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A tour along the tea horse trade route
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A photo of the Banjiu slope section of the Tea Horse Road in Simao, in China's Yunnan province. [Photo: CRIENGLISH.com]

A photo of the Banjiu slope section of the Tea Horse Road in Simao, in China's Yunnan province. [Photo: CRIENGLISH.com] 

The over 1,800 year old Tea Horse Trade Route starts from Simao, a place that has been famous for its Pu'er tea, in southwest China's Yunnan province. The Tea Horse Trade Route, or simply Tea Horse Road, goes from its southern end to Southeast Asia, connects Beijing from its north and zigzags to Tibet from its West.

The road had long been an important trade route in history, along which the local rich Pu'er tea was carried out of the country for border trade, together with China's culture.

Pu'er tea, in fact, is everywhere in the air in and around Simao. Thus if you have the chance to travel to Simao then a visit to the Tea Horse Road is a must.

The Banjiu ( meaning "turtle dove") slope section is a key part of the Tea Horse Road from its south to north. It's also the best preserved section that contains the richest part of the ancient tea horse road's culture. It's called a "living fossil in Chinese, even world, transportation history."

It was a rainy day when we arrived at Pojiao village in Simao to recall what the horse caravan in the past must have gone through, though we were without horses or heavy load of bags, but with just empty hands and good sports shoes.

Walking on the zigzagging narrow stone road, I saw parents saying goodbye to their children with tears in eyes, girls waiting for their beloved one's return on Shi Pinghe Bridge and horses and cows moving slowly toward the north. I could also hear the sound of small bells on a horse lingering in the valley.

It was along the Tea Horse Trade Route that tribute tea was sent to Beijing long ago. On the distant journey, the tea inevitably became wet and hot due to the rain fall and the sun. Accidentally, the post-fermentation of Pu'er tea was discovered and made the tea well-known. Countless stories occurred along the Tea Horse Road.

In rain, the road became slippery and we walked slowly and carefully. Some people asked how long we would have to walk and after walking about three kilometres along the road we decided to go back. I couldn't help myself thinking about those ancient times. Facing challenges from the weather, bad roads, bandits and homesickness, these horse caravans had to have been strong-minded, brave and persistent. I couldn't help but admire their courage that we often failed to have today.

Even though nowadays it takes only a matter of hours to travel from Beijing to New York or South Africa, and we have far more transportation options, it's still good to re-walk the ancient Tea Horse Road, not just for the brilliant scenery and fresh air but also to re-connect with the history.

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