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  • Jeff Fuchs

Tea Horse Road Chronicles - Empress of Cloth

Ponzera, or Benzilan as it is now known, is a small valley town in northwestern Yunnan that lies alongside a headwater stream of the Yangtze River. For its size and population, its contributions to the Tea Horse Road spanned vast and deep. Rhododendron roots carved into butter tea bowls, humour, and some of the better muleteers hailed from this town of heat. Another and more rare commodity was also sourced here: fine stitched fabrics that were coveted in Lhasa and beyond. Sitting with this matron sipping tea, we listened to how her family over generations had been weaving and stitching fabrics for traders to take east to Lhasa. She spoke with a quiet dignity and pride of her lineage and contributions to the great highway through the sky or the 'Eternal Road' as some referred to the Tea Horse Road. Auntie Lhamo was riveting and commanding in every micro movement and breath and our team sat around her, enthralled and perhaps in a kind of adoration and love. Majestic, she wasn’t at all surprised that we sought to to meet with her in her home, saying: “You should come to see me. I have the Tea Horse Road in my blood”.

Her tea too, was imperious with fresh thick yak butter , with a heavy salt tang, gathered from nearby brine wells. As friend and team member on the expedition would say later, "You can tell much about a person by the tea they serve". And so, the Empress' offering mirrored her character perfectly.


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