Upon the Tea Horse Road’s pathways (and there were many), traders, pilgrims, and muleteers alike would refer to the ‘middle route’ as being the most stunning, with the caveat that it was also the most risky. It was a route that coursed through the Nyenchen Tanghla mountain range, east towards Lhasa over several snow passes that, at any time of year, could be impassable. It was the route that we took and the first major snow pass was ‘Shar Gong La’ (Eastern Gate Pass). This articulated piece of majesty was taken high on a ridge-line looking down at a ravine that was prone to mini slides and avalanches. Sonam, ever the minder, gave me one of his withering looks when I asked if we could continue traversing a long section uncertain stability. His statement at that moment was classic Sonam, leaving me no options. “If the caravans did not pass this way, we do not pass this way”. I didn’t get my wish, but we did remain entirely true to the route and intact. It is one of the understated aspects of the Tea Horse Road that tea, salt, resin, horses, medicines, leather…that all of the commodities, and the mortals that carted them, had to survive for months within such hallucinatory spaces simply to deliver the goods.
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