52 • Vacations
Next day, I follow the Tea Horse Road higher, weaving through
terraced farmland, deep valleys and the imposing mass of
Haba Snow Mountain. A stop at a local village gives me a close
look at the life of local herders and farmers. Their homes are
sturdy Tibetan-style structures, spacious enough to house
extended families. Grandmothers watch the children while
mothers serve us yak butter tea and tsampa, a mixture of yak
butter, cheese, barley and a little sugar, traditionally rolled into
a ball and carried by herders and the caravan traders as their
I visit Tiger Leaping Gorge, the deepest in the world, wonder
at the sweep of the first bend in the river and feast on spicy
Kung Pao chicken in a family-run restaurant. And then it’s on
to our last city on the tour, Shangri-La.
At 3,200 metres, Shangri-La is in the present-day Tibet
Autonomous Region, and one of the last stops for the
caravans crossing the Hengduan Mountains into Tibet.
The jewel of this area is the Buddhist Ganden Sumtseling
Monastery, high above Shangri-La and full of echoes of the
hidden civilization of James Hilton’s 1933 utopian novel,
. The monastery is the largest in Yunnan Province,
a vast interconnected series of temples. Amidst the hum of
chants and the tang of incense, monks in red robes conduct
their religious worship.
Later that evening, after a comforting dinner of yak meat
hot pot, I join a group of villagers in their nightly collective
dance in the main square, the mountains behind us pink in
the evening light. A lady with her child in a sling on her back
smiles and makes a place for this clumsy westerner, and we
glide around the circle, each doing our own version of a dance.
This is a corner of the world layered in history and warmly
welcoming. A tour of Yunnan and Tea Horse Road offers
a rewarding glimpse into the cultural richness of the
‘Middle Kingdom’ – and may enhance the appreciation of
your next cup of tea!
TIGER LEAPING GORGE ©BARBARA RAMSEY ORR
If you go
Ask your travel agent about tour companies that offer
packages that include Tea Horse Road, including
Abercrombie & Kent, G Adventures, Insider Journeys,
and Big Five.
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