Tea has been known in China for almost 5,000 years. For a long time, it was believed that China is the only home of the tea bush and tea culture..In the 50s of the last century, wild tea was discovered in the southwest of China, in the provinces of Guizhou, Sichuan, Yunnan. The opinions of scientists are divided. Today, it is considered that the birthplace of tea is Southwestern China( Yunnan), the adjacent areas of Upper Burma and Northern Indochina (Vietnam). From this “tea triangle”, tea spread in two geographical directions: to the north and to the south.
“The Ancient Tea Way”.
So in the second half of the first millennium AD, a combination of several trade caravan routes was named, along which hardy Tibetan horses were delivered from Tibet and other high-altitude areas to the interior of China, and pu-erh, the oldest known type of tea, was brought back.
The routes of the ancient Chamagudao caravans lay deep in the mountains, in the south-west of China. These are some of the highest mountain roads in the world – highways that connected Tibet with the interior of the country, historical evidence of coexistence and good-neighborly relations between the Han, Tibetans and other peoples of the multinational country.
The “Ancient Tea Route” originated during the Tang Dynasty (618-907) and reached its peak during the Song Dynasty (907-1270), when up to seven and a half tons of tea were transported to Lhasa annually.
One legend says that around 640 BC, an ancient path through the mountains allowed a beautiful princess from the Tang Dynasty to marry a powerful ruler of Tibet. To get to her husband, Princess Wencheng crossed these windswept, snow-capped places, covering almost fifteen hundred kilometers from the green valleys of southern China, climbing to the Buddhist capital of Lhasa, hidden on the high plateau of Tibet. This is a true romantic epic from any point of view, but at the same time, this love story, as many believe, changed the course of history thanks to the valuable cargo that the princess brought with her: tea leaves. To quench the Tibet lord’s burning passion for tea, Chinese traders from Yunnan and Sichuan made their way through the Himalayas through mysterious mountains, through dangerous passes. Their route ran from Tibet to India and Nepal, connecting the Chinese Empire with the kingdoms of South Asia.
Traveling on mules and yaks during the Song Dynasty, traders arrived in Lhasa, where they exchanged precious Chinese tea from the Xishuangbanna, Yiwu, and Pu’er plantations for Tibetan horses; they gave this long and difficult route the name Tea Road .. To this day, a cup of Chinese tea embodies a centuries-old source of livelihood for Tibetan shepherds, nomads, and traders all along this legendary path.
For more than a thousand years, brave travelers have traveled these paths under the shadow of the Jade Dragon Snow Mountains. Eight centuries of history can still be seen in the Ancient City of Lijiang, a UNESCO World Heritage Site with its elegant wooden dwellings with elegant, upturned roof ends, with elaborately carved stone bridges over the flowing rivers. Once a gathering place for trade caravans, this city is one of China’s best-preserved historical sites, and is a rare example of an urban landscape where a wide variety of cultural traditions are intertwined. The local Dongba culture of the Nakhi indigenous people is carefully preserved, and Lijiang warmly welcomes guests who enjoy strolling along the cobbled streets, along the ancient houses decorated with red silk lanterns.
Residents of the Tibetan Highlands say that tea is necessary every day. The unique properties of tea – the ability to improve its taste over time and the beneficial effect on digestion, the ability to digest fatty and heavy foods – have made it a truly indispensable product for Tibetans. However, in the harsh conditions on the “roof of the world”, the tea bush does not grow. At the same time, in the interior of China, where tea has been grown since time immemorial, there was a great demand for Tibetan horses that are distinguished by endurance.
Thus, the mutual need of the regions for unique goods created the prerequisites for the emergence of a trade route.
The main means of transport in those days were pack animals: horses, mules and donkeys. In the most difficult places of the routes, the packs with goods were transported by porters.
Tea was packed in bags weighing 8 kilograms. One porter, as a rule, took on 10-12 bags. In addition to the valuable cargo, the porters had to carry spare shoes, woven straw, and dry rations. During the day, people could walk only 3-4 kilometers, and every 50 meters they needed to take a break. It took a month to reach their destination at this rate. For one trip, each porter was paid 1 silver coin and 16 kilograms of rice. However, a tax was levied on the income, and it was also necessary to pay for the overnight stay. The meager pay for hard work made life extremely difficult for the porters.
The era of porters ended only in 1958, when the Sichuan–Tibet highway was put into operation in China. Now you can still see caravans in the mountains, but they transport tourists.