Expedition Update: The Where’s and What’s of the ‘Route of Wind and Wool’
Our intended route – a faint path at best that disappears entirely in the snows and sands at times – will average 4,000 metres + and will trace one of the most vital trade routes of Himalayas and Central Asia. Pashmina wool – timeless in its appeal and value – was mentioned in Afghan texts as early as the 3rd Century BC, so our expedition’s title pays homage to an ancient item of great worth.
What I’ve coined as ‘The Route of Wind and Wool’ was a passage that pushed (and often disappeared) through thin-aired blizzards, stone, and valleys of remarkable lushness. It was a route that tested the fortitude of mortals and beasts alike, but like much in that realm has rarely been spoken about or documented beyond the cultures that participated in it. We seek to open up this uniquely Central Asian route and stir up the memories of the last traders so that at the very least the route has a tale that extends beyond its geography.
Precious pashmina wool, yak wool, salt, tea, medicines, and precious stones were all hauled from Xinjiang (northwestern China), Tibet’s remote Changtang, and beyond to the market towns. Wool would be brought down out of the great heights where Pashmina sheep find comfort in the most extreme of lands for buyers far distant.
Though we won’t be joined by a yak team this journey, mules will be along with us.
Nomadic traders, middlemen, wandering monks, and vagabonds all took turns on this remarkable highway through the sky. A great stew of peoples: Yarkandis, Dards, Tibetans, Han Chinese, Kazakhs, Hindus from the south, and various Turkic peoples were all part of the weave of trade in these remote wind-blown lands.
Our own journey will take in the main portions that we can still access in Ladakh. We’ll pass through the notorious ‘Galloping Dead Horse Plain’ with its bone-laden and scarred lands paying tribute to the lives lost on this relentless route.
Michael, myself, and a team of locals – who we’re desperate to meet – along with a ridiculous amount of tea will attempt to traverse this magnificent and slightly forbidding landscape. One old trader remarked about this trade route that it was “a journey that a smart man only attempted once”.
Like on a previous journey Michael and I will no doubt be ‘stuck in’ loading. This shot of yours truly was taken on our ‘Tsalam’ expedition to trace an ancient nomadic route of salt.
We’ll touch, pass over, plough through, or circumnavigate the daunting Parangla and Sasserla Passes, the Nubra Valley and Changtang Plateau, the great Tso Moriri lake, and the ancient market capital and home of royals in Leh Ladakh. We’ll also pass through the haunted uninhabited regions where the wolf and Khyang (wild asses…yes it literally) still roam.
We’ll be travelling through lands where traders, migrants, brigands and wandering monks all took their chances.