Tea Horse Road Chronicles - Choices, No Choices, and some Courage
Ascending up to the Sho La Pass in northwestern Yunnan in May there would always be a chance of weather issues, but it would still be a surprise when, even at the relatively kind altitudes of 3000 metres, the skies churned and smouldered and our intended pathway became lost amid a late snowfall. A mule and its cargo became lodged in deep snow at the top left, but this moment was entirely about the young 16-year year old Lisu boy and his courage taking charge of our team. He had to take the lead of our mule tea team, meticulously picking his footing so as not to risk the hooves of the mules. He wasn’t a muleteer and he wasn’t used to snow but he relentlessly moved onwards and upwards, wordlessly moving over the deceptive white carpet. He, like so many youth, simply needed the work and he wouldn’t relent. Thirty minutes after this photo we would almost lose Dakpa (top left in orange) in hidden crevasse covered in a fresh snow layer, and our mules would halt, unable to proceed. A blizzard came in reducing sight lines to mere feet and four of us would continue over the pass, while the mules, our gear, and the young Lisu boy would remain waiting for the weather to ease. It wouldn’t. I would never see the young boy again, and wouldn’t see my gear for another week. I would see two of the mules years later on another crossing of the Sho La Pass…in far better weather. Tea's unheralded journeys and those that risked much to usher the eternal fuel through the mountains remains one of the untapped narratives of Asian history.