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The Tea and Horse Trail

The Tea and Horse Trail

Amongst the gorges of the Hengduan Mountain Range and the forests and wilderness in the juncture area of Yunnan, Sichuan and Tibet spirals a mysterious trackway-the Tea and Horse Trail. It’s the highest trackway in altitude and historically has held an important role in cultural communication.

The Tea and Horse Trail originated from the “tea and horse trading market” in the Song Dynasty. Since Tibet is in the high and cold area with an altitude of 3000-4000 meters above the sea level, staple foods differ than other areas of the country. Tsamba, milk, butter, mutton and beef are the staple food of the local Tibetans. In the high and cold region, an intake of fat that’s high in calories is necessary. But chances are high that too much fat cannot be digested inside the human body as vegetables are in shortage and tsambas are too dry. Given this fact, the local Tibetans have formed the habit of drinking buttered tea because buttered tea helps digest fat and prevent  from internal heat. However, tea is not produced in Tibet. In historical times, mules and horses were also in great demand in the inland when the troops were in expedition, but the supply failed to meet such high demand. Meanwhile, Tibet, Sichuan and Yunnan were the places where excellent mules and horses were raised. These demands gave rise to the tea and horse trading market, which was beneficial to both Tibet and the inland. Since that time, mules, horses, furs and herbs exported from Tibet and the frontier areas of Sichuan and Yunnan as well as tea, various goods, salt and vessels for daily use exported from the inland Sichuan and Yunnan have been shuttled back and forth amongst the Hengduan Mountain Range. This trackway witnessed its prosperity as society and the economy developed, and gradually gained its reputation as “the Tea and Horse Trial.”

The route of the Tea and Horse Trail between Yunnan and Tibet is: Xishuang Banna-Pu’er-Dali-Deqin-Chayu-Bangda-Nyingchi-Lhasa. The tea arriving in Lhasa is transported to Calcutta, India through the Himalayas and then sold to Eurasia, which has formed as international artery into the outside world. When the Chinese people were fighting against Japanese aggression, this trail had a direct impact on the destiny of the Chinese nation.

During wartime, the Hump route was used for transporting martial goods and materials, while goods and materials for civilian use were mostly transported through the international Tea and Horse Trail. Thus, the Tea and Horse Trail made an indelible contribution to the final victory of the war of national liberation.