Across the dangerous hills and rivers of Hengduan Mountain Range, in the wild lands and forests across “the Rooftop of the World”, a mysterious ancient road winds and wonders. It is one of the most heart quaking roads on this planet. For thousands of years, numerous caravans had been quietly traveling along it. Standing on the Road, you can still see clearly the some-70cm-deep holes in the stone plates by stamping of horse hooves. And it seems they have numerous stories to tell. The aged Mhanee altars on roadside are engraved with all sorts of religious scriptures and mottos. This, is the Ancient Tea-Horse Road, one of the world’s highest and most precipitous ancient roads which carries and spreads civilization and culture.
The Ancient Tea-Horse Road is a passage formed by tea-horse trading in ancient China between agriculture area of the inner land and remote nomadic areas. Tea-horse trading is an activity carried out based on “tea” from central area and “horses” from remote minority area. As an important means for economic exchange between Han regions and minorities regions, it played a crucial role in communicating among different ethnic groups both economically and culturally. “The Ancient Tea-Horse Road” is a post road formed by trading of tea and horses in the past between northwest Yunnan and southeast Tibet. Along this ancient road, there are the best natural scenery and cultural sites of China. Proper development will make the road one of the world’s best areas for traveling. The tourist development of the Ancient Tea-Horse Road has been included in China’s “10th five-year-plan for tourism” as part of the associated regional strategies.
“The Ancient Tea-Horse Road” is a commercial passage mainly for tea-horse trading between the inner land and Tibet. In the history, “The Ancient Tea-Horse Road” was almost across the entire Chamdo area. Where state motor way No. 214 on Yunnan-Tibet line, state motor way No.317, 318 on Sichuan-Tibet line and provincial motor way No. 303 stand now used to be the main routes of “The Ancient Tea-Horse Road.”
In the old times, the little passage between Chamdo and the outside world was formed by long-time stamping of people and stocks.
In the 7th Century, Tubo emerged in Qinghai-Tibet Plateau. They built an iron bridge which connected Yunnan and Tibet on the Jinsha River over the board of China and Myanmar
In Song Dynasty, due to the fact that all borders were lost and no trade was possible, main market for the tea-horse trading moved to southwest China.
In Yuan Dynasty, the government prompted building post roads and setting up post stations.
In Ming Dynasty, the government continued building post roads.
In Qing Dynasty, the post organization of Tibet was renamed as “Tang”. Management of Tang stations was further improved and completed.
At the end of Qing Dynasty and beginning of the new republic regime, number of tea dealers soared.
Towards the end of the 2nd World War, the Ancient Tea-Horse Road had become the main international commercial route in the big southwest rear area.
The Ancient Tea-Horse Road has three major routes: Qinghai-Tibet (Tangzhu Ancient Road), Yunnan-Tibet, and Sichuan-Tibet.
The Yunnan-Tibet route occurred in Tang Dynasty. It basically overlaps the Yunnan-Tibet motor way today: starting from Dali of Yunnan, heading all the way to the north through Jianchuan, Lijiang, Iron-Bridge Town. Then along the river, going to Yulai via Benzilan, then Yanjing and follow the Lancang River to Maergan (today called Markam, Tibet). When reaching Zuogong, it split into two lines heading for Tibet, one goes to Masu Bangdag Chaya and Chamdo; the other Basu, Bome ,Nyingzhi and finally Lhasa.
Yunnan-Tibet route used to have three lines: a) begins at Tacheng of Heli, Neijiang, via Bengzilan, Adeqiu, Tianzhuzhai, Maofagong, ends in Tibet; b)begins from Weixi of Baijianchuan, then joins line a at Adeqiu, ends in Tibet; c)begins in Zhongdian, via Niseluo, Xiandao, Bengyulan, Nulianduo, Abulaka, ends in Tibet. It’s very close to the Yunnan-Tibet national highway today.
After 1957, Chinese government built Yunnan-Tibet and Zhong-Xiang motor ways. Materials and commodities have been transported to Tibet. That ended the out-of-date way of carrying cargos by man and horses on the Ancient Tea-Horse Road.
The Ancient Tea-Horse Road is an important thread of natural and cultural tourism in Chamdo area. Natural wonders, civilization heritage, marks of ancient ethnic customs and countless romantic stories are spread along the Road. It is a sediment of history which contains traces of people’s activities over thousands of years and their persistence to life.
The Ancient Tea-Horse Road stretches through the ethnic corridor area across Sichuan, Yunnan, Gansu, Qinghai and Tibet. This area is the place where many ethnic groups have been living and multiplying, also a big platform on which they have put on comedies and tragedies in the history. It is a cultural treasury for ever-lasting exploration and for us to spend our thoughts on.
Traveling along the Ancient Tea-Horse Road is a trip to return to the nature, a trip of the harmony between men and the nature, a trip of spiritual neutralization for urban people, and a trip of adventure and discovery.
The tourist development for the Ancient Tea-Horse Road is a comprehensive one. Priorities are given to the construction of infrastructure, such as transportation facilities, hotels to provide proper food and accommodation, guaranteed electricity and water supply and safety. Meanwhile, much effort will be put into developing tourist products so as to fuel the growth of other industries and to activate Chamdo economy.
In Chamdo area, there are sceneries like “Three-Rivers-Join-Into-One”, high mountains and valleys, holy mountains and sacred waters, thermal resources and hot springs, grazing lands covered by wild flowers, tents emitting cooking smoke; so are there ancient religious ceremonies, Lamaist temples and towers, old religious engravings on mountains, ancient giant wall-paintings, and colorful local conditions and customs. All these are rich natural and cultural tourist resources.