Tea Horse Road – The Faces
Yeshi during an interview in Pomda, in western Sichuan Province
Beyond simply the daunting snow passes, eccentric bandits, and disorientation and dehydration abilities of the Tea Horse Road, there is the underside which kept business, business. Yeshi worked for one of the great family run companies, the Pomda-tsang, which ushered tea, resin, salt, and anything with value. In its time the family fought (and won) battles with the the Lhasa government, the Republicans of China, and any who challenged their right to trade. Many simply referred to the Pomda-tsang as the “masters of the Tea Horse Road”.
They were also known as a company that paid on time, and even went so far as to guarantee their shipments. What endeared them to (and garnered loyalty from) locals was the fact that they never interfered with smaller caravans or their shipments.
In time the Pomda-tsang became like a mini-empire with their own stationary, codes of conduct, and even their own banks. Yeshi (who features in book documenting the Tea Horse Road) played a role, though in his words: “I could not have traveled the route. It would have killed me, but my numbers told me all about how vital tea was. I could sip the tea but not walk the trail”. Geographies, mules, yak, a green leaf, and will all played a role along the Tea Horse Road, but so too did the faces.