There is so much more to tell you about my time in China, I have the country now, and again I am onto a secret part of my adventure. I am sure that I will update you about that soon too! I like to stay one step ahead of my blogs. I was in China well over 2 months and there is so much to say, but for now I would like to share with my recollection of one of the most ancient and respectful places I have been so far! All about tea!
So begins our traditional tea ceremony in one of the most important tea centres in China. Lijiang was once a key stop on an ancient network of trails that spread like a spider’s web for more than 2,100 miles, linking plantations in southern Yunnan province to Tibet and Sichuan province farther north. It earned itself the name the Tea Horse Road — and, as we are about to find out, it’s fast turning into a popular tourist route.
My Cup of Tea
For many centuries until the mid-20th century, when vehicles took over, caravans of horses transported tea in this region. At Lijiang, horses and horsemen were changed. “High altitude is a big problem for people from the south,” says Hu. “So they carried the tea this far and then Naxi men took over using local horses with very strong legs.” The Naxi are the mountain people, an ethnic minority in northern Yunnan that numbers about 300,000.
The city became a bustling trading post with a labyrinth of cobbled lanes twisting between streams with narrow bridges surrounded by low, grey-stone buildings with curly-topped roofs. This is much as Lijiang looks today, despite a devastating earthquake in 1996 that flattened many buildings, causing 300 deaths and injuring 17,000. Thankfully the lure of creating a new modern city was resisted and the old town was swiftly reconstructed as before. “Actually, it’s better now,” confides one local, who says structures are sturdier and that formerly crumbling parts have been smartened.
All of the lights
LLijiang has a fantasy feel, especially after dark, when red lanterns illuminate the maze-like alleys. You might have stepped back a thousand years or more, if you ignore all the tourist shops selling pashmina-style scarves, bongo drums and jade jewellery, that is. The city is certainly not a secret to holidaymakers; Banyan Tree, Aman and InterContinental hotels have been here a while.
No sugar please!
The hope is, however, that new improved highways to the tea plantations in the south, about 500 miles away, and northwards to the border with Tibet, about 100 miles away, will create a trail that attracts more overseas travellers. Plenty of domestic Chinese tourists already come, and now boutique hotels are springing up outside Lijiang to appeal to westerners intending to stay in style.
So the adventure itself is sweet enough. Lots of locals really do enjoy the trail. I very much enjoyed being surrounded by such a history, and one as important as tea!