I’ve been in Yunnan for 10 days and so thought it might be time for an update. This is a beautiful area with a great and varied history. It was the area in which most foreign eyes first glimpsed the Chinese Empire. Trade with foreign countries has been taking place for centuries, not least of all along the ancient Tea-Horse Road.
The Tea-Horse Road
The Tea-Horse Road was an ancient trading route between Xishuangbanna in south-western Yunnan and Tibet. As the name suggests, Tibetan ponies were traded for Yunnan’s famous tea both of which are still highly valued commodities to this day. Your intrepid writer is on the this famous old route as he types, having travelled from Meili Xue Shan (Meili Snow Mountain), Yunnan’s highest and as yet unconquered peak at the border with Tibet, via Shangri La to the Bai town of Shaxi. Shangri La was so named in 1998 by the local government after the mythical paradise in James Hilton’s novel ‘Lost Horizon’, but is nevertheless a staggeringly beautiful place situated on a plain, surrounded by mountains. It has a large Khampa Tibetan community famous for their black pottery and beautifully detailed thangkas; Buddhist religious paintings.
Shaxi and the Bai Tribe
Due south of Shangri La (also known as Zhongdian) the scenery changes to the rolling pine covered hills and mountains in which Shaxi is situated. Shaxi is a less visited and very peaceful town full of traditional Bai houses. The Bai are another of Yunnan’s numerous ethnic minorities. They are famous for their beautiful embroidery and silver-ware and to this day still use medicinal plants and live very much in harmony with nature, despite the advance of modernisation although it must be said they are certainly adapting.
Tomorrow I set off for Dali, ancient capital of the Dali and Nanzhao kingdoms, which at one point included Yunnan, Burma, Laos and Thailand or at least parts thereof! It is the torch festival tomorrow so stay tuned for tales of gunpowder and fiery processions…