about the diverse
ethnic minorities that still survive here. An hour and a half drive outside the city is the Stone Forest,
a monolithic limestone karst, sculpted by wind and water, and wreathed in mist when I visit.
COBBLESTONE STREETS OF LIJIANG
BLACK DRAGON POOL PARK, LIJIANG
CULTURAL SHOW, SNOW MOUNTAIN, LIJIANG
©BARBARA RAMSAY ORR