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Vacations® •

Summer 2018 • 51

50 • Vacations


Summer 2018

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

silk scarves.

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.