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Ancient Tea-Horse Road

In the vast landscape of southwestern China winds a long ancient mysterious civilized road similar to the well-known Silk Road that is the Ancient Tea-Horse Road. The road is a trade path between Tibet, Yunnan and Sichuan Provinces. The trade is mainly conducted between Tibet's horses and Sichuan and Yunnan's tea by means of horses, hence the name of the road. The trade also involves Tibetan wool, skins, medicines, minerals and other local products and inner land's cloths, brocades, ironware and other articles used for daily use. This road has been in use since the ancient West Han Dynasty (206 BC-24 AD) and was developed in the later dynasties. During the World War II, it became the only way for communication between China and other countries. The road links Tibet with Sichuan, Yunnan and Qinghai, and extends to Bhutan, Sikkim, Nepal and India until it reaches West Asia and West Africa's Red Sea. It consists of three routes: Qinghai-Tibet Route, Sichuan-Tibet Route and Yunnan-Tibet Route in China.

Qinghai-Tibet Route
Qinghai-Tibet Route was the earlier route created and was the main route during the Tang and Song Dynasties (618-1279), during the reign of Tubo Kingdom (7th century-877). It is the same road as the well-known Ancient Tangbo Road by which means Princess Wencheng entered Tibet. The road was mainly a way for political communication in the early period and then changed into a commercial road. At that time, Tibetans had formed a habit of drinking teas and more horses were required in the central land as a result of the frequent wars and development of agriculture. The tea transported by this route was called 'Western Road Tea'.

Route: West Sichuan (Ya'an, Leshan…) - Chengdu - Dujiangyan - Songpan (Aba) - Gannan - Southeast Qinghai - Tibet/the rest of Qinghai

Sichuan-Tibet Route
Sichuan-Tibet Route was formally established in the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644) and was the most influential one in later times. After the collapse of Tubo Kingdom, the route gradually replaced the official status of Qinghai-Tibet Route. The road is generally the same as today's Sichuan-Tibet Highway.

Route: The route was divided into Small Tea Road and Big Tea Road before the junction of Kangding and further divided into Southern Tea Road and Northern Tea Road before converging in Chamdo and finally reached Lhasa.
Small Tea Road: Ya'an/Tianquan - Ma'anshan/Luding - Kangding
Big Tea Road: Ya'an/Yingjing - Daxiangling - Feiyueling - Luding - Kangding
Southern Tea Road: Kangding - Yajiang - Litang - Batang - Jiangka - Dragyab - Chamdo - Lhasa
Northern Tea Road: Kangding - Qianning - Daofu - Louhuo - Garze - Dege - Jinsha River - Chamdo - Lhasa

Yunnan-Tibet Route
Yunnan-Tibet Route was formed in the Tang Dynasty and is generally the same route as today's Yunnan-Tibet Highway. It was this route that played an important role in the World War II. The starting point in Yunnan was the capital of Nanzhao Kingdom of that time-Dali. The pivotal markets include Dali, Lijiang, Zhongdian and Deqin. The tea in trade on this route was mainly the Pu Erh Tea from Xishuangbanna and Simao, with some of Sichuan and other places.

Route: Dali - Jianchuan - Lijiang - Zhongdian (Shangrila) - Diqing - Deqin - Chamdo - Pome - Nyinchi - Lhasa

Nowadays, with the modern transportation method, the Ancient Tea-Horse Road has lost its stature and function of that time, but the natural beauty remains, and the historical and cultural relics still shine. Walking along the road, we can still find some vivid religious rock paintings and sculptures, and the harmonious coexistence of miscellaneous folk customs. The natural charm and cultural content of this road is sure to draw more and more people's interest.

Comments and Questions

Dear Sir,
Im interested in participating Horse and Tea tour.
Please inform where to apply.


6/12/2010 10:13:00 AM


Asked by Sarkis Derkaloustian (Armenia)