Monday, August 31, 2015

The Tea Horse Trail Through Shaxi

Sideng bazaar street, part of the tea-horse route
Nestled in a valley, the small town of Shaxi played a vital role along the ancient tea-horse route starting over 1,400 years ago. Tibetan horses were highly prized and traded in China for tea and salt. Shaxi became a main trade station along this route. In just the year 1661, over 1.5 million kilos of Yunnan tea were traded to Tibet.

Some of the guesthouses still remain where traders and their horses rested for the night. The structures of trading shops are also present, but many are now converted into cafés, restaurants, and stores.

The Tea-horse trail was also used by Buddhist monks, Christian missionaries, and armies as they moved in between India, Myanmar, and China. In the 18th century, the route began its slow decline as China stopped trading horses for tea.  Railways, air freight, and highways further reduced the importance of the road. Today the town of Shaxi, including the cobblestone tea-horse road of Sideng Street, becomes an active trading area during the Friday market.

I loved meandering through the narrow lanes. Some of the gates were truly impressive. The early morning light illuminated the lime-painted walls.
The town of Shaxi has been listed by the World Monuments Fund as one of the 100 most endangered sites in the world. Recent efforts have been made to preserve the architecture and culture.

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